A guest’s approach to Alila Jabal Akhdar is inevitably a long and winding one. But the couple hours’ drive from Muscat goes quicker than expected when surrounded by the ever-evolving landscape of rocky outcrops and towering mountains. Coming across the hotel itself, nestled among these geological giants, therefore comes as something of a surprise. The cluster of grey stone buildings, resembling a small village, feels like the only civilisation for miles and yet the service is so friendly and the welcome so warm, that it is difficult to imagine you left the comforts of city living at all. This humble first impression was exactly what architecture firm Atkins had in mind, wanting to create a build that harmonised rather than contrasted with its setting. Focused on sustainable principles, they used local materials wherever possible, including local rocks retrieved during excavation for the stone masonry. Through the stone-brick columns and fort-like entrance doors lies a paved lobby where the welcome desk is set against an iron screen depicting a rose pattern, inspired by the damask roses that grow in the area. March until mid-May is the Rose season in Oman, when the abundant blooms are harvested to create the region’s signature dusty pink perfume. It is this delicate flower that the boutique hotel draws on for its logo, found on its room cards and signs as well as forming the name of its watering hole, the Rose Lounge.
A traditional red Sadu rug marks the welcome area’s seating, adorned with cushions in sandy tones of yellow and brown, while etched copper plates form the tabletops on which guests are served dates and tea from a dallah. The long, shaded stone interior of the lobby exudes a calm, monastic ambience but this is balanced by the cosiness of the large square fire pit in the centre. Raised from the ground and overhung by a striking suspended iron flue, in the evening the flickering flames cast a warming glow around the space, reminiscent of the campfires lit by Bedouin to ward off the chilly mountain nights.
These nods to a simpler style of living, harking back to the abodes of the original mountain-dwellers, can be found everywhere. Certainly the layout of the resort, with chalets dotted along the edge of the cliff, tapering off towards a precipice, feels organic and incidental. Each housing four rooms, and with staircases and balconies consisting of raw wood, rope and rattan, they blend into the mountainside, surrounded as they are by long grasses. By the main building a route through these plants takes you past the trickling water of an Aflaj irrigation system, a series of flowing water channels traditionally used around the Gulf to supply water to crops and communities, and here used to soothing visual and audial effect.
Inside, the suites embrace comfort and pared-back elegance, each featuring a hand-painted Juniper tree mural (another native plant) by a local artisan. The bathrooms are luxurious sanctuaries, boasting generously proportioned ostrich-egg bathtubs from which guests can look out onto their balcony, its day bed and the gorge below. Characterful details are also included, such as more Sadu fabric used across the doorway of the walk-in wardrobe, accompanied by a metal curtain holdback in the unmistakable shape of a goat. The wooly creatures are common in the mountains and visitors may even be treated to the sight of a family clambering across the rocks outside their bedroom on quieter evenings.
Throughout the resort simplicity is carefully combined with decorative touches. White-washed walls provide a backdrop to ironwork depicting pomegranates and trees, while petrified branches are used as eye-catching wall features. Neutral-toned seating makes way for shelves stacked with books and curated items, such as handmade pottery from Bahla (for which the town is famed) without it feeling busy or chaotic, even when coupled with dramatic clusters of pendant lights. In the spa corridors, patches of exposed brickwork, small lantern-lit alcoves and beams lined with rope overhead give the sense that you are walking down an alley in an historic Arabian town.
All this however, does not mention the views, which are vast and spectacular, and the clever minds behind the resort’s architecture and landscaping have ensured that they maximise on the incredible natural advantages of the location. From the long, serene infinity pool (from which it feels like you could reach out and touch the horizon), a series of staggered decks lead down to multiple viewing platforms, as well as Jacuzzis and sun-lounger spots tucked away so as not to interrupt the skyline. From open-air film screenings and relaxing sundowners, to high-altitude yoga, star-gazing and spa treatments, there is a carefully zoned outdoor area for every activity where one might wish to soak up the sights. The hotel also runs hiking and climbing expeditions for those who want to enjoy them further afield.
In its remoteness Alila Jabal Akhdar represents a truer sense of the word ‘retreat’ than most. But its understated, yet beautiful, design pays genuine tribute to the rugged surroundings and makes for a fitting companion to its breathtaking vistas, proving that often, when working with an amazing natural canvas, less is indeed more.