It’s true, I’ve been an absentee blogger of late. A nasty virus and its associated hangers on (tonsillitis, bronchitis, kidney infection) knocked me for six and saw me confined to quarters for weeks.
My other half (who has also had his own health issues), said he knew I was really unwell when I refused to even touch the feast he had just brought home from Afghan Brothers.
It had been a rugged couple of months, so when AZ went to Dubai for a work assignment, we hatched a plan to meet in Oman for a languid weekend. He had his car (a gigantic 4WD) so I flew to Muscat and he drove cross country from the UAE. Having the car gave us some flexibility – Oman is big and you need a 4WD to access the mountains.
Oman has always been a place of escape to me. Its lush and volcanic landscapes and rugged mountains a stark contrast to Qatar’s flat desert. I find the Omanis overwhelmingly charming and welcoming, its just a perfect place to relax. For this reason, it was a natural choice for our first actual trip together.
The flight to Muscat from Doha is short and sweet, just over an hour. I treated myself to an upgrade for this flight. On intra-Gulf flights like this one, Qatar Airways operates only First Class, which gave me an excuse to return to the stunning Al Safwa Lounge in Doha.
Having been off alcohol for five weeks, thanks to illness and general ennui, I did indulge with a glass of bubbly on the flight.
We stayed the first night in Muscat and an old and sentimental favorite of mine the Grand Hyatt Muscat, with a lovely beachside location and excellent staff, this is a great place to base yourself in Oman.
The spacious Club Rooms give you access to their excellent lounge, with a terrace with a view of the mountains and small breakfast buffet and evening cocktails. You can check out some of my previous dining adventures in Oman and the Grand Hyatt here.
After a quiet night and room service, we packed up the car to head out of the city to the mountains. I learned a few things about AZ this trip (more of that later), including this is a man who can’t travel light.
With the car loaded up, the GPS positioned and soundtrack negotiated, we headed out – Destination Anantara Jabal Akhdar.
The drive to the resort, located on Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain) is just over two hours – 150kms. But be warned, a 4WD is needed for the final part of the journey. Part of the Hajar mountain range, the resort sits around 2000m above sea level (the range’s highest point is 3000m), which is high for this low lying gal.
The route up is steep and winding, much to the delight of AZ and to my queasiness. There is a police checkpoint at the start of the route and those without the appropriate vehicle can pick up one here or be met by the hotel (they also arrange transfers from Muscat).
The entrance to the resort, which lies next to a town, is unassuming. The ochre color buildings are low lying and blend into the rocky landscape. But behind the huge gates, it becomes clear there is more than meets the eye.
At check in we were greeted by the resorts charming General Manager Darren Darwin as well as our Villa Host Maunsell before being whisked to our villa. While there are a range of accommodation options including rooms, suites and villas, we were given a villa with a pool and view. And what a view it was.
The villa sat on the edge of the cliff, while it adjoined other villas it was extremely private.
The pool was heated – temperatures in the mountains are several degrees below the coast – the villa with its separate living and bedrooms and spacious bathroom (with a hammam style wet area) have enough space for AZ’s luggage and my solo ways.
As I said, I discovered a could of new things about AZ this trip. One is that he has a natural flair for ironing – the man has a talent for ironing shirts and pants! Secondly, thanks to the very elaborate coffee machine in the villa, I discovered he is a secret barista.
The resort is structured so that you can do as little or as much as you like. There is raft of group or solo activities such as mountain biking, a rock climbing wall, yoga, nature walks and more. Meanwhile, for those seeking a quieter time, there were hundreds of free movies on demand available in each room, plus playing cards, game sets and more.
At the heart of the resort is the main building which houses reception, the restaurants, bar and fire pit (which is lit every evening).
On the first night we dressed up and dined at Bella Vista, the aptly named Italian restaurant. At Bella Vista, even the pasta and the limoncello is made by hand. More of the food in a minute, because we need to talk about the view.
The restaurant is set over what is called Diana’s Point – the platform is named after Princess Diana, who visited the spot (via helicopter) in 1990. The view is indeed spectacular – you get to it via a glassed off catwalk and the site hosts special dinners and afternoon teas.
We opted to dine inside as the temperature plunges after sunset. The menu, designed by the Sicilian chef, runs the full gamut of pastas, salads, hearty mains and desserts. Like much of Oman, it’s seafood heavy but AZ is allergic so we opted for a duck ragu pasta and osso bucco – comfort food!
Often with resorts in remote locations the food suffers because of access issues. Not so here.
A starter of house made burrata was silken and creamy, offset by a balsamic reduction. The duck ragu was a hit with both of us, unctuous and moreish, the hand made pasta was the perfect vehicle for the sauce. The osso bucco was a little salty for AZ, but I loved the fall off the bone tenderness of the slow cooked meat.
After a dessert of tiramisu and limoncello, we tottered back to the villa very full and very happy.
Breakfast is a buffet affair in their main dining room – Al Maisan – which has a vast outside seating area and views across the canyon. I love a hotel breakfast and this didn’t disappoint, with eggs made to order, Arabic and Asian favorites and a VERY good cheese selection.
On our second day, AZ chose to do something sporty while I headed for the spa. I won’t dwell too much on this, except to say that while expensive, the service, quality of the treatment and the surrounds merits it.
You can choose your oil used in the massage and the relaxation area, with a huge jacuzzi and a relaxation area is heaven. My therapist, Maria, was attentive and well trained. When she realised she had gotten oil in my hair, she whisked me off the the salon, washed and blow dried my hair. Seriously.
For dinner we wanted something quiet and private. Anantara offers a unique service called Dining by Design, where you can choose from a collection of menus, to be prepared by your personal chef at the location of your choice. We chose to have our Thai-inspired dinner in our villa, poolside. Before sunset, the team came and assembled the mini kitchen and set up our table.
The menu was simple but delicious. A chicken and mango salad (adapted from a crab version) was light and tangy but the stellar dish was a perfecting cooked beef fillet with lemongrass and chilli. Each steak was cooked to our individual liking, served with sticky rice and glossy, piquant sauce. Paired with a bottle of smooth red, it was the perfect romantic dinner for two foodies.
As quickly as they appeared, the dining team was gone and we retired to the sofa to watch movies. So rock and roll.
I’d like to say our final morning was packed with activities, but it was devoted to a lazy breakfast, coffee and soaking in the final moments of THAT view. Oh…and packing. AZ had a LOT of stuff. Seriously, he had a bag of shoes – I will cut him some slack as he was in the middle of a two week work trip. But still.
I’ve only recently discovered the Anantara brand thanks to their property in Qatar at Banana Island. On the back of this stay, we have also booked a stay at their Sri Lankan properties. The service and attention to detail really sets them apart. For example, there is a hand made soap menu in the bathroom, or the hand made limoncello (made by one of the managers) in the Italian restaurant. On leaving, we were given by our villa host (who was always available) a framed photo of us (proudly sitting on my book case at home). These small things make a difference.
As we headed back down the mountain (just as terrifying for me as going up by the way) and to the airport for me and Dubai for AZ, we couldn’t believe that we had finally managed to pull off a trip away without drama, sickness or general hysteria.
Cheers to that…
Grand Hyatt Muscat:
Room tip: Book a club room for a more spacious room and access to the club lounge for breakfast, snacks and a fabulous cocktail hour.
Dining tip: Try the authentic Indonesia food at beachside Marjan.
Loyalty Program: The newly launched World of Hyatt offers special rates for members.
Anantara Jabal Akhdar:
Room tip: It’s hard to pick wrong, but splurge and try the cliff top villas with the heated pools. We loved the privacy, views and splashing in the pool.
Dining tip: Dining by Design is a must. You can choose from a variety of menus and locations around the resort.
Loyalty Program: Their excellent Privilege Program offers discounts and special additions for members.