In November 1986 a helicopter landed in the untouched wilderness of Jebel Akhdar, Oman. That helicopter delivered Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles to an area of Oman that, at that time, was only accessible by donkey or foot. The royal couple spent six hours there with Prince Charles painting the canyon scene in watercolors while Diana read a book. Thirty years later, and thanks to a steep and twisting 4×4-only accessible road that climbs right up to the very spot Diana and Prince Charles had sat on the Saiq Plateau, we can all enjoy the view from Diana’s Point at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar.
Jebel Akhdar, meaning the Green Mountain, is one of Oman’s most spectacular areas. It’s part of Al Hajar Mountains and soaring up to the highest point at 3000 meters (9800 feet), it is the highest point in Oman and all of eastern Arabia. Though mostly desert like much of Oman, the high elevation earns this bit of Oman some annual rain that keeps it moist enough to support agriculture. Pomegranates, walnuts, apricots, black grapes and peaches all grow here and the area is well-known for its rose water extraction done by the farmers that have lived in these terraced villages for hundreds of years.
And since Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Oman opened their 5-star luxury resort built around Diana’s Point not even two years ago, people have come from far and wide to admire this mountain slice of paradise. More than just a Jebel Akhdar hotel, it’s worth spending at least a couple of days at the newest of the Anantara Oman resorts to truly explore what Jebel Akhdar has to offer.
Day 1: Beat the heat at Anantara al Jabal Al Akhdar
Temperatures in Muscat soar above 90°F (32°C) for more than seven months of the year. Oman isn’t exactly teeming with tourists, but the off season is from April through September when the temperatures can become unbearably hot. Already during our April visit, temperatures exceeded 100°F (38°C) and we very much looked forward to escaping the heat at the cooler altitudes at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar.
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar’s very reason for being is the remote location at 2000 meters (6500 feet) on the Saiq Plateau about a 2-hour drive from Muscat. The hotel is only accessible by a mega-twisty road that it took construction crews seven years to complete. That road changed the way of life for villagers on the plateau, who used to have to traverse the journey either by donkey or foot. A 4WD vehicle is required to access Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar, and since we weren’t exactly sure what to expect with the foreboding-sounding road, we opted to arrive by Anantara’s luxury 4×4 transfer from Muscat.
It turns out that the road is entirely paved, though there is a checkpoint manned by the Royal Oman Police. The road can experience rock slides or flooding, but the 4WD requirement is mainly more for the steep incline and decline. You can arrive to Jebel Akhdar in your own car or car rental; however, make sure that it is 4WD because the Royal Oman Police will turn you around at the checkpoint if the vehicle is not 4WD.
We sat back and relaxed on the drive with cold drinks, Omani dates and nuts and even wifi via a MiFi device provided for the drive by Anantara.
Arriving around lunchtime, we were quickly settled in to our 1-bedroom cliff pool villa by our villa host after enjoying a welcome drink of date milk, more Omani dates and macarons – date flavored, of course.
The Anantara pool villa is our favorite of Anantara’s various room categories across their properties. We’ve stayed in pool villas at Anantara Kihavah Villas Maldives, Rasananda Koh Phangan and the other Anantara hotel Oman – Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara. They’re always spacious and the pool is a welcome reprieve from the heat.
The 10 1-bedroom cliff pool villas sit dramatically on the canyon edge and each has their own private temperature-controlled infinity pool. Each of the cliff pool villas has a unique view and a card placed with a set of binoculars explains precisely what your own view looks out upon. Our particular villa, which was cliff pool villa number 9, looked out to the town of Izki between the two mountains. It’s known to be the oldest town in Oman.
The bed faces the private outside terrace, infinity pool and canyon beyond through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. The photographs and artwork throughout the villa are all done by local Omani artists and everything is designed to give the impression of being inside of the ancient Omani forts, like nearby Nizwa, while still being comfortably modern. The colors are soothing shades of browns and greens, which blend with the nature outside your door at Jebel Akhdar.
The bathrooms of the cliff pool villas are perhaps my favorite bathrooms. Ever. Each has their own mini hamman with a huge rain shower located in between the large double-vanity bathroom and a massive bathtub made for relaxing soaks. There’s even a menu to choose your preferred bath salts from a selection of three, with the menu explaining the individual heath benefits of each. There’s also bath products from Amouage, a luxury brand that was founded in Oman in 1983.
The living room is a glimpse in to the Majlis-style of traditional Arabic family living and also opens on to the private terrace through more floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. Every room has a sketch pad for those that want to try their hand at sketching or painting, just as Prince Charles did while he visited this spot.
If you don’t want to splurge on the cliff pool villas (although, we highly recommend that you do), the resort does have 82 spacious rooms. The rooms do not have their own private pools, but there is a gorgeous infinity pool adjacent to Diana’s Point. There are also garden villas, which are walled and offer complete privacy with private pools.
Relaxing in our private infinity pool was definitely calling our name after three active days in Muscat full of diving and hiking, but first we headed to the poolside Bella Vista (meaning beautiful view) for lunch. This restaurant, built on the wood and glass platform of Diana’s Point, is only open for lunch. It’s helmed by a Sicilian chef and features Italian cuisine and wood-fired pizzas. We had spa appointments in the afternoon, so we opted for a seafood salad with calamari, prawns and scallops which was light and delicious. One gripe about Bella Vista is that complimentary local bottled water is provided in the rooms, but only imported bottled water is available and it’s on the expensive side.
The rest of our first day at Jebel Akhdar was spent with a couple’s massage in the Anantara Spa, which we’ve come to know from our stays at Anantara throughout the Maldives and Thailand are some of the best spas in the world. We were welcomed with a pot of rose tea brewed from the Damask roses cultivated for centuries in Jebel Akhdar before being led to the separate men’s and women’s changing rooms. Our massages were a 60-minute Anantara signature treatment, or basically 60 minutes of bliss. I also had a pedicure at the spa, which was also so relaxing that I fell asleep during the foot and leg massage portion of it. And if you love the Damask rose tea as much as we did, the spa also sells little packets of it to bring home and provides a recipe card with instructions on how to brew it.
There’s an activity center on the resort property which has bicycles for guests to borrow complimentary, and a game room with a pool table, ping-pong and foosball. This is also where you sign-up and check in to meet local gurus for guided activities like the various hikes, the Jebel Akhdar activity wall and all other Anantara Guru led Jebel Akhdar tours available in the area.
Though the cliff pool villas are a fantastic spot to watch the sunset, we couldn’t miss watching it from Diana’s Point. The orange ball of fire slowly sank beneath the canyon’s rim as the sky danced in shades of deep blues, lavenders and pinks.
There are five dining venues at the resort: Bella Vista (lunch only), Al Maisan which is Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar’s all-day buffet-style dining restaurant, the fine dining Al Qalaa featuring Omani specialties, Al Baha in the courtyard for coffee, tea and French pastries, and dining by design – a private butler-attended dining experience on Diana’s Point. We choose the Arabic-themed buffet dinner at Al Maisan for our first night, which offered a variety of delicious Arabic mezze and salads, hot dishes and too many desserts to try.
Day 2: Get adventurous in Jebel Akhdar
After breakfast in Al Maisan, which has a delicious buffet offering of fresh fruits like melon and coconuts to drink and eggs cooked to order, we signed up for a morning hike to Wadi al Bawaarid with a local guru. Wadi al Bawaarid means “cold water” and this canyon is now essentially a dry river bed that is still part of a route used by locals to walk from the nearby villages to Nizwa.
Before the aforementioned road that was built and finally completely as recently as 2007, locals carried the fruit from their farms on their heads along the 60-kilometer route through the Jabal Al Akhdar mountains to Nizwa. There they’d trade and sell the fruit from their farms before returning back to their village with dates. As we walked first over the rock-strewn canyon clifftop, the local guru pointed our markers with arrows painted on rocks to point the way.
Our local guru used to come to this canyon as a young boy. He explained that it was once a raging river and there were many waterfalls. It’s hard to imagine the once snaking river and waterfalls pouring over the cliff ledges as we gaze down in to the craggy riverbed.
These days it’s nearly all dried up, yet flowers like henna – the very plant used to make the coloring for henna tattooing – and roses manage to grow. We also find little pools here and there that are home to frogs and dragonflies along the way. And the name of the wadi translating to “cold water” makes sense, because those pools are incredibly cold. We suppose you could swim, but it wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant as swimming through the various pools of Wadi Shab. A refreshing dip in our own private pool awaits back at the resort; we’ve come to steal away a bit of quiet in nature.
Without our local guru, we would have easily missed the secret hideaway of a rebel during the civil war in the 1950s.
Back then Oman was divided by the coastal areas, which were ruled by Sultan Said ibn Taymūr, and the Omani interior that was ruled by an imam (or a community leader). All hell broke loose when the oil company Aramco claimed there was evidence of oil near the Buraimi Oasis, which was on the border of Oman and what is now present day United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia claimed the area, and Sultan Said ibn Taymūr decided to join forces with the imam in order to expel the Saudi Arabians out of the Omani part of the oasis. Back then Britain still had their hand in Oman though, and the British government persuaded the Sultan to stand down with his plan because of an agreement between Britain and Saudi Arabia.
The imam died in 1954 though, and was succeed by the imam Ghālib. Ghālib declared that Oman was independent from Muscat, and the Sultan responded by invading the Omani interior. The rebels made a strong hold and hid out in Jebel Akhdar, evading air strikes for nearly a year. Eventually two British special forces squadrons were able to scale down Jebel Akhdar and end the rebellion in 1959, gaining the sultan control of the Omani interior.
The hideaway was perfectly hidden behind a waterfall, with multiple little rooms built in to the rock.
After about an hour of walking and partially scrambling over some boulders and along rocky ledges, we made it to the wadi. We had time to relax and have a snack at the wadi, before hiking back out and back up to the top of the gorge. It’s a 6-kilometer (about 4 miles) excursion that is a fairly easy walk aside from a bit of scrambling.
In the afternoon and after a bit of relaxing to recuperate from the trek to Wadi al Bawaarid, don’t miss tackling Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar’s Ultimate Jabal Activity Wall. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart as it’s one of the highest climbing walls in the Middle East. The new 200 meter long via ferrata route and ziplines are also the first in Oman and one of the features that set Anantara apart from any other Jebel Akhdar hotel.
The adventure begins with navigating a series of strategically placed steps, ladders and vertical stairs along the rock face. There’s various routes that make the Ultimate Jabal Activity Wall suitable for all ability levels from beginners to experienced climbers, and there’s various escape routes in case you get out there and decide that being on a rock face with a gorge plunging to 1000 meters below you.
The via ferrata, which originates from Italy during WWII when troops installed fixed “iron roads” in the mountains to help them navigate the treacherous mountain trails, stretches for 200 meters and ends with two ziplines that send you soaring through the air for the ultimate adrenaline rush.
Guides are with you the entire time and you use a locked carabiner system, which means that you don’t need to worry about unclipping and clipping back in as you move along the via ferrata route. With the locked carabiner system, you clip in at the start and don’t unclip until you reach your exit point. It takes about 2 hours in total and you can actually book the Ultimate Jabal Activity Wall whether or not you’re a guest of the resort.
Al Qalaa, the fine dining restaurant inside of the fort designed to look like a Khasab Castle at the heart of the resort, was a perfect end to an adventurous day. Al Qalaa is Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar’s signature restaurant and offers a multi-course menu of Omani and Middle Eastern dishes. They also have an impressive wine list and we opted for a bottle of Sancerre from the Loire Valley to pair with our meal.
The meal begins with Shorbat Adas, a Middle Eastern lentil soup with Anantara’s own twist. A selection of either hot or cold mezzeh to share follows, and we opted for the cold mezzeh with the various dips like hummus, babaganoush, muhammara and roasted artichokes served with homemade Arabic bread that we’d come to already love from breakfast and Al Maisan’s buffet.
Never ones to turn down lobster when it’s on the menu, we choose the Omani seafood grill with Omani lobster, jumbo prawns, baby hammour and jumbo scallops. And we finished off with a little something sweet: a ganache filled chocolate bomb with coffee parfait and drizzled with warm date caramel sauce.
Day 3: Learn to cook some Arabic dishes at Anantara Spice Spoons
One of the things we did at Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan when we visited Thailand was to learn to make some of our favorite new Thai dishes like Tom Yum Goong and green curry at Anantara Spice Spoons. We were just as excited to return to Anantara Spice Spoons on this trip, but this time to learn some Omani and Middle Eastern recipes.
The chef has an onsite garden where herbs and vegetables are grown for use in the resort’s dishes and the Spice Spoons adventure begins with a visit to the garden alongside the chef. Then you work alongside the chef to prepare a multi-course meal that you’ll have for lunch from a menu of appetizer, entree and dessert selections.
We choose to make muhammara, a red pepper and walnut dip originating from Aleppo, Syria. It was our favorite of all the dips and spreads, and one that we hadn’t had before on previous trips to the Middle East. The red pepper in it refers to a red chili pepper, which makes it subtly spicy when balanced out with the walnut. It’s actually incredibly simple and easy to make, but oh-so-flavorful with the Arabaic spices and pomegranate molasses in it.
For our main course, we choose Machboos Samkeh Harra or spicy grouper with rice. Omani cuisine is actually a mix of dishes from across the Arabian peninsula with a marriage of spices and rices from India and Asia. Fresh seafood and fish are caught fresh daily along the coast and rice is a staple of the midday Omani meal. We choose this particular dish because it is about as Omani of a dish as you can get, when so many other common dishes originating from elsewhere in Arabia. Technically the Samkeh Harra originates from Lebanon, but is loved here in Oman.
Luqaimat was a fitting choice for dessert since these dumplings sweetened with date syrup are a favorite at Iftar during Ramadan, which would start just after we departed Oman. Plus, they’re basically like fried dough with date syrup and sesame seeds and who doesn’t love fried dough?
We prepared each course step-by-step and were really surprised at how simplistic each dish was. Thai cooking can be really complex and some of the ingredients we’ve just never been able to find at home, but the dishes we chose for our Arabic Spice Spoons experience can easily be recreated at home.
After about an hour of cooking, our multi-course feast was ready to enjoy. We did just that for lunch just before departing on the journey back to Muscat. It was a great end to our visit to Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar.
Know Before You Go
Our trip to Jebel Akhdar was in partnership with Anantara in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you book on Anantara through our affiliate site, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.