After two nights of wild camping and one night in the desert of Wahiba Sands, we’re a little rough around the edges. The Pajero is covered in dust and so are we. I’m looking forward to getting to the Alila Jabal Akhdar where I can wash the sand off my feet, moisturize and retreat from the dryness of Oman’s environment.
We set off down the highway toward Nizwa, but decide to pull over to check the map and make sure we’re heading in the right direction. J turns the car onto a side road and stops. As I look at the map I notice something moving in my peripheral vision. Two men are quickly approaching our car — a young guy and a very old guy walking with a cane. The young guy comes to the driver’s side and the old guy comes to the passenger door behind me. They open the doors of the Pajero just as we realize what’s happening.
Omanis love to carpool. It’s something we’ve seen everywhere we’ve been so far — people standing on the side of the road waiting for a driver or taxi going in the same direction to pull over and give them a ride. It’s pretty amazing to see carpooling so widely practiced, and embraced without fear of who is offering the ride. Even as tourists, we seem to be acceptable carpool candidates. The old guy eyes our mountain of camping gear occupying the entire back half of the car and understands we have no room for him so he shuts the door and walks off.
The younger guy, however, pushes as much as he can out of the way and climbs on top of the gear. This is all done with a smile and a universally understood point of his hand to drive forward. He speaks very little English so we have no idea where he wants to go, other than forward. We have no choice but to take some time and get this guy where he needs to go, so we laugh and start driving. A mile down the road he points to his house where he wants to be dropped off. We pull over as he silently invites us, putting his hand to his mouth, to come in and eat lunch. Were it not for our eagerness to get to the hotel, we might have taken him up on it.
Back on the highway, we make our way to the Saiq Plateau where the hotel is located. We know we’re in for a fun drive when we’re stopped at the bottom of the plateau to check in with the police and show them we have a four-wheel drive (it’s 75f degrees with zero chance of snow). We’re allowed through the check point and begin the extreme uphill climb to the hotel while noticing the unique geology of the mountains around us. They jut up from the edge of the desert, revealing angled sedimentary layers deposited and thrust upward over millions of years. The westerly view is gorgeous, steep, rough, barren.
There is no signage along the road but, with some help from people in a local village, we finally arrive at the Alila Jabal Akhdar. True to our style, we pull into this five-star luxury oasis in our dusty hiking clothes with a car packed full of camping equipment. They smile and welcome us. This is part of the reason we camp! It makes luxury more affordable.
We enter the reception area and check in. The manager, Tariq, gives us a personal introduction to the hotel as we walk out to the terrace overlooking the canyon.
The breathtaking view extends across the pool and down into the canyon. We look west, awe-struck, as Tariq explains that the entire hotel was constructed with stone from the site. The architectural style shows characteristics of cubism, although it may be less a design influence and more a function of constructing the hotel’s many components in an efficient way. Regardless, the style fits the location and the rustic finishes unify the site into a spectacular retreat at the edge of the canyon.
The Alila’s interior — a neutral palette of dark woods, white walls, limestone and contemporary furnishings — feels elegantly Omani. Occasional hits of color and personality — like the rose-patterned ironwork behind the reception area — add another layer of texture to bring everything to life. The feeling is rich in its simplicity, made richer with frankincense burning at the front entrance, a bowl of dates, and Nasir serving Omani coffee upon arrival.
Our Ridge View Suite is the farthest cottage from the main building of the hotel, located on a point overlooking the canyon. Silence is the only thing we hear from our balcony. We unpack and decide immediately to extend our stay to two nights. This kind of secluded luxury doesn’t come along very often. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve wanted to write about a hotel on my blog but this place begs for discovery when exploring Oman. And this is one of the few places we’ve stayed where staff members truly enhance our stay with their genuine friendliness and impeccable service. Many of them are here from Bali to help throughout the opening of this property (May, 2014).
We spend the next 48 hours staring off into the canyon, alternating between hot and cold pools, and soaking up every last bit of incredible Omani hospitality, cuisine and style. And at the end of both days, the sun drops out of view and the horizon glows bright red with the hue of Wahiba Sands.
Jebel Shams… you’ll just have to wait until we’re done here.
This is the fourth post about touring Oman. You can read from the beginning starting here.
Next up… Road Trip Oman: Jebel Shams