Mountain high: Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Alila Jabal Akhdar eat my words

It’s not every day you find yourself scrambling over a cliff face 2000 metres above sea level one minute, and then face-down on a massage table the next. At Alila Jabal Akhdar, the thrills and chills come in equal measure, delivering a high-octane blend of outdoor activities and ultra-luxe pampering.

In fact, you’ll feel your pulse racing before you’ve even arrived at this lofty retreat in Oman, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Muscat, or a six-hour stint from Dubai. No matter which direction you’ve come from, the final hour of the journey begins at a police checkpoint near Nizwa. Here, an officer checks over our SUV and our insurance details, warning my husband to take it easy. Then, it’s a hair-raising ascent of hairpin turns, with jagged rocks on one side and nothing but blue sky on the other.

Eat My Words Alila Oman

Inspired by ancient forts and built from local stone, Alila Jabal Akhdar has been designed to blend in with the surroundings, so it comes as a sweet relief when we finally spy the low-slung buildings at the top of the Al Hajar mountain range. In the soaring reception space, we’re greeted by a roaring open fireplace, cool towels and warm Omani coffee, before being shown around the property.

Any thoughts of a relaxing stay are immediately dashed as we watch our toddler run full-pelt first towards the infinity pool perched above the gorge, and then towards the edge of the sheer cliff. We’re not the only family here with a young one in tow, though. In fact, for those whose children are beyond the hyperactive toddler stage, the hotel promises a memorable family getaway, with the Play Alila kids’ club that boasts butterfly walks, movie sessions and a games room, a choice of indoor and outdoor pools, and a thoughtful welcome kit that includes quality toiletries, a stuffed toy, and swimming diapers. We meet families who’ve spent the past two weeks here, their children relishing the chance to play and explore in the cool mountain air.

Eat My Words Oman travel

We decide to lure Frankie back from the edge by strapping her into a highchair for lunch at Rose Lounge. While Frankie inhales her excellent kid’s meal of penne bolognese, Simon and I share a platter of soft-shell crab, sesame-crusted tuna and spring rolls, paired with rose-scented cocktails using petals from the dusty-pink damask rose bushes that cover these ranges.

Known as the ‘Green Mountain’ in Arabic, Jabal Akhdar is an adventure lover’s paradise – and Alila ensures you get the most out of your stay by offering an array of free activities each day. During our visit, there’s a village trek and that cliff-face scramble, known as the Via Ferrata Cave Affair – I send Simon off to tackle this one alone, and he returns 90 minutes later, sweating and puffing, following an intense rock-climbing session that culminates in a ropes course across the mouth of a cave, dangling high above the canyon.

There are more sedate pursuits on offer, too, including a demonstration by the dessert chefs, sunrise yoga sessions, and afternoon tea as the sun sets each day. After Simon’s breathing has returned to normal, I hand over Frankie and hightail it to Spa Alila, clearly having drawn the long straw in this arrangement. For the next hour, I’m treated to a traditional ‘sayang sayang’ massage, using grapefruit and vetiver oil to soothe and detoxify.

By the time I return, my rookie rock-climber and tot are champing at the bit for dinner, so we make our way downstairs to Juniper Restaurant. The menu offers the choice of an Omani set menu or mod à la carte offerings inspired by Mediterranean and Middle East cuisines. We choose the Omani feast, starting with warming bowls of lentil soup, a pomegranate and feta salad, and a platter of labneh, carrot dip, and mama ghanoush (with zucchini standing in for eggplant). Main courses are the signature Omani shuwa of gently spiced lamb cooked in an underground oven, and a piquant curry of fish, tomatoes and onion. Frankie forgoes most of her chicken and chips for a bowl of pomegranate arils, which the staff happily refill each time she reaches the bottom. They also oblige our request to have dessert sent to our room, so the three of us snuggle up in bed to watch movies and share the restaurant’s sublime chocolate Umm Ali pudding with cardamom ice cream.

Eat my words in Oman

Our morning is spent lingering over the sumptuous buffet in Juniper Restaurant, before slipping between the indoor and outdoor pools. Then it’s time to tackle that drive back down the mountain, resulting in high fives once we reach the bottom. While Frankie may have kept us on our toes during this stay, we both agree that a return trip – once she is a bit older – is in order. Who knows, I may even tackle that cliff climb myself…

Visit: alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar

We were guests of Alila Jabal Akhdar. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Good Magazine. 

Sarah Gamboni is an Australian food, drinks and travel writer. Sarah writes for leading lifestyle magazines and websites, and produces content for a range of clients spanning tourism bodies, beauty products, food and fashion. She is currently based in Dubai with her husband, Simon, and daughter, Francesca.