No tour of Oman is complete without a stay at the spectacular Alila Jabal Akhdar Design Hotel. Deservedly so! Not only the hotel itself, but the location and the views are simply mind-blowing! Not to speak of the sunsets…
Your journey to the hotel already starts at home with reserving a rental car. Only 4×4 vehicles are permitted on the road leading to the hotel. That’s how adventure-filled the drive is said to be.
The rule is strictly enforced on the spot! inclusive of a police checkpoint where they make sure that you have the right set of wheels under you.
Four-wheel drive required
Just before the town of Nizwa is the turnoff into the Al Jabal Akhdar Mountains. You can’t miss the hotel signage; it’s everywhere.
By the way, Nizwa is also worth a visit. It offers several sightseeing opportunities such as its fort and the souk.
Although driving up into the steep mountains presents no challenge for us Swiss, we can see why they are strict about only letting 4×4 vehicle attempt it.
At the police checkpoint located a short way after passing through Birkat al-Mawz they check scrupulously if vehicles truly have four-wheel drive.
To get through the process, the car rental outfit hands you a special certificate to that effect. You show it to the friendly cop, who taps some symbols into his tablet, and then waves you on through in serviceable English.
The next day all I say to the policeman is
gesturing expressively in direction drivetrain. And sure enough, we are sent on our way without any further ado. Maybe it would have worked already on the first day ;-)
A steep and winding road
The road is in fact quite steep, but it is one or two asphalted lanes all the way through. Even heavy semis grind their way up here, and a garden-variety passenger car would find it easy going in first or second gear.
In any event, we see no need to shift into 4-wheel drive and coast along in standard eco mode.
The roughly 220 mile drive to the hotel from Muscat takes about 3 1/2 hours, with the segment from Birkat al-Mawz taking about 45 minutes. But it seems shorter – perhaps because of the many curves and varied landscapes?
Oh! one more important tip: Best keep well to the right at all times, because the local drivers like to leave themselves generous room (!) when taking the curves and come at you halfway in your lane.
Spectacular cliffside location in the Hajar Mountains
Al Jabal Akhdar (Arabic for “Green Mountain”) forms part of the Al Hajar mountain chain that runs several hundred miles along the Gulf of Oman.
The Mediterranean climate makes it Oman’s fruit basket.
At first sight, though, the “Green Mountain” looks pretty barren and rough.
But, you are soon overwhelmed gazing into the depths of the stupendous canyons.
The terraced fields and villages clinging to the steep mountain slopes are definitely also special – and so is the light.
In a way, the Alila Jabal Akhdar Hotel is the cherry on top of the cake – or on the mountain, as it were.
Of guns and roses: a design hotel to linger in
The hotel’s minimalist architecture reflects forms patterned on the historical forts in the region. But, local quarried rocks and lots of dark wood take the place of clay brick.
The interior design also repeats motifs from the forts, such as traditional copper ornaments and wood carvings. Ceramics from the nearby town of Bahla, famous for its traditional pottery products, serve as decorative elements throughout the hotel.
The lobby is decorated in motifs based on the locally growing Damask roses. They bloom from March through May when they paint the mountainsides in all sorts of pink tones. They are also the source of the famous rose water.
Infinity pool with view and sunsets
Juniper Restaurant and Rose Lounge
The restaurant takes its name from the juniper trees that grow in the area, and the lounge from the roses the area is known for.
The breakfast buffet is divided into many stations. You can get everything you need for an active day. Or to hang out at the pool until nightfall…
A tasty moveable feast
In the afternoon, the feast moves outdoors, where you can enjoy the views and snacks on the different view terraces: 4:30 p.m. is high tea time and at 5 o’clock starts the happy hour.
The restaurant in the evening serves a variety of a la carte dishes. But there is also an Omani tasting menu that changes daily. Hummus and pomegranates come with all of them – they are ever-present with meals, morning or evening.
The Omani cuisine borrows much from the Arabian realm, and you also feel yourself quickly transported to North Africa when they dish up Moroccan couscous and all that goes with it. In any event, everything is very tasty.
Summer cool and winter warmth
We soon find ourselves chatting with Sai the food & beverage manager. Here is how he answers our queries:
The hotel is booked in the (very hot) summer mainly by guests from Dubai or Muscat. That’s because at more than 6,500 fee above sea level, it is around 20 degrees colder here than in the broiling flatlands.
So, instead of temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius, then the Arabs can enjoy refreshing mountain air.
This contrasts with the winter, when the hotel is firmly in the grip of Europeans: many are snowbirds fleeing winter to bask in Muscat where the temps are in the 30s. And, as it were, also to the Alila, even though it cools down noticeably in the evening to between 5 and 10 degrees. The hot-water bottle in the bed (!) helps to a pleasant winter night’s sleep in the room…
The Alila Hotel Group is originally from Indonesia. Hence it has noticeably many Asian employees. Sai, for one, came from Kerala to join the staff when the hotel opened in 2014.
How long to stay at the hotel?
We stayed for two nights. The first day on the we used the opportunity to visit the souk and the fort in Nizwa.
On the second day, we drove the long way back down into the valley for sightseeing at the fort in Bahla and the irrigation systems of Misfat al Abriyyin near Al Hamra.
If we had to do it again, on the second day we’d instead lounge beside the pool to enjoy the tranquility and cool mountain air.
And give the 20-meter high cliffhanger rope traverse that spans a cave mouth in the cliff below the hotel a try.
Or stay another night… :-)
On a closing note, after the design hotel we drove into the total contrast of the Wahiba desert and the Desert Nights Camp. After all, there were more sunsets to be admired…
Alila Jabal Akhdar
Jabal Al Akhdar
Nizwa Sultanate Of Oman
Prices: In November we paid about 600 Swiss Francs per night (inclusive of breakfast and half board.)