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Omani through and through

Hidden away in Zighi Bay, Six Senses shows how luxury can be sustained

Six Senses Zighi Bay plants indigenous tree species and reuses water through reed-based biomimicry.
Six Senses Zighi Bay plants indigenous tree species and reuses water through reed-based biomimicry.

Six Senses Hideaway Zighi Bay is proving that luxury and sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Nestled in a hidden fold of Oman’s rugged Musandam region, Six Senses Hideaway Zighi Bay is quietly challenging traditional definitions of luxury.

The resort, which recently celebrated its second anniversary, is a rare example of how high-end hospitality can seamlessly co-exist with social responsibility and environmental sensitivity.

It is also an important example of how a design can embrace local influences and sustainable principles, without sacrificing on quality and, perhaps more importantly, economic viability.

A low profile
A key focus of the Six Senses Group is to create resorts that are in complete harmony with their environment and natural surrounding: “To blend in, not to harm or destroy any habitats, and to use local design, materials and craftsmanship,” noted Tara Hammond, environment and social responsibilities officer for Six Senses Hideaway Zighi Bay.

Resort size, exact location, buildings, and topographic and thermal conditions, are carefully considered before a resort is built, and the company is constantly exploring ways to improve its carbon and water footprint.

“With this in mind, Six Senses Hideaway Zighi Bay was designed to blend in with the rugged natural surroundings of the Musandam region, combining the element of luxury to deliver a rustic chic decor.

To do this, rather than using conventional materials, Six Senses opted for traditional ones such as date palms, limestone and timber, and used traditional building styles (wattle) to reflect the surrounding indigenous village style of the Omani Peninsula,” Hammond detailed.

“The entire property is built using masonry walls which are left un-plastered, adding a rustic flavor. The interiors have stucco walls, mosaic floors created from pieces of local limestone and the villas are all fitted with furniture constructed with wood (all made on-site by local craftsmen) and left unembellished to give a wholesome, organic and sustainable look,” she continued.

The resort consists of a series of low-rise buildings set on an unadulterated bay flanked on all sides by a dramatic, jagged mountain-scape. A signature restaurant nuzzles into the mountain-side, some 293m above sea level.

“The restaurant has been designed and constructed to blend in with the mountains without damaging the mountain rock and ruining the aesthetics or interfering with the biodiversity of the local environment. This gives guests a unique opportunity to experience a dramatic dining experience, yet without causing disturbance to the surroundings.”

Think local
Unsurprisingly, the company was committed to sourcing materials locally, to ensure that it was both supporting the local community and preserving indigenous architecture.

The limestone used for the floors was extracted from the surrounding Hajar mountains, while date palms, known locally as ‘jareed’ were sourced from local plantations in Dibba.

Materials that could not be found locally were sourced from neighbouring countries such as India, from responsible, certified suppliers. “I believe that only by sourcing and using these local materials were we able to really produce an authentic product for our guests,” said Hammond.

The design is effortlessly Omani – ceilings are constructed in traditional flat-beamed style, and date palm lattices make up shutters, doors, partitions and roofs. These are entwined with ‘jareed’ to allow inside temperatures to drop a few degrees, offering welcome respite in the hotter summer months.

In terms of landscaping, no trees or plants were removed during the construction of the resort. Instead, efforts were made to conserve the indigenous date palms, of which there are currently over 300 on site.

“We also re-plant local indigenous trees such as the Sidr and Shakr, which require a minimum amount of water, and are suited for the arid climate of this region,” Hammond noted.

Reiterating the company’s commitment to the environment, all water used on site is passed through an innovative reed bed and reused for flushing toilets and irrigating the landscape.

“By use of this bimomimicry technique, we let nature do what it does best – take care of itself sustainably. This also improves water consumption, as waste water is reused to irrigate the landscape instead of using fresh water,” said Hammond.

Taking things one step further, the resort designed its own water-producing plants – thus eliminating the considerable and unnecessary carbon emissions created by the long-distance transport of bottled drinking water.

Building smiles
The resort’s social and environmental efforts did not end once the building was complete. A series of initiatives have been introduced since then, including the Build a Smile campaign.

Currently in its second phase, ‘Build a Smile’ aims to renovate and rebuild 36 traditional houses in the neighbouring Zighy Bay Village over the next two years, in association with the Oman Ministry of Tourism.

The resort is asking for guest volunteers to trade four hours of community work a day, in return for doubling their stay at the resort. During phase one of the project, construction and plastering was completed on 18 houses.

Going into phase two, these homes will need to be painted and tiled whilst, at the same time, work needs to start on the final 18 houses. In addition to work on the villas, the plan is to implement a reed bed sewage treatment facility whereby waste water is treated naturally by the reed beds and subsequently used for irrigation purposes across the resort.

While Six Senses Hideaway Zighi Bay proves that luxury and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, there are still very few similar examples on the market, Hammond admitted.

“The approach is rare because no one believes it’s possible to combine the two without being coined as a “hippy eco lodge” and there is also a strong perception that there will be a low return on investment. Six Senses, however, has proved the opposite.

“Enjoying the natural rugged beauty of Zighi Bay without creating artificially manicured lawns and putting pressure on scarce water sources in the region is just an example of how being environmentally friendly in the simplest form can work.

“Luxury is not necessarily material possessions such as gold-plated marble bathrooms, but what busy city business people often lack – space and time. So by offering space in a natural environment and time to enjoy it guests get their luxury. When our competition catch on and see the success of our resorts I think this approach won’t be so rare anymore; it’s just a matter of time.”

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