A weekend at Alila Jebel Akhdar
I’m really struggling to find the words to start this post… I don’t want to sound cheesy or sycophantic, but still convey just how much I have fallen in love with this gorgeous place!
I have to admit that despite my love for Oman, particularly this part, 2000m up in the Hajar Mountains, I was still a little hesitant for the long drive after such a hectic week of work – but I can assure anyone contemplating the trip that it is so worth it!
Arriving at the hotel late on Thursday, we didn’t see much en route, the last climb up the mountain being all the more hair-raising for the darkness. There is a police checkpoint at the bottom of the mountain and only 4 wheel drives are allowed up, due to the ridiculously steep roads, with the continual sign posts about driving in low gears a constant reminder to take the journey slowly and carefully.
The highlight of the trip was the via ferrata which we had booked for the Friday morning. For those not familiar with the term, a Via Ferrata (Iron Path in Italian) is a protected climbing route with a steel cable fixed to the rock, which climbers attach themselves to in order to limit any potential falls. The route often includes metal steps, ladders, cable suspension bridges and sometimes zip lines. It was my first experience of a via ferrata and, given my fear of heights, I was a little nervous. Alila Jebel Akhdar has its own via ferrata track descending from pretty much underneath the infinity pool, straight down the cliff edge. It took around an hour and a half for us to complete the circuit, taking in a steep ladder ascent up a rock face, a few metal steps around a cliff, and a cable suspension bridge across part of the ravine, and it was the most fun I have had in a long time! Yes, there were times my legs got the shakes but the great thing was that I was too distracted by the technicalities of hooking and unhooking my harness and finding the next step, that I didn’t have the time or headspace to succumb to the fears! It was great exercise, a real escape (mentally and physically) with some absolutely awe-inspiring views (so much so that we’re already researching where the other via ferrata’s are here, and where we can get our own harnesses – stay tuned!)
The beautiful infinity pool, clinging to the mountain side, was the perfect place to unwind for the afternoon and let the adrenaline wear off, while enjoying the cool breeze and sunshine.
The other highlight for us was completely unplanned – the lunar eclipse! Not only did we get to witness a beautiful sunset and the rising of an impressively full moon, but out on our balcony at around midnight, we witnessed the moon pass through the centre of the Earth’s shadow, gradually transforming it to a beautiful crimson glowing orb, without a cloud in the sky. Apparently it was the longest total lunar eclipse that will occur in the 21st century, and it happened at the same time as Mars being as close as possible to the Earth (which according to reports, only happens once every 25,000 years)!
There were many other factors which impressed me beyond my expectations, but without waxing lyrical and boring you to tears, I’ll keep it short! The rooms were spacious and luxuriously simple, the balconies (and baths!) had great views over the mountains, the staff were incredibly friendly and attentive, and the food was delicious – I particularly liked that the dishes were made using locally sourced ingredients – particularly pomegranate, honey, dates and rose water – and you could really taste the difference. The movies under the stars were a nice touch, although personally we were too caught up enjoying the atmosphere of the fire pit and our cocktails!
Finally, the location is fantastic, up higher, and further out than all of the other hotels, so that you really feel you are at the ends of the earth. We did a lovely little hike the following morning which started only five minutes drive from the hotel, and which took us through a wadi (a dried up river bed – more attractive than it sounds, covered in grass and flowers) to a dam full of lillies and frogs, and back along the mountain track with the goats, through an abandoned stone village.
I would have loved to have had more time to explore this stunning area, and I can say with absolute certainty that I will definitely back – possibly for some camping after the summer. If you’re looking for something unique and special, you really shouldn’t miss this – it’s now my favorite hotel for a staycation from Dubai! Now to save the fils back up for the next trip! 😉