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8 Jan 2018

Mountain luxury at Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

To be honest, it took a little convincing to get our friends to come on this trip with us. "Oman?" seemed to be most people's first reaction when I told them where our travels were taking us to next. "That's not really a relaxing holiday destination, is it?"

Well, yes and no.

I was surprised to find that quite a few people I spoke to approached the idea of going to Oman with some trepidation. Is it safe there? Are their laws extreme? Is it really holiday appropriate?

Having spent a full 9 days exploring both the demanding mountainous terrain and the sea-level capital, Muscat, I can only speak of my own experiences... and I loved Oman. This holiday impacted me in a way I hadn't felt in a while - it was both an adrenaline rush and an ocean of serenity, at moments terrifying and at others jubilant. We experienced both the most wonderful luxuries and the thrills of rugged, wild mother nature.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me begin by sharing with you the first half of our trip, which revolved around our stay up in the mountains, 2,000 meters above sea level. We were staying at a remote and beautiful luxury mountain resort: Alila Jabal Akhdar.

If the name Alila sounds familiar, you may have read about them on my blog before. They're one of my all-time favourite hotel groups and I've been fortunate enough to stay at Alila Uluwatu and Alila Soori in the past. This was my first time at an Alila outside of Bali and I was really looking forward to seeing how the service, food, decor and atmosphere lived up to the high standard I'd come to expect from Alila.

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NIZWA FORT


and the aflaj of Oman
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The four of us arrived in Muscat airport early in the morning, around 6am. We met our driver after collecting our luggage and began the drive up towards Jabal Akhdar, 2 hours away. Seeing as check-in wouldn't be for a good many hours yet, the plan was to stop off at some sights on the way to make the most of our day instead of just waiting around for a room. We began at Nizwa Fort.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Nizwa Fort, Oman

Right away, I fell in love with the architecture. Scallop edged towers and walls, dusky shades of pink and beige with rounded windows and doorways - it's easy on the eye, helped also by the countless palm trees surrounding it. It's difficult to imagine the horrors this fort has seen; our driver doubled as our guide and he truly knew it all, explaining what each room's purpose used to be, as well as enlightening us on the terrifying traps and pitfalls the Omanis used to ward off intruders. One such example: the traps that were rigged all around the fort, pouring scalding hot honey on unsuspecting invaders' heads. 🍯

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Nizwa Fort, OmanEuriental | luxury travel & style | Nizwa Fort, Oman

After a tour of the fort (which, by the way, I would recommend doing early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as the sun is intensely strong), we sat for a while and enjoyed some fresh dates, strolled through the nearby markets (though nobody was trading that day) and took the car to our next stop, the abandoned ruins of a former village: 

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Nizwa old village, Oman

That 'stream' you see running through it is called a falaj. A falaj is an ancient Omani irrigation system, dating back as far as 5,000 years. To this day, they are still considered the main source of irrigation water (beside wells) in the country, and are not only utilised in agriculture today but also for bathing, washing clothes, etc. Indeed, we passed numerous people, young and old, washing as we wandered through the dilapidated village.


One final stop on our way up to Alila - Diana's lookout, named after the 1986 visit of Princess Diana, which saw her gazing out at the vast expanse from that very spot.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Diana's lookout, Oman

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ALILA JABAL AKHDAR

our suite and public spaces
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The time had finally come - we had arrived.

First impressions of service were not particularly great, but we soon came to realise this was because we had arrived at an especially busy time of year when the hotel was at peak capacity - Islamic New Year.

(Note: the first day, due to it being a local holiday, the hotel was overrun with people and the pool was far from serene...we were admittedly rather worried that our quiet slice of paradise wasn't going to be relaxing at all, however the following days proved very different after most of the large groups of families with children had checked out.)

I digress! Once we'd settled into our two suites (conveniently located next door to each other), we began to really appreciate the stunning surroundings of this mountain resort.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman


Inspired by ancient forts, Alila Jabal Akhdar was built using a combination of local stones and contemporary construction to form a minimalist yet warm resort, combining modern architecture with elements of traditional Omani design, such as the handmade pottery and copper ornaments dotted throughout. Sustainability is a major consideration in the design of this resort - it was built so as to fit into the natural landscape around it with minimal disruption, making use of the traditional aflaj water system for irrigation, solar panels and energy saving light and heating systems.

There is clearly a strong connection to nature throughout the entire resort, both in and outside of the rooms.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
The bathroom was enviable - dual sinks, use of natural materials throughout, giant rainfall shower and beautiful stone bathtub and exposed stone walls. Dreamy!
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Originally we'd booked a mountain view room but were then upgraded to a horizon view...and what an idyllic view it was:

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman


Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

It's important to remember that you are fairly high up in the mountains, so expect the temperature to drop at night and in the mornings. Even if you're coming here during the hot season, bring a shawl/light jacket for dinner in the evenings, as you'll most likely want to sit outside (it's the most atmospheric part of the restaurant to dine in with heat lamps dotted around, blankets provided should you require them and the stars twinkling brightly above).

The pool was too cold for use first thing in the morning (by my standards at least), but by late morning/early afternoon the water warmed to a very comfortable temperature...though I would of course not recommend being out in the midday sun for long.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman


Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Funnily enough, we didn't even discover the incredibly sunset deck until our second or third evening. I believe it's here that morning yoga takes place (there's also a glass room hanging over the cliff's edge with 2 massage tables - what an incredible setting for a massage! Though I suppose you'd spend most of the massage with your head in a hole looking down at the ground, so it's perhaps more enjoyable for the masseur 😄). 

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Wearing: 8th Sign dress c/o

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman, Alexandra Miro swimsuit


Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

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ALILA EXPERIENCES

Village Walk - Splendour of Saiq

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On day two, our friend Ollie fell ill. Understandably, our other friend Bena stayed in their room to take care of him, leaving Jarv and I to venture out of Alila for the morning on our village walk with local guide, Salem. We were driven to the beginning of the hike, where he then accompanied us for part of the way. Once we'd reached a certain point, he informed us he would now take a detour to go and collect the fresh fruits for us to enjoy in the village and that all we had to do was follow the signs to the village and stick with the falaj that ran through the mountain.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar Village Walk

We walked another 20 minutes or so, following the falaj until we reached the village (at times, having to carefully manoeuvre around overgrown brush, giant black hornets and numerous other obstacles that had me wondering how this could quite be classified as suitable for all levels...I'm sure children and the elderly shouldn't be attempting this walk without experienced supervision!). We walked through the bright walls of the quiet village, quite relieved to be done with the 'hiking' aspect of our journey, and found Salem waiting for us where he said he would be. We washed our hands and sat down to eat fresh figs, pomegranates and guavas, drinking Arabic coffee and chatting with Salem about his country.

Fun fact: a host will never fill your coffee cup to the brim - if he did, it would signify that he didn't want you asking him for a refill and that you were not welcome there. Once a guest has had enough coffee to drink, they need simply shake their cup so the host knows to stop pouring.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar village walk, Oman

We pulled over briefly on our way back to the resort to check out another village, leaving Salem at the top of the steps built into the mountain...but quickly turned on our heels about halfway down after nearly stepping in goat dung about five separate times and coming across what appeared to be a hornet's nest. 😧 

Also came across this (not so) little guy, though:

Euriental | luxury travel & style | stick insect, Oman

And caught a stunning glimpse of this crumbling, long abandoned village:

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar village walk, Oman

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Via Ferrata

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Not satisfied to spend our entire time lounging by the pool (as tempting as that was), we booked in to spend a morning rappelling down the side of the mountain that Alila is perched atop. A little adrenaline-fuelled action in the morning does one good!

It was one of my favourite experiences of the entire trip. Via Ferrata is Italian for "iron road", referring to protected mountain climbing routes where climbers can secure themselves to cable as they climb, limiting any potential fall. 

Down, around and back up the mountain we went, using our upper body strength to cling on to the sides of the mountain and traverse a cave mouth, the crisp freshness of the mountain air alleviating our sweaty hands and foreheads. The adventure ended with a tightrope-like walk across a 20m high rope and a climb back up to Alila, where we pulled ourselves up over the edge of the resort and wandered over to breakfast as the other hotel guests gawped with surprise at the four dishevelled figures that had just appeared from the edge of the mountain.

Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar Via Ferrata, Oman
Euriental | luxury travel & style | Alila Jabal Akhdar via ferrata, Oman

After an incredible stay, we were very much looking forward to part II of our trip, where we would head back down to the capital, Muscat, for a few days at the Chedi. Little did we know what unforgettable escapades awaited us there... (stay tuned)

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Good to know:

  • Like many Middle Eastern countries, Omanis eat with their right hands and will pass you food with this hand (and expect you to accept it with the same hand). This was something that took me a few goes to get used to, being left-handed, but it is considered rude to use your left to eat, so it's important to take note of.

  • It is expected that you will cover your knees and shoulders as a woman when in public. Though the locals are very open-minded and friendly towards tourists, it's only right as a visitor to respect their culture. In the privacy of your resort or hotel, of course, it's fine to show some skin.

  • "Thank you" in Arabic is "shukran".

  • Alila Jabal Akhdar is set 2,000 meters above sea level, which is no small height - you might not feel any different at all, but bear in mind that if you feel unwell, this may be due to mild altitude sickness (which we were told by one of our drivers during our stay was not that uncommon amongst guests).

    Seek medical attention immediately if you feel quite unwell, as altitude sickness can be quite dangerous if not treated properly. One of our friends fell ill on the second day and Alila had a doctor visit the room to perform a check and give him some medicine to help.

    The staff were kind enough to also send him a fruit basket and some snacks for when he was feeling better - very attentive indeed! Even more proof of their excellent service, in the days following, various members of staff seemed to have been informed about him being unwell, all asking how he was doing or whether he was feeling better.

  • On the subject of altitude sickness, I would probably avoid doing what we (unthinkingly) did, which was to arrive, drop our things off and squeeze in a hardcore workout before dinner. Haha. For some reason, it didn't cross any of our minds that we might encounter any form of altitude sickness (and to be fair, it wasn't mentioned by any member of staff or on the website either and the likelihood at 2,000 metres is fairly slim). Just take it easy the first day and enjoy your surroundings before participating in any strenuous activities.

  • The spa at Alila is well worth a visit - you'll begin with a delicious cup of ginger, honey and lemongrass tea, test out of some of the products laid out on the table in the waiting area and enjoy a gorgeous treatment in one of the quiet, relaxing rooms. Bena and I had facials (skin felt amazing afterwards) while Jarv and Ollie were both very satisfied with their Thai style massages.

  • The food at Alila was fantastic, especially at dinner. A group favourite in particular was the bread. Every dinner, after placing our orders, an entire loaf of local bread was brought to the table. It's soft and fluffy, baked in a cast iron pan and served alongside a gorgeous bowl of cream cheese with a generous dollop of local honey in the centre. Heaven. Bena and I loved it so much that we tried to recreate a poor man's version of it at breakfast using ingredients from the buffet selection - not quite the same but tasty enough to gobble down nonetheless.

Book your stay at Alila Jabal Akhdar. Prices start at £470 per night.

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6 comments :

  1. This looks like the trip of a lifetime! You've convinced me to add Oman to my travel list.

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    1. I hope you do end up going - it's a truly unique and worthwhile destination.

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  2. A wonderful post, very well written. I'm looking for a holiday destination, I keep this in mind. Thanks for the tips.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Vera! I think it's an easy place to love ;)

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  3. Boy did i enjoy this post ... Wait the pictures, so breath taking. The view!!!! amazing. I would love to visit here one day.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sue-Tanya :) The views are incredible, aren't they?!

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