Short Break: Anantara Jabal Akhdar, Oman

I have long since wanted to stay at this hotel, so during the last half term break in October we decided to take a little road trip in Oman to do some exploring of some areas beyond Muscat that we had not seen previously, while using the Anantara Jabal Akhdar as our base. 

We booked our stay through the Discovery Loyalty app as members get discounted rates, and as a black member of the programme there are also extra additional perks on offer that make it worth while. Room upgrades are one of the best perks, though of course these are subject to availability and unfortunately for us, travelling during peak times such as school holidays means these aren’t often available.

We had suspected that the hotel would be busy during this period, and it was for this reason that we decided to go ahead and book the one bedroom garden pool villa for our stay, and we were really glad that we did.

The room didn’t have a canyon view, but the walled design of the pool area did mean that it was very private and sheltered, so we stayed warm – don’t forget that up in the mountains (2000m above sea level) during October the weather can feel pretty chilly. So actually we were glad of that, as outside at the main pool, it was really quite cold, both in and out of the water (even with the sun shining).

The pool of course does have gorgeous views across the canyon, but to be honest I was surprised it wasn’t bigger. The hotel was fully occupied during this period and although it didn’t feel that way for the most part, it was very peaceful around the hotel mostly – the pool area did get quite busy during the day and the sun beds are set quite closely together in a not particularly large space, so if privacy is key for you, a pool villa is a must.

Though there’s no doubt that the hotel is in a beautiful position, at the top of the mountain and overlooking the canyon. The view is really something special.

And the hotel itself is undoubtedly gorgeous, it has an elegant, Middle Eastern style about it, and is all completely low rise with no building higher that two floors.

There’s all the usual services and facilities that you’d expect from a five star hotel, with a kids club and bicycles that can be borrowed for a little trip around the resort (which wouldn’t take too long as it’s not that expansive).

I had seen amazing reviews of the kids club but to be honest I wasn’t particularly impressed. It was a fairly small room and nearly all the activities were arts and crafts, there wasn’t much variety, so for kids (like my son!) who aren’t keen on these and just want to run and free play a bit more it wasn’t the most fun. They do have a free play session scheduled at the end of every day which is outside in the small play park where there was a slide, a swing and a trampoline, which was definitely the bit my son enjoyed the most. This was another thing that made us glad we’d chosen the one bedroom pool villa – the pool there was far warmer than the hotel pool and it was easy to spend time swimming, playing and relaxing there together. I’m not sure how much we’d have enjoyed our stay if it wasn’t for this. I’d definitely recommend going when the weather will be warmer if you’re used to Middle Eastern heat, as like us, you’ll find the winter months cold.

The hotel of course also has a spa, and it is absolutely beautiful. It is probably one of my favourite spas that I’ve ever visited. If you’re going, definitely leave time to make use of the facilities before your treatment. The spa was so good, even my husband who’s not usually a big spa fan, visited it twice.

The hotel has four restaurants to choose from, Al Maisan is the all day dining buffet restaurant, Bella Vista is the Italian restaurant (they call it the pool side restaurant but it’s posher than your normal pool eatery, it’s a really lovely and atmospheric place to eat out in the evening), there’s Al Bahaa, a courtyard cafe that only opens during the daytime and Al Qalaa, the Middle Eastern restaurant which is housed in a fort style building.

The pictures above are of Al Qalaa, and to be honest this was probably our biggest dining disappointment. I think in the Middle East you expect Middle Eastern food to be wow, especially at a five star hotel and it just wasn’t. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it, it just wasn’t as good as we’d expected it should be. It certainly didn’t wow us. The selection of dishes for kids was also pretty poor, although in their favour they did offer to get something from one of the other restaurant kids menus for us.

Aside from this, we found food around the hotel to be very high quality in all the restaurants, and the room service food was great too. In fact, their falafel sandwich was one of the best I’ve ever had, which set the bar high and probably added to the disappointment of the Middle Eastern restaurant. Our only other complaint was in the all day dining restaurant, though the food was good, it really was the worst buffet set up I think we’ve possibly ever seen. The design created a bottle neck on both sides, and at peak times it made it very awkward for people with food to get back out to their tables, and people wanting food to get in. This was most noticeable at breakfast when for some reason they placed the high traffic areas like fruit, juice, toast and croissants in the corners which meant long queues formed making the whole thing even more unmanageable and irritating. To be fair though, we were told that they were planning to remodel this in 2020, so hopefully that will fix this issue.

So, did we enjoy our stay?

There were definitely a few niggles with service here and there, including one occasion where none of the room service menu wines were available and they didn’t seem to be able to offer me any alternative. After several ridiculous conversations and at the point where I was about to walk over to the Italian restaurant to collect my own wine and bring it back to the room myself, the food and beverage manager stepped in and brought a selection of alternatives to the room for me to choose from. Despite small issues like this we absolutely did enjoy our stay, although we were definitely glad we had our own pool in the room. I’m not sure it would have been as enjoyable for us at that time of year (October) if we hadn’t. It’s not the perfect hotel by any means (at least not at full occupancy anyway, they really appeared to be struggling with this at times), but it is in an undoubtedly spectacular location that is worth visiting. Would I go back? Well, probably not, but mainly because there’s not really any reason for us to visit again now that we’ve done it once, but I am glad that we did go, and it did make a great base for our plans to explore the surrounding areas.

Value for money

I think the final question we were left wondering was, was it really worth the money to stay there? I do think it’s something that’s worth doing for the experience, but it isn’t cheap and we felt that it was really very expensive for what was actually offered and delivered.

If you like a cheeky adult beverage on holiday too, do make note that these are incredibly expensive – a glass of wine was priced starting from around OMR16 per glass, that’s Dhs150 for the cheapest, and just one glass! Though again, to be fair, it should be noted this is partly due to the Omani tax on alcohol of a whopping 50%.

I’d say go in the warmer months when you can make full use of the facilities without feeling cold and when it’ll also not be quite so busy.

Pros and cons:

Positives: high quality of food, gorgeous views, well-designed and attractive low rise resort, fabulous spa, one bedroom pool villas are amazing!

Negatives: expensive, lack of variety in kids club activities, inconsistent service at times.

A family break in Oman: journeying 2000m above sea level to the mountain top Anantara Jabal Akhdar resort.

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