Hotel review: PHENOMENAL Alila Jabal Akhdar (Oman)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a luxury hotel and/or flight review.

A month ago, I enjoyed a terrific holiday with one of my best friends in incredibly beautiful Oman. You can read here my trip reports:


Today (May 11, 2016): Review of the Alila Jabal Akhdar hotel, Muscat (Oman).

Jabal Akhdar, meaning “The Green Mountain” in Arabic, is part of the Al Hajar mountains range, one of Oman’s most spectacular areas. Set 2000 metres above sea level, Alila Jabal Akhdar provides access to this magnificent landscape of untouched beauty. Overlooking a dramatic gorge and with views of the Hajar mountains, the hotel is perfectly positioned to explore the region’s renowned rugged landscapes, a haven for adventure travellers, nature lovers and those seeking an escape from the desert heat. The resort’s 78 beautifully appointed suites and villas are located within the main hotel building or arranged in individual clusters of four to six suites, generously spaced out around the clifftop to maximise privacy and uninterrupted views over the mountains and down into the gorges.

Alila Jabal Akhdar features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in Oman.

In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Alila Jabal Akhdar is located a 2.5-hour drive from Muscat, and the last 45 minutes – only accessible to SUVs because of the steep incline – represent an incredibly scenic journey that takes you high up in the Al Hajar mountains. The rapidly ascending road is dotted with hairpin curves, with every turn revealing another phenomenal panorama of jagged cliffs and verdant valleys. The Government of Oman has spent a lot in building the infrastructure to reach Jabal Akhdar, and consequently, the roads are great to drive and safe too (both day and night).
  • Alila Jabal Akhdar enjoys one of the most spectacular setting of all hotels that I have ever visited in my life. Located in the highest mountain range of the Arabian peninsula, the resort sits on the edge of a spectacular, canyon-like wadi, surrounded by the treeless, soaring Al Hajar Mountains and desert-like vegetation. It almost felt like being at the Grand Canyon (but without  the crowds).
  • Because of its setting, it should come as no surprise that hotel boasts awe-inspiring killer views in almost all directions. Most of the resort’s public terraces and rooms, as well as the pool deck area have a direct look into the gorge. At the farthest end of the resort, Alila also constructed two wooded platforms were guests can take in the breathtaking sights in all silence and tranquility. The views of the gorge and the light on the rugged mountains are especially nice in the early morning, with sunset being another great moment for postcard perfect pictures (although your camera will look directly into the setting sun).
  • The resort is built as a traditional Omani-village and blends seamlessly into the majestic mountainous desert environment. From the entrance gate, a long winding driveway takes you to the lobby, and on the way you’ll get your first glimpses of the resort, which is composed of stone-clad clusters of buildings that are scattered on the edge of the gorge.
  • Although the resort is stark and grey on the outside, it features a very tasteful and welcoming decor nothing bling here), with neutral light and dark colors, wooden ceilings, pale stone floors, and Arabian carpets. Copper ornaments, initricate mandoos chests, and fort-like doors reminds guests of Oman’s rich traditions. The hotel’s public spaces are gloriously large, but still manage to feel intimate and cosy.
  • Upon arrival, guests are welcomed in a traditional Omani way, with kahwa (a strong and bitter coffee mixed with cardamom powder) and dates.
  • The resort’s 86 beautifully appointed suites and villas are located within the main hotel building or arranged in individual clusters of four to six suites, generously spaced out around the clifftop to maximise privacy and uninterrupted views over the mountains and down into the gorges. During my holiday, I stayed in a ridge view suite located in a pavilion at the farthest end of the resort. The suite was very spacious and well-appointed, with a comfortable king sized bed, a separate dressing area and a sitting corner. It featured a contemporary decor, with earthy tones of wood and stone that were accented with rugs and furnishings in bold yet warm hues. It had a lovely, shaded terrace from where to soak in the amazing Grand Canyonesque views.
  • One of the accommodations’ best assets are the beautiful bathrooms, which deserves a separate paragraph in this review. These vast, light filled space feature two sinks, a rain shower and a freestanding marble, ovoid bathtub alongside a big window that frames the mountain views. Bathroom are stocked with lovely Alila toiletries, which – IMHO – rank amongst the best in the hotel industry and are manufactured in Bali, Indonesia.
  • Surrounded by plenty of comfortable lounge chairs as well ass a couple of cabanas, the curved outdoor infinity pool offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Just behind the outdoor infinity pool, there’s a smaller indoor plunge pool, framed by imposing stone columns, inviting loungers and mood-setting candles. The water is heated to the temperature of warm bath, making this more a large jacuzzi than an actual pool.
  • The resort lies within the interior region of Al Dakhiliyah which, besides being blessed with spectacular scenery, is the cultural heart of Oman. The region comprises eight ‘wilayats’ or districts, among them Adam, Bahla, Al Hamra and the regional centre of Nizwa. Known as “The Pearl of Islam”, Nizwa is one of the oldest cities in Oman and its former capital, once a sanctuary for scholars and a stronghold for powerful leaders. Today the rich history of this region can still be seen in an array of ancient forts, castles, mosques and UNESCO heritage sites.
  • Featuring seven treatment and changing rooms, a Vichy shower room and Jacuzzis, Spa Alila is a peaceful sanctuary dedicated to pampering guests from head to toe to restore a sense of total well-being. Besides a wide array of Asian-inspired treatments, the spa experience is infused with the essence of the destination. Here, you step back in time in the steam room, the air-filled with a mist of heady, earthy and cleansing oils, grounded in frankincense and juniper berry, reminiscent of ancient Oman. I had a massage during my stay and it was terrific. Highly recommended!
  • Named after the juniper trees that grow in the highlands of Oman, the resort’s only dining venue – Juniper Restaurant – satisfies all culinary cravings, from breakfast through to dinner. Cuisine is international with an Arabian twist and the food tastes delicious (although it’s more bistro style than fine dining). The dinner menu changes every night, so you will not get gastronomically bored during a multiday stay.
  • Service is impeccable. All the staff are very attentive and will take care of your every need without hesitation and all are trained to deal with any request.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

This is hands down one of the best resorts I have ever stayed at. The phenomenal setting on the ridge of a steep gorge in a remote part of Oman is surreal and is by far the biggest draw of the hotel. And with a brilliant design, jummy food, beautiful suites and excellent service, Alila Jabal Akhdar offers an experience that matches is spectacular location. It’s a no-brainer if you want an exceptional hotel stay in Oman! It’s hard to find any faults as my holiday at Alila Jabal Akhdar was an overwhelmingly positive one, but you may want to known the following nonetheless:

  • With the exception of the computers at the library, internet connection is patchy and slow, which is probably due to the hotel’s remote location. This should not be too much of an issue as being disconnected from the outside world and getting away from it all is part of the charm of the resort experience. The hotel is working on the WiFi issue though, so things may improve in the near future.
  • The outdoor pool is advertised as heated but still feels very cold. Fortunately, the jacuzzi-alike indoor pool (located behind the outside pool) makes up for that.
  • While the breakfast buffet is excellent and a welcome and healthy respite from the lavish buffets you see at other hotels, I found the breakfast range a bit limited for a hotel of this standing. I especially missed some cold meats and/or salmon.
  • The hotel has no adults only corner, so there is no alternative to get any peace in case that the outdoor pool is taken over by families with young and loud children (which did happen during my stay). Perhaps the resort management should consider constructing an adults only pool over time to guarantee tranquility for those in need of that.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Rooms: 9/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional: 9/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Alila Jabal Akhdar (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Before one enters the mountains where Alila Jabal Akhdar is located, there is a police check-point where one has to register for safety. Only four wheel drive (SUV) is allowed in the mountain as the roads are steep with many hairpin curves. The resort can arrange the roundtrip from Muscat for you for 160 OMR (including taxes).
  • It’s cooler and wetter in the mountains than on the coast, so pack accordingly (you’ll still need sunscreen though).
  • I recommend staying at a ridge view suite, as it offers the best view from the hotel directly into the canyon.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT ALILA JABAL AKHDAR

With its mountain location, Alila Jabal Akhdar enjoys a refreshing climate year round. The temperature at the resort is around 15°C (30°F) cooler than in Muscat year round, making it a great place to escape from the heat of the lower plains in the summer months, or to enjoy a refreshing break and perhaps a view of snow-capped peaks under the winter sun. However, the best time to visit most parts of Oman is during the winter months (October to March) when days are mild and sunny most of the time (although recent years have seen an increase of the number of overcast or rainy days). Summer season (April to September) is extremely hot and humid and unsuitable for travel in the country.


HOW TO GET THERE

Alila Jabal Akhdar is located a 2.5-hour drive from Muscat International Airport and less than an hour from Nizwa, accessible only via four-wheel drive. Check the Wikipedia page of Muscat International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Muscat.


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JUNIPER RESTAURANT
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INDOOR POOL (AT NIGHT)
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6 Comments

  1. Wow, brilliant review! Hands down, I agree with everything you’ve said here. Funny – I think we stayed in the exact same suite as you, at the end of the row/cliff. Good to see that breakfast has expanded a bit since we were there, and some interior touches like rugs and floor pillows have made the lobby even more stunning. Great that you got out to a local village to explore – we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the hotel as we had limited time, so enjoyed every minute at the property. When I think of perfect stays, I think of this place. There is nothing in the world quite like it. Excellent read and photos!

    • Thx your comment. It’s a brilliant hotel indeed (one of my all time favorites). We visited the local village and rose garden on the way back to Muscat as we preferred to stay at the hotel and enjoy its facilities during our visit. Btw, I love your inspiring blogposts!

      • Wow, so cool to know you read my blog! Thanks! I’m in awe of your traveling and followers — not to mention your ability to blog prolifically while having what sounds like a multi-faceted and very busy career. 🙂 Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  2. Do you have a recommended length of stay here? I’ll be in Oman for 5 nights, and was thinking 2 nights Chedi (or Ritz), 2 nights Alila, and 1 night Desert Camps (for something new)…but I’m considering doing 4 nights at Alila and skipping Muscat altogether. I’d use Alila for relaxation as well as a base to explore the wadis and mountains of Oman. That said, I’m not terribly adventurous either ;).

    • Hi Dan, you need at least 2 nights in Alila to experience the resort and its spectacular surroundings and views (it takes 2,5 hours to get to the resort). If you are not very adventurous, then 2 nights is sufficient, unless you want to do a lot of excursions of course (Nizwa, surrounding villages, hiking), then I recommend 4 nights. I stayed at both the Chedi and Ritz-Carlton as well (I will publish my reviews soon). The Chedi is an ultraluxe and sleek beach resort (with 3 pools, 2 of them being adults only) but did not feel very Omani and its surroundings are disappointing (no mountains in sight and the private beach is not very attractive). The Ritz is a massive resort (without plenty of families and no adults only corners) and does not have the refinement of the Chedi, but its lobby is incredibly impressive and the setting is gorgeous (best beach in the Muscat area, surrounded by very nice mountains). Hope this information helps!

      • Thank you – very helpful indeed! Still debating about 2, 3, or 4 nights (and thus skipping Muscat entirely), but I guess I’ll hold out for your reviews of those properties to get a better idea!

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