Last year, we were among the lucky 3 million tourists that went to the Sultanate of Oman. A very short stay, but enough to discover a pure gem, that made us dream of going back. Here’s our review of a short trip in a country we consider as one of the best ecotravel destinations in 2018
A little on Oman
Located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman is rapidly becoming a sustainable tourism destination of choice. The number of tourists visiting Oman is growing exponentially and Oman was stated to be one of the fastest growing destinations in the Middle-East by the World Tourism Organisation.
The good news is Oman has put serious efforts on promoting responsible tourism and its priority is to maintain a sustainable tourism activity preserving its environment and local heritage.
Getting to Oman is easy whether flying direct or making a stopover through the Uniter Arab Emirates, which is quite a big hub whether you are travelling form Europe or the Americas. Remember, if you have the option, always choose to fly direct to be more eco-friendly.
The country is a great destination whether you like mountains, beaches, snorkelling and diving or if you want to discover the desert. There’s a choice for everyone.
To snorkel, dive, kayak or paddle, you’ll probably choose the Musandam Fjords, for their unique clear and warm waters, where you’ll also get a chance to visit traditional fishing villages and forts.
If you want to see the desert, you’ll probably head down to one of the Sultanate’s tented camps, especially if you start your experience from Salalah.
We chose, to visit the green mountain for our first visit.
Holiable’s Omani Experience
In October 2017, we chose to visit the Jebel Akhdar Mountain, which means the green mountain. It is part of the Al Hajar mountains range, one of the highest in Oman. The climate of the plateau makes it ideal for cultivation, and that’s why people call it green.
Many fruits are cultivated in the area like walnuts, pomegranates and dates (of course), but the area is also very famous for the culture of juniper trees and damask roses. Many guides say that the blossom of the roses from March to May fills the area with the sent of roses; wherever you are, you will smell them. The roses are used to produce rose water which is widely used in Oman for flavouring, fragrance but also as a medicinal remedy.
The green mountain is ideal to discover the UNESCO inscribed Aflaj (plural for Falaj) Irrigation systems that are still in use in Oman. Using gravity, the water is channelled from springs and underground sources to be used in agriculture and in homes. It is equally distributed among inhabitants. It is a clear demonstration of sustainable use of water resources for the cultivation of produces in this arid region, and the system is very well explained on the UNESCO website.
And when you understand the system, you realize how you can see green patches in the mountain like this one.
The green mountain is also a great area to hike and discover abandoned villages where you can see the traditional architecture, the falajs and the wadis, natural swimming pools so to say, which you absolutely must go and see.
The biggest city in the area is Nizwa, the former capital, you should not miss a visit to the traditional Souk to discover local crafts, buy dates and taste Halwa the most famous Omani Dessert which is usually served with Omani Qahwa (traditional coffee)
We found a gem on top of the hill!
We had chosen to stay at the Alila Jabal Akhdar, a luxury eco retreat perched at 2,000 meters above sea level. Given the location of the hotel you cannot afford going there without a four-wheel drive. The highest part of the mountain is not accessible in another way and if you arrive there with a non 4WD car, you’ll be invited to stay where you are.
If you’re uncomfortable driving a 4WD or renting one, the hotel can come and pick you up. Which is a good option if you arrive directly from the Airport.
After a 2 hours ride from the Muscat airport discovering stunning views and feeling like being at the Grand Canyon, we were finally at our hotel.
It looked like a gem on paper, it was even better in real
First impression, Architecture. The architecture of the hotel is made of local stones and built using traditional construction techniques and really respects the landscapes and the style of the area. In fact when we arrived we could hardly see it from the road.
Everything in the hotel is made for visitors to live an eco-friendly experience. Not only is the hotel constructed according to LEED principles, to be in harmony with nature, they are also doing everything to limit their use of resources, energy consumption, and what we were thrilled about is that they go way further than just that.
As you can imagine, way up in the mountain, you’ll have to eat at the hotel often. And guess what, that’s really good news.
Alila Jabal Akhdar first promotes fresh and seasonal local produce cuisine a lot of them organic as well. And they even have their own garden for some of the produces that will be cooked for you. Vegan’s and vegetarians will be thrilled as the menu has a veggie friendly option included every day. Everything is freshly homemade and you’ll probably have a chance to meet the Chef who regularly visits the guests in the restaurant.
Alila is doing a lot to minimize waste and you’ll hardly see any plastic bottles or single use packaging’s in the rooms or at breakfast. The only point that saddened us was the use of straws. As you might have noticed already, we are really into the movement of saying no to straws in any drinks. A pity!
The hotel offers great experiences for nature lovers, they can take you on hiking tours for as less than 2 hours upto a whole day if you want to discover the area. There is even a hiking track around the hotel “the butterfly track” which is accessible to everyone. For the more adventurous, the hotel has a via ferrata, so if you want to climb rocks, that’s definitely the place you should go.
If you’re a wellness fan, note that the spa is divine and uses mainly natural/organic products which you can sample while you’re waiting for your massage session. And yoga classes are proposed daily for those who like that.
And if you want to star gaze, you can, on the dedicated deck where an “astral guide” will talk you through the constellations and tell you Omani legends of the night skies.
So what’s our ranking of Alila Jabal Akhdar ?
We would give them a gold.
At every step of the hotel organisation sustainability is there and you can see it.
From reducing waste, reusing grey waters, reducing electricity, educating customers on their practices, promoting the cultural heritage of the country and encouraging local employment and agriculture, we definitely think Alila deserves 5 sustainability stars.
Maybe 4.9, just because we don’t like straws in drinks ?
Budget Category: Luxury
Good for : Adventure travel, Hiking, wellness retreat, stargazing, Culture & Heritage, Cooking Classes Local food ,Organic Food, Veggie Friendly
Con’s: unrecommended for people suffering from altitude sickness and for anti-car travellers
*disclaimer: in case you wonder, this article is the reflection of our own experience at Alila Jabal Akhdar Hotel in Oman and is not sponsored