Heading north on Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Road just after 7:30am.
Our plan for today was to head to Hatta, Dubai, cross over into Oman and then drive to the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Muscat.
I had long wanted to go to the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, located up at 2,095 meters up in the Al Hajar Mountains across the border in Oman.
To break up the long drive to get there I had decided to book a night in Muscat. I had stayed at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa five years ago on my first trip to Muscat so decided to make a return visit.
Stopping in Maleha, Sharjah to top up the tank with petrol.
Driving through the mountains of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.
10 kilometers to the border as we reach Hatta, a 140 km2 exclave of Dubai.
And my passport stamped as we entered Oman. Oman had recently started charging visa fees for many nationalities but New Zealand was one of the lucky few countries who could still enter without any visa or fees.
Cruising to Muscat on the recently opened Batinah Expressway. The eight lane highway was almost empty on this Friday morning and we made good time on the ~300 kilometers to Muscat.
Outside Oman Avenues Mall in Muscat just before 1pm where we stopped for a break after the long drive and to get something for lunch.
And indulging in some tasty Indian from Bombay Chowpatty before making the final drive to the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.
Arriving at the Shangri-La just after 2:30pm.
The Shangri-La consists of three separate hotels; Al Husn (The Castle), Al Bandar (The Town) and Al Waha (The Oasis).
The 262 room Al Waha hotel is a dedicated family resort with several swimming pools merging to form a oasis surrounded by date palms.
Hotel Al Husn is built to resemble a traditional Omani fort and is situated on a hill overlooking the coast. It is an exclusive adults only hotel with its own private beach and pool.
Hotel Al Bandar, situated in between the other two hotels and where we would be staying tonight, has 198 rooms and is designed to resemble a village inspired by old Muscat architecture.
Inside the amazingly beautiful lobby to check-in. Our one night stay at the five star resort cost $258 including breakfast.
And our room for our short stay.
The spacious bathroom also came with a bath along with the separate shower.
We had booked a garden view room but were fortunately upgraded to a sea view. While quite humid the temperature in Muscat was a few degrees cooler than Dubai and definitely made it a little more enjoyable than the gulf summer heat.
After freshening up we went for a walk to explore the resort.
After staying at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi a few weeks prior it was nice to visit a hotel that was still quite luxurious but a little more understated.
The design elements and overall hotel architecture really worked well with the old Muscat theme.
Trying the cardamon-infused Arabic coffee and dates in the lounge.
Taking a walk on the beach. I had visited the resort five years ago to take some photos for a magazine article at the onsite Bait-al Bahr Seafood restaurant and had arrived in late in the afternoon and left early in the morning. It was great to revisit for leisure this time and properly enjoy the place.
Al Waha Hotel left and Al Husn on the hill overlooking the beach on the right. We then headed back to our room for an afternoon nap to recuperate after the early morning start and long drive from Dubai.
Hotel Al Bandar below after we ventured out again in the late afternoon.
Looking at the surrounding hills in the background and the blue waters of the Gulf of Oman in the foreground.
The Al Husn Resort & Spa center with its private beach at the bottom of the cliff to the right.
The rocky peninsula extending out into the sea with Muscat Bay to the right.
The sun now getting low on the horizon.
And shining through a natural arch that had formed in the peninsula.
Al Husn Resort & Spa with the clifftop villas overlooking Muscat Bay behind. Just visible on the top-right is the nearly completed Jumeirah Muscat Bay. The 206 room hotel is due to open by the end of 2019.
While the rooms at Al Husn rooms were slightly larger, more luxurious (and expensive), I was glad we had opted for Hotel Al Bandar for our one night stay with the ample beach mere steps away from our room.
Hotel Al Waha to the east.
The hotel is connected to the rest of the resort via a tunnel through the surrounding hills.
The Hotel Al Bandar pool looked very inviting with its surrounding palm trees and artificial beach in the fading light.
And a great way to relax at the end of the day!
In the evening we headed to dinner at Tapas & Sablah for some al fresco Spanish dining.
Some fresh Spanish bread with olive oil & balsamic vinegar to start.
While Rianda opted for the peach, mango and lime juice I had a glass of the Spanish merlot.
We weren't too hungry after the substantial lunch in Muscat so just opted to share the Albóndigas con sepia; veal and cuttlefish meatballs with green beans. Quite an interesting combination but very tasty.
And for dessert the delicous chocolate churros.
We then retired to our room for a good nights sleep.
I was up early on the morning of day 2.
A couple of boats out at the end of peninsula.
The morning sun now climbing into the sky.
And shining a warm glow over the resort.
Looking down on the infinity pool at the Hotel Al Husn.
And Hotel Al Bandar with the Dawn Townhomes in the background.
With the relatively calm and waveless Arabian Gulf in Dubai it was a bit of a novelty to see the gentles waves lapping the beach from the Gulf of Oman.
Rows of sun loungers below awaiting the rising sun and hotel guests.
The sun now starting to illuminate Hotel Al Waha.
With an abandoned marina dvelopment just over the hill.
The oasis inspired pool in the central courtyard and with the tunnel entrance connecting the hotel to the rest of the resort visible bottom-left.
I then took the opportunity to take a morning dip in the sea.
And then joined Rianda who was enjoying the empty hotel pool.
After the relaxing early morning we headed to Restaurant Al Tanoor for breakfast.
The buffet had quite an impressive selection with ample hot dishes.
The chef busy cooking away at the egg station.
A wide selection of breads and pastries available.
The healthy corner with yoghurts, fruit and juices.
All making for a very tasty breakfast to keep us going well until dinner.
A large wall painting of old Muscat that covered the wall as we walked back to our room.
A beautiful old door that is now used as an ornamental piece in the hotel.
Back in our room where we packed our bags before heading out for one last stroll.
A diveboat out for an excursion by the peninsula.
A family making sandcastles on the beach.
A portrait of Sultan Qaboos, the leader of Oman and the longest serving monarch in the Gulf, in the hotel lobby. We checked out just before midday and then began the drive to Jebel Akhdar.
Today's drive would be over 200 kilometers and end at an elevation of 2,095 meters when we reached the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort.
Filling up the tank in Muscat before heading inland.
And some drinks and snacks for the road.
We made good time on Highway 15 and arrived in the town of Birkat Al Mouz at the turn off for the hotel just after 2pm and ready for the ascent into the mountains.
After stopping at the mandatory police checkpoint to make sure we were driving a 4WD capable vehicle, we started on the twisty and steep drive upwards.
Despite the compulsory requirement for a 4WD the road was paved and three lanes wide all the way.
An episode of British TV show Top Gear, hosted by Matt LeBlanc, featured him race up the mountain on a Ducati Superleggera motorcycle and ending at the Anantara resort.
Stopping at an elevation of 2,035 meters to take in the view. Just visible in the distance is the village of Al Sherajia.
The road up the mountain was only completed in 2007 and before this locals carried the fruit from their farms on their heads along a 60-kilometer route down to the town of Nizwa to sell.
We arrived at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort just before 3pm. The thermometer on my car read 41C (106F) before we began the ascent and was now reading much more palatable and enjoyable 26C (79F) at the 2,095 meter elevation of the hotel.
The main entrance where the Omani valet took care of our car and luggage. The resort had been on my bucket list for a while and I was especially enticed with the unique location high in the Omani mountains and its consequent cool temperatures offering respite from the Dubai heat and humidity.
A large bouquet of red roses on a water covered plinth in the lobby. Anantara are known for incorporating local culture and design elements into their hotels. Jabal Al-Akhḍar ('The Green Mountain') is known for its traditional rose water production.
Taking a seat in the reception area while we were checked in for our two night stay. I had booked directly with the hotel through the Anantata website a few months prior, taking advantage of their GCC resident discount resulting in a reasonable $610 for two nights for two including half-board (breakfast & dinner).
Welcome dates, date-flavored macarons, pomengranate juice and a cool towel each.
We were led into the resort by Henry from the front desk. He said that it had just been pouring with rain an hour earlier with some water still on the ground. He also said that the temperature drops to as low as -8C (18F) in the winter with snow fall common.
Designed by renowned French-Moroccan architect Lotfi Sidirahal, the resort officially opened in December 2016 after four years of construction.
It quickly gained a much deserved reputation as Oman's leading luxury hotel and one of the best in the Middle East with its apt design and stunning location.
Outside our Deluxe Canyon View Room, #250.
And inside with an Anantara towel elephant sitting on our bed. As well as an espresso machine there was also unlimited bottled local water available which was a welcome touch.
The spacious walk-in closet.
The bathroom complete with his and hers sinks.
As well as a good size bath there was a extensive menu of complimentary bath salts you could request.
British ELEMIS toiletries.
The Anantara philosophy of using local design and cultural elements really worked well with the traditional style Omani light shades and faux roof rafters. Anantara Hotels also have a signature piece of art in each room that is emblematic of the host nation. In this case a beautiful bronze Omani serving tray hanging on the bedroom wall.
Complimentary local fruit along with an illustrated booklet explaining their characteristics and other local produce.
The day bed out on the balcony with breathtaking views of the mountains beyond.
Henry said that the building across the valley visible on the upper-left was a residence belonging to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim.
We then went out to explore the rest of the resort.
At the viewing platform at Diana's Point, named after the Princess's visit to take in the mountain vistas while on a royal tour with Prince Charles in 1986.
At the time Jabal Al Akhdar was only accessible by donkey or foot so the Prince and Princess of Wales arrived to the Saiq Plateau by helicopter. The royal couple spent six hours here with Prince Charles painting the canyon scene in watercolors while Diana read a book.
The dark and dramatic skies starting to retreat after the midday downpour. Other famous visitors to Jabal Al Akhdar include Anthony Bourdain, who ventured up the mountain in 2017 to sample local delicacies such as shuwa (lamb roasted in spices in underground sand ovens) for his CNN Parts Unknown series.
Taking in the dramatic and beautiful mountain views.
More of the entry-level Premier (ground floor) and Deluxe (first floor) Canyon View rooms situated near the edge of the cliff. The next room upgrade trades the balcony with mountain view for a garden terrace with a private pool. Although a private pool would be appealing I personally would be hesitant to lose the amazing mountain views from our balcony.
After our brief walkabout we headed back to our room to relax and to simply enjoy being outside with an espresso without the relentless summer heat and humidity back in Dubai.
The view from our balcony with the sun starting to descend as the end of the day approaches.
And about to disappear below the horizon at dusk.
After Rianda had a bath and I had a quick shower we went for the short walk to dinner.
Looking across to the main hotel building which was designed based on the historic Khasab Fortress in Musandam, Oman. The tower to the right is home to the Al Burj lounge on the upper level and Al Qalaa Arabian restaurant on the lower level.
The atmospheric courtyard with the central fire-pit now alight. The channels of water are also lit up around the courtyard in homage to the ancient falaj system of irrigation that is used at Jabal Al Akhdar.
For dinner we went to Al Maisan, the all-day dining buffet restaurant at the resort. The extensive Arabic mezze and salad selection.
We opted to sit outside on the terrace and we were seated at a private table in the corner especially for couples.
A tasty selection of arabic and asian style fish, beef, lamb and chicken for the main course.
The wide range of desserts on offer.
It wasn't quite possible to sample all of the the desserts but I tried my best!
And I couldn't resist going back for a scoop of the yummy pistachio ice cream for a sweet end to day 2.
The view of the mountains at dawn from our balcony after I got up just after 6am.
A short walk from the hotel was the 700 year old village of Al Aqr, situated on the side of the canyon and next to descending terraces filled with pomengranate trees.
The village was largely uninhabited with only a few residents who worked on the terraces.
The ruins of an old abandoned traditional Omani house.
The former residents now long ago left for villas with more modern conveniences.
Inside which literally felt like stepping back in time.
A very small doorway that led to a pantry.
Though mostly desert like much of Oman, the high mountain elevation at Jabal Al Akhdar results in some rain that keeps it moist enough to support some agriculture. Pomegranates, walnuts, apricots, black grapes and peaches are grown as well as the famous Damask rose bushes that the area is famous for.
The tiered farms are irrigated by Oman’s ancient aflaj system, which since 2006 have been recognised with UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Consisting of gravity-powered water channels, the falaj run down the cliff-face using collected rainwater from ponds above.
The morning sun now shining across the resort. The amazing location on the edge of the dramatic precipice is also very apparent from this angle high above.
We then headed to Al Maisan for a delicious breakfast.
With a mixture of Western, Arabic and Asian cuisine to start the day.
Back to Diana's Point to take in the magnificent view again.
The cloudless blue sky was quite a contrast to the day before.
On the right on the side of the canyon is the small village of Ash Shirayjah.
We then headed to the infinity pool for a dip and some relaxation.
And were quickly given extra towels and a coolbox by the pool attendant.
A great place to just soak in the pool and enjoy the mountain views.
The obligatory cheesy holiday selfie! The pool is heated to a constant 29C (84F) year round so was just the right temperature to relax and chill in.
And taking a midday nap under the sun lounger.
After the lazy morning at the pool we went to the Al Baha courtyard café for a cappuccino, a rooibos tea and some macarons to share.
Some beautiful Arabic calligraphy artwork on the wall.
Rianda then made a visit to the hotel gift shop for some retail therapy and to buy some gifts for back home. All the items were handmade by local Omani families and priced quite reasonably.
Back at our balcony where some of the wild mountain goats came by to say hello.
Checking out the resort spa where Rianda made an appointment for a facial treatment.
I couldn't justify spending 35OR ($91) on my ugly mug so opted for a soak in the men's relaxation room while Rianda was pampered in the ladies spa.
In the late afternoon we went to the Al Burj (The Tower) lounge, a Moroccan themed lounge, for a pre-dinner drink.
Olives, nuts and cheese to snack on. It was happy hour so the drinks were half-price.
They had quite a selection of interesting drinks so we both chose one of the locally inspired creations. Rianda's In Bloom mocktail (left) made with rosewater, cream, spices and syrup and my Marrakesh Daiquiri (right), mixed with both aged and light rum, pomengranate juice, fresh lime juice and Marrakesh spices.
The barman offered to take our photo and had obviously done this before and went for a slightly cool and creative take.
We then ventured back to to Diana's Point to enjoy the dying light at dusk.
A table for setup for a romantic dinner for a lucky couple. Being in high demand this private table dining experience at Diana's Point must be booked well in advance and costs 75 OR ($195) per person.
We settled for table instead at Bella Vista, the resorts Italian restaurant. Fresh olive bread and tomato salsa to start.
I had opted for a generous serving of minestrone soup for the entrée from the half-board set menu.
While Rianda enjoyed the chicken wings with a side of sliced jalapeños from the à la carte menu.
For the main Rianda had the tasty risotto ai funghi.
And my very tasty diavola pizza with tomato, mozzarella and pepperoni.
We had originally only ordered a single tiramisu to share but the waitress surprised us with a complimentary second one for an extra sweet and delicious end to day 3.
Enjoying the view while enjoying a lazy start to the day. The temperature was a very pleasant 21C and with no wind at all it was great to be able to just leave the balcony door open and take in the view from the comfort of bed.
After summoning a bit of motivation we headed to the resort fitness center the work off a bit of the excess calories over the past few days.
At Diana's Point again for one last gaze of the seemingly endless mountain canyon below.
About to take one last dip.
And making the most of the last chance to enjoy the cliff-edge pool.
Indulging in the breakfast buffet again at Al Maisan before getting ready to depart.
We checked out just after 11am and were given a gift of a couple of bottles of scented rose oil to take home. We were specifically told not to drink it though so not sure if some unfortunate guests had tried to previously!
For our journey back to Dubai today we would drive the 483 kilometers back down the mountain and then cross back over into the UAE via the city of Al Ain.
Stopping at a mountain viewpoint as we make our descent.
An Omani mountain military base at 1,600 meters.
And on Highway 21 as we start the long drive to the UAE border.
Topping up the tank one last time with the Al Hajar Mountains looming behind us.
A water storage tank artfully camouflaged as a historic tower.
A sign warning of possible sand dunes encroaching on the road as we near the edge of the Rub' al Khali Desert.
And being stamped back into the UAE just after 3pm. With the advent of smart gates at Dubai Airport it had been several years since I had a fresh UAE stamp so it was definitely a bit of a novelty.
Grabbing a bite to eat at an Adnoc station before the final drive back on the Dubai-Al Ain highway.
And back in Dubai after 1,164 kilometers and at the end of a great summer getaway to Oman!