It takes a four-wheel drive vehicle two hours to make the trip from Muscat to Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, perched on the Saiq Plateau in the ancient Hajar mountain range. Farmers have grown damask roses and pomegranates here for centuries on terraces cut into the mountain’s slopes.
The resort’s remote location might seem foreboding, but a sense of tranquillity and majesty soon takes over. In sharp contrast to the surrounding landscape, fountains and pools dot the property, filling the air with the calming babble of flowing water. Winding pathways cross the grounds, bordered by indigenous flora such as juniper, myrtle and aloe vera. Petunias, roses and hottentot figs add splashes of colour, while the chef’s garden offers pleasant aromas of coriander, mint and lemongrass.
Anantara’s rooms have spacious balconies and the villas feature private pools. You can opt for a view of either a landscaped garden or the dramatic canyons and cliff sides. The interiors reflect a thoughtful blend of Omani culture and contemporary design, with gold accents offset by warm wood and cooler shades of grey.
Although it’s hard to beat Anantara’s captivating environs, the real reason for my visit is the food being crafted at the resort’s three restaurants – Bella Vista, Al Maisan and Al Qalaa. Bella Vista, known to be the best Italian restaurant in Oman, is set by the infinity pool, with exquisite views of the rugged cliffs beyond the property. Its home-style Italian cuisine features fresh seasonal produce. The burrata salad, with cheese imported from Italy, heirloom tomatoes and fresh garden basil is my favourite, but the thin-crust pizza topped with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and turkey bacon comes in a close second.
Al Maisan’s menu takes you on a culinary journey across the globe, with a buffet breakfast and à la carte options for lunch and dinner. A colourful array of fruit and freshly squeezed juices beckons every morning, along with dishes ranging from Asian conjee, Indian chickpea curry and handmade granola, to sausages, omelettes, waffles, pastries and breads. If you’re lucky, you might get to enjoy Omani honey straight from the honeycomb.
Al Qalaa is Anantara’s signature restaurant, with architecture reminiscent of the Khasab Castle in Musandam. My eyes are immediately drawn to the elegant light fixture, which resembles the spinning planets of the solar system. The menu here offers traditional Omani food alongside classic Arabic fare. Feast on fresh local seafood such as hammour and lobster, meat specialities like lamb shank or mezze such as warak enab bil zaite (grape leaves stuffed with rice and tomatoes) and delicious muhamarrah (walnuts and grilled peppers blended with pomegranate molasses, cumin and breadcrumbs).
The highlight of the resort’s culinary repertoire is shuwa. This traditional meal is usually enjoyed at major community events such as Eid or weddings. The main ingredient is lamb, slow-cooked in an underground pit. According to Anantara’s chef de cuisine, Ibrahim Salem, every Middle Eastern country has its own version of the dish and his is based on the Omani tradition.
Authentic shuwa can take up to 24 hours to cook, so we gather on the evening before our dinner to watch Chef Ibrahim place the lamb into a pit, as fading sunlight filters through the rising smoke. Too impatient to wait a whole day for the meat to be ready, I ask for a taste of the delicious blend of spices used in the dish, and he is happy to oblige.
The next evening, we stand by the pit again, as Chef Ibrahim unwraps the lamb. Shuwa is meant to bring communities together and the aroma of the meat does just that, drawing in other guests who are passing by. There are smiles all round as we bite into the succulent, flavourful lamb.
While it may be tempting to laze by the pool all day after such extravagant meals, I am keen to try out the many activities on offer, which include archery, hiking and rock climbing, as well as local, guided nature walks. A tour of the villages scattered around Jabal Akhdar is like stepping back in time. As I follow my tour guide Hussain down cool alleyways and past carved wooden doors, I can’t help but wonder at the secrets these old houses hold.
Al Ayn, a semi-abandoned settlement, is home to four or five families who still grow damask roses. These delicate flowers give the hillsides a pink and white hue between early April and mid-May every year, as they bloom. Picked early in the morning, the roses are used to make the famous Omani rose water. In addition to the roses, the families also grow walnuts, garlic, apricots and pomegranates. They water their crops using the ancient falaj irrigation system, which draws water from an underground source via a series of channels dug into the soil.
I conclude my stay at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort with a heart-pounding series of climbs and two zip lines. The route includes a section where our guide leads us along a narrow ledge across a sheer vertical cliff face. If you can muster the courage to tackle the via ferrata, you
will be treated to panoramic views of the Omani countryside that will stay etched in your memory forever.
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