Site visit: Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Oman

The highest five-star resort in the Middle East, Oman’s Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar, has reached the final stages of construction, and should be ready to open its doors later this year

There are 82 premier and deluxe rooms and 33 villas spread across the resort.
There are 82 premier and deluxe rooms and 33 villas spread across the resort.

It seems that the Middle East’s luxury hospitality and leisure projects know no bounds. They can be found in the unlikeliest of locations, from the subaquatic to the mountainous. Indeed, once the construction of Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar is complete, Oman will boast the highest five-star resort in the region.

Perched 2,000m above sea level on the curved periphery of a canyon, the hotel is the latest GCC offering from Thailand’s renowned luxury hotel chain, Anantara Hotels & Resorts. Located atop Jabal Akhdar (‘the green mountain’), Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar will open its doors to guests later this year.

The project represents Anantara’s second offering in the Sultanate. Situated next to Al Baleed, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the southern city of Salalah, the five-star Al Baleed Anantara Resort & Spa was launched last year.

Anantara claims that its under-construction mountain-top hotel, which is a two-hour drive from Muscat International Airport and four-and-a-half hours from Dubai, will offer guests a relaxing escape from the exertions of the urban lifestyle.

The resort, which is being promoted by a major Omani government pension fund, will boast spa and fitness facilities, a children’s club, and other amenities. It will feature a selection of garden, cliff-edge, and presidential villas, as well as four blocks of deluxe rooms.

In total, 115 guest rooms and villas will overlook either the canyon or the gardens, with features ranging from custom-made Omani furniture to Amouage bath products.

The resort’s 82 premier and deluxe rooms will boast spacious bedrooms, amongst the largest in the country, and a spa-like bathroom carved out of sustainable, locally sourced materials. They will also feature rainforest showers and separate baths alongside terraces or balconies.

The hotel’s 33 villas will offer guests a personal butler service and their own private infinity pool. Villa residents will have the choice of either one or two bedrooms. For those who want that little bit extra, Anantara’s Royal Mountain Villa will deliver two-storey accommodation along with a two-car indoor garage.

Room sizes will range from 60m2 to 700m2. Each villa will include an interactive LED television and a walk-in dressing closet.

Staying true to the brand’s signature style, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar will include private hammam suites, five spa treatment rooms, salons, separate male and female thermal suites, and healthy food stations. The resort will have six restaurants and lounges, including a speciality Arabian grill, a poolside Italian restaurant, an all-day dining venue, a café, a deli, and a private dining option at ‘Diana’s Viewpoint’ (see box-out below). The hotel’s ballroom is divisible, offering the ability to host multiple functions simultaneously.

The resort has been built by a joint venture between Oman-based S&T Interiors and Contracting and UAE-headquartered Al Jaber Engineering & Contracting (ALEC). The $72.7m (OMR28m) construction contract was awarded in 2013, with work at the project commencing in March 2014. All in all, progress at the site has been smooth, according to Pearse Walpole, projects manager at ALEC.

He explains: “Currently, the project is in the snagging stage, with final touch-ups and decoration works being conducted. In addition to that, the last testing and commissioning of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works are also ongoing.”

Oman-based National Aluminum Products Company (NAPCO) is the official extruder for the project, having been appointed to supply the resort’s doors and windows. Engineering Innovation Design & Consulting (EIDC) is the design consultant, and Driver Consult Oman is the quantity surveyor at the development. Walpole tells Construction Week that numerous concrete works have been conducted by ALEC itself.

In terms of design and architecture, Walpole mentions that the main priority was to preserve local Omani culture and traditions. “We have extensively used indigenous elements, primarily blending with the local culture. Once you enter through the front gates, the whole idea is to give you the feeling of a typical Omani town.

“For this reason, most of the raw materials have been sourced locally, including the paintings and the woodwork. The client requested we use local products to maintain the feel of the mountains. However, all the accessories for the wet areas have been imported from Germany.”

Infrastructure works at the site were completed in February 2015, and fit-out was conducted earlier this year. “Currently, we have 700 construction workers providing the finishing touches to the project. But we had around 1,600 people at the peak of construction activities,” Walpole reveals.

The contracting team did have to overcome a series of logistical challenges at the beginning of the construction schedule. The transportation of materials to the remote project site represented the primary obstacle, according to Walpole.

“It was difficult getting resources up here,” he explains. “We decided to have our own logistics manager on site, because a lot of sub-contractors wouldn’t deliver; there are restrictions when it comes to bringing materials up mountains. [With this in mind,] for the two years that we have been on site, we have been doing the logistics ourselves.”

Another challenge that the contracting team faced while working at the site was the absence of a permanent power source.

“Initially, there was lack of power supply in the village,” Walpole recalls. “We used substations to feed the construction site. Now, for the power supply to all our facilities, we have built an energy centre within the resort. It is sufficient to cater to all of the onsite facilities, and is connected to the main grid.

“And in case of any power failure, we have a massive generator on site, which will control the supply to essential and non-essential facilities. We do not have any district cooling to the resort; there is a chiller, which feeds the main building.”

An Omani outfit was appointed to conduct soft landscaping activities at the project. As Walpole points out, the idea was to keep the village as it is, and preserve the natural surroundings. “You will see pockets of landscaping along with the natural rocks [that have been] kept well intact,” he adds, explaining that this method has allowed the team to “capture the feel of Jabal Akhdar”.

Despite timely progress, it has not all been plain sailing. Walpole says that several design changes had to be incorporated during the construction process.

“Value engineering worth $18.1m (OMR7m) [has been] implemented to achieve the client’s vision. There were design changes that were not foreseen during the initial stages. However, they have all been resolved, and the schedule has been adjusted accordingly.”

Ultimately, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar will boast a 270-strong staff, spanning 27 nationalities, and Walpole says guests have a lot to look forward to. “There will be many activities, including a Friday night market in the central courtyard,” he notes. “There will be a library with an interactive screen that allows visitors to learn about Omani culture. And of course, lots of books; around 200.”

The resort will also offer mountain-top yoga, stargazing, archery, quad biking, and excursions to nearby heritage attractions.

“Staying true to Anantara’s signature style, we are building a dream escape away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I’m sure that once this luxury retreat is complete, one visit will not be enough” Walpole concludes.

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