We pay a visit to Alila’s five-star boutique hotel set on a peak amidst the spectacular beauty of Jabal Akhdar in the Al Hajar Mountains
Upon our arrival at Muscat International Airport the hotel’s charming and careful driver was there to greet us in a luxury 4×4 vehicle; a must as only 4×4’s are allowed beyond the checkpoint on the road up to the peaks. The journey takes the best part of two hours but the scenic beauty of the rustic panorama and magnificence of the mountain backdrop, as you gently climb to 2,000 metres above sea-level, along well-made roads that snake up the mountain like a black satin ribbon, are certainly an integral part of the enjoyment of the visit.
As you approach the Alila Jabal Akhdar hotel you immediately appreciate the care that went into ensuring the collection of buildings are at one with the elements; low built two storey structures of local stone hewn from the surrounding rocks and a liberal use of wood, blend seamlessly into the landscape; as the natural foliage and gardens have matured making the buildings at one with their surroundings. The hotel has beautiful walkways around the grounds leading to look-out-points that offer outstanding views over the rugged mountain landscape.
The head concierge was courteous and friendly and quickly settled us in to our room, which overlooked a dramatic gorge, providing awe-inspiring views, shared by every room in the hotel. Our Ridge View Suite was decorated in a contemporary style with authentic flavours of Oman; earthy natural tones of wood and stone, accented with rugs and furnishings in bold yet warm hues. The bathroom had a sumptuous tub carved from a single block of pale cream marble with matching sinks turned from the same block, providing a nice finishing touch to the space.
The hotel offers tranquillity and beauty in equal amounts as you embrace nature, taking in the panoramic views, peaks and canyons, available from every aspect of the property, even from the spectacular infinity pool and 2 adjacent Jacuzzis.
We decided to explore the natural beauty and take the Splendour of Saiq Plateau Tour, arranged with the expert assistance of the concierge. Our expert local tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and provided a constant warm and informative banter throughout the 3-hour experience as he deftly navigated the 4×4 around the mountain trails. We saw the terraced farms and valleys where they grow the magnificent Damask roses, from which they also make the delicate local rosewater, and visited farms growing walnuts and pomegranates. We also took in the picturesque abandoned village of Wadi Bani Habib, which is being painstakingly restored as a historic tourist attraction. If you are feeling a little more athletic then let the expert guides take you on hiking tour and enjoy the glory of nature up close. Either way you are certain to work up a healthy appetite.
The hotel’s restaurant, Juniper, offers a menu inspired by the golden age of Arabic cuisine and international fare, influenced by the ancient trade routes that stretch from the heart of the Middle East to the shores of the Mediterranean. Award-wining Executive Chef Alex Ensor and his talented team use the best seasonal fresh local produce to create a small but well-balanced menu. Whether you choose to sit inside the natural elegant restaurant or on the wooden decking and take in the breath-taking scenery, the food stands up to expectations.
Breakfast is served in the Juniper Restaurant – and what better way to start the day than a selection from the cold buffet or hot dishes prepared freshly to order as you sit on the terrace soaking up the morning sun and taking in the crisp mountain air.
We took our evening meal under the clear starlight sky on the terrace of Juniper; and decided to try the chef’s choice menu. I started with cured salmon served on fennel and pomegranate, the salmon was delicate and perfectly balanced by the crunch of the fennel and sweetness of the pomegranate, quite delicious – a rare treat. To follow I tried the pan-fried scallops served with a creamy reduction that set off the tender sweet flavour of the perfectly cooked scallops. For the next course, we were delighted by a golden-brown goose rissole, filled with sweet, rich pulled goose meat; served with a beautifully smooth creamy parsnip puree, and a homemade chutney, complementing the surprisingly subtle flavours of the goose perfectly. As if this wasn’t enough already, for the mains we enjoyed a simply delicious char-grilled and crispy lamb cutlet, and rose-pink inside, accompanied with a creamed corn and a light minty cream sauce, with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. Dessert was a real treat, a smooth, rich creamy pomegranate panna cotta topped with pomegranate jelly; every spoonful was like a decadent ambrosial caress of my taste-buds. And to top of the meal, a light refreshing orange sorbet, not too sweet, with that just-off-the-tree fresh orange taste. A magnificent meal
Whether you choose to eat in the main restaurant or have a light snack in the comfort of the Rose Lounge, Chef Alex’s fresh and innovative approach to regional and international cuisine is well worth the visit.
The hotel is certainly an idyllic retreat for those who want to escape the hustle bustle of city-life and relax, the Spa is well appointed and I found the therapists not only adept but warm and friendly, adding that little extra magic to my treatment.
The Alila Jabal Akhdar is without doubt a striking 5-star boutique hotel and is an ideal destination for couples looking for a romantic break or just looking to get away for some peace and tranquillity. The Alila team were all friendly and provided excellent service, from the charming concierge team to the warm welcome in the spa. The culinary fare by Chef Alex Ensor is inventive and everything you would hope for; and although the menu is not extensive; the variety is ample for the normal length of stay. If you are looking for somewhere, for that special weekend or quiet getaway then the Alila Jabal Akhdar is for you.
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