As a change from the beautiful sand and ocean down on Oman’s coast, the gal headed nearly 7,000 feet up to Al Jabal Al Akhdar, surely one of the world’s most spectacular barren mountain areas. Charles and Diana helicoptered in here in 1986, and stood at what is now known as Diana’s Point, a glass edged platform hanging, as it were, over jagged rock faces stretching all that way below (see a yoga class on that platform, above). This is only one of many awe-inspiring memories of Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar, a fort-like luxury hotel that opened October 2016 and has already become a firm favourite of Omani and UAE families. It is, indeed, rather cute to see local lads, not quite in their teens, careering around the resort’s concrete paths on mountain bikes while wearing embroidered Omani skull caps and full-length dishdash robes.
I was working out in the gym, and looking out across the tennis court that was being used for supervised weekend kids’ games. Parents were taking photos non-stop as their little darlings basically took part in a short-duration school sports day: there are, any time, indoor and outdoor climbing walls, and donkey rides and swimming lessons in the main pool. Adults love going to markets, or hiking to the nearest villages, admittedly several miles away. Nearly all the 70-or-so Omani employees here, out of a total of 270, are from this mountain area, and they really like taking guests from the 115-room resort to their own homes. I did not have time for that, sadly, but I did have plenty of time to plan my next visit, which will include making use of the easel-standing sketch book in my temporary home. Funnily enough, although here I am right in the mountains, the minimalist colour-free interior of Villa 4 – a 1,900 sq ft beauty with its own absolutely-private pool – reminded me a bit of Amangari, in Utah’s forceful desert.
In Utah, the immediate surroundings are as flat as a rocky desert can be. Here in Oman there are a myriad of additional design and construction challenges. Building this resort, designed by Lotfi Sidirahal from Atelier POD, must have been a nightmare. It is really a big encompassing shape, with nothing but bare rugged rock outside – yes, you can wander this masculine nature at will. My gorgeous pool was the last frontier, so to speak. Inside the circumference of buildings is entirely devoted to a beautiful, and somewhat feminine, garden, with over 3,000 blooming roses, plus olive and pomegranate trees, all of those have their own individual automatic watering systems. The GM, Darren Darwin, is a natural educator, and big display boards identify what plant is what.
Darren Darwin is a real details man. He had 18 months before the hotel opening to make his mark on the place. We had dinner in Al Qalaa, an Omani restaurant in the lower half of the fort’s traditional circular tower (if you must know, it was a typical Arab mezze followed by an Omani mixed meat grill, on skewers, and the charming wine man, Brilliant, not surprisingly chose a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from Ken Forrester in his own home town, Stellenbosch). It was an Omani server, however, who presented the salt booklet, with 12 varieties that included rosemary crystals with wild mushroom. Darren Darwin is determined that this will quickly become one of the leading resorts – of the world. Everyone will certainly remember the visit. As I left my Maldivian butler, a charming and really professional guy, asked if he could take a photo. Three minutes later, honestly no more, as I got into the off-road vehicle for local-man Yusuf to drive me down – the road, fortunately – to Muscat, Mr Maldives appeared with a hotel-labelled, fabric frame holding that photo. Style. NOW SEE MY VIDEO