Hayley Skirka explores Oman’s mountainous terrain some 2,000m above sea level with all the comforts of the region’s highest five-star hotel
I gripped my fingers tighter around the sand-coloured rock my left hand was clinging to, swinging my right leg forward as high as I could and stabbing at the rugged rock face in a bid to find something of a foothold. My trainer scuffed the cliffside, my foot slipping back down to the ledge I was precariously perched on. I sighed.
“Try again, you almost had it,” yelled Ali from below. Refocusing, I threw my leg back up onto the rock, pulling myself a little higher with the paltry arm strength that I have. Jackpot! My foot hit something of an indent and, transferring all my weight onto that foot, I used it as a lever, enabling me to hoist the rest of my body with one more push, so that I could finally touch the top of the rock.
A whoop arose from below, no doubt my patient instructors – although whether they were cheering my success or celebrating not having to climb up and rescue me, I couldn’t be sure. Manoeuvring myself solidly onto the clifftop, I turned around, ready for my reward. And what a reward it was.
There, sprawling in front of me, lay hundreds of metres of untouched, isolated desert rock face.
From dusky brown to burnt sienna and a million shades in-between, the canyon ridge stretched for miles, endless in its beauty
A bit off in the distance, some older trees and bush fringed the ridges, surrounding the small valley that was only just visible when I cupped my hand above my eyes, filtering out the haze.
This was Jabal Al Akhdar, Oman’s Green Mountain and a haunting terrain perfect for exploring. The mountains here are actually the result of a collision some 60 million years ago, of the continental and oceanic plates, that caused major earth movements resulting in the uplift of sedimentary mountains all along the northern coast and into the southwestern spine of the country. The spectacular shapes and heights found in the Akhdar mountains stem from this, and the canyon ridge that Anantara Al Jabal Akhdar lies upon is no exception. The highest five-star hotel in the region, this newly opened haven is the ideal abode for anyone seeking an adventure-filled stay with a view to remember.
The rock I had just conquered constitutes one of the many outdoor activities offered by the resort’s on-site adventure team, appropriately referred to as Mountain Gurus. Experts in all things mountaineering, they’re happy to take guests climbing, abseiling, trekking and biking. Our rock-climbing session had followed a sunrise yoga class on the mountaintop and I was feeling pretty good about all these active pursuits.
Mountain, check, I headed back to my beautifully designed suite, where Omani touches pepper the space in a subtle ode to the region. Stepping through the glass doors onto the deck, my private infinity pool glistened brightly in the winter sun. And yet, it was the dramatic view ahead of me that commanded my attention. Grabbing a pair of binoculars from the dressing table, I soaked in the surroundings. Scanning the horizon to the right, my eyes settled on an area referred to as Asinin by the locals, which translates to ‘two teeth’ and where there lies an ancient cave people once used as a resting point on epic journeys to the town of Nizwa. In-between the two huge mountains I spotted the ruins of Izki, the oldest town in Oman. Looking closer I could see an extensive complex of disintegrating mud-brick buildings enclosed by a rectangle of impressive solid walls, all built on raised stone foundations. This locale is also the home of Oman’s oldest falaj, Al Mulki, making it an important point in the region’s development.
By now it was nearing sunset, so I gathered my camera and a sweater – it gets remarkably cold in the desert when you’re 2,000m above sea level – and headed to Diana’s Point. Named after a 1986 visit from the late Diana, Princess of Wales and her then-husband Prince Charles, it’s rumoured to be the best sunset viewing point in all of Oman. I positioned my camera carefully, thankful to be behind the safety of a glass panel on this craggy cliff, and watched as nature’s show commenced. The sky, already painted a hazy shade of pink, began to warp towards orange – reflecting the setting sun and the bright red of the rocks below. Drowning in the rocky horizon, the rays of light glimmered as the darkness edged in and the clouds above began to reveal a sliver of crescent moon.
Gazing in wonder, stillness encasing me, it really wasn’t hard to see why Princess Diana fell in love with this spot
Almost as soon as it had begun, the spectacle ended and, as night took over, we headed to Bella Vista for some authentic Italian cuisine, the perfect way to round off such an incredible evening.
Having left the curtains of my Cliff Pool Villa slightly open before I went to bed, morning came calling in a flurry of beauty, sunlight streaming in from every angle. To say the sunrise is spectacular is nothing short of an understatement and I would have happily enjoyed breakfast on that terraced vista for hours upon end. With every need thought of, the villas are truly perfect for a couple’s retreat and boast a private majlis with artist’s sketchpad and colouring pencils for capturing the perfect vantage, specially selected grape collections and outdoor rainforest showers. But linger in my villa I could not for there was plenty more exploring to do.
Climbing into a waiting 4×4, we trundled over rocky terrain in the direction of a drop-off point, not too far from the resort’s edge. From here, we began with a starting view of Hail Yemen, a tiny village perched on this highland plateau. Clambering out of the vehicle, and with local Mountain Guru Tariq leading the way, we began our trek to Wadi of the Waterfall, just one of many the resort offers. As we walked, Tariq answered our questions, pointing out where the Akhdar plateau would often be carpeted in lush greenery, showing us where wadis might run and unveiling plenty of fossilised shells buried on the mountain slopes, evidence of an era when this entire region was actually submerged in shallow sea. Deep gorges provide narrow pathways where even the lightest of rainfall can garner incredible strength, eventually driving torrents powerful enough to sweep away anything in their path. For this reason, camping in wadis is not advised, though Tariq admits it’s a favourite pastime with the local children.
Reaching the base of the canyon, we were thrilled to discover that, despite the dry desert landscape at this time of year, there was indeed a waterfall, albeit not a rushing one. Lizards, birds and bright-blue dragonflies whirred around, all having come to make this sought-after water source their playground. I ventured a foot into the clear green water, but the cold was enough to make me retreat. Meanwhile, Tariq had somehow produced the means to make steaming cups of local Qahwa (coffee) served with fresh fruit from the Akhdar mountains. Often referred to as the Fruit Bowl, this region’s lofty orchards produce some of the finest pomegranates, apricots and pears. Munching lunch in the shade of a giant mountain, deep in Omani terrain, a sense of smallness came over me. This place really is a true testament to nature’s intermingling of power and beauty.
Heading back up the mountain after a day of exploration, nothing seemed more welcoming than returning to the comfort of our hotel. For a place where you can truly live the high life, in more ways than one, this Omani mountaintop retreat takes some beating.
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