Majesty by the mountains
Adrive up the steep mountains 10 km south of Muscat is a remarkable experience in itself but as one descends to the shore, the eye espies a tourism project of breathtaking proportions unfolding along the shore of the Gulf of Oman.
Known as the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, it is now structurally complete and sits nestled against a backdrop of spectacular mountains on three sides with the azure blue sea in front.
The RO56 million ($145 million) development continues to evolve with new innovative features being incorporated to make the resort a truly unique one in the region, and the first hotel is on course for a November 2005 launch.
The project is owned by the Zubair Corporation (60 per cent) and the Omani government (40 per cent).
The resort will bring to the market a total of 680 luxury rooms and suites in three separate hotels when it opens in a phased manner by the end of this year. Each of these hotels is said to be larger than any existing facility in the Sultanate. Set upon 500,000 sq m of beautiful beachfront, the complex also includes a modern spa and health club, meeting and banquet facilities, an Omani heritage village, swimming pools, a lazy river ride and nine restaurants and 10 other food and beverage outlets.
The general concept in designing the three five-star hotels – the Al Husn, Al Bandar and Al Waha, (previously known as Castle Hotel, Town Hotel and Village Hotel) – was to create a warm resort ambiance, hence all the buildings are low-lying varying from four to five storeys high.
The lobbies of all the hotels open on to large windows overlooking the sea or the swimming pools to ensure that the ‘wow’ feeling guests experience while descending to the hotel is maintained as they enter each hotel.
Of the 500,000 sq m allocated for the project, only 230,000 sq m is to be developed: the balance area will be retained as a mountainous jebel.
The developed area is split into the following categories:
• Buildings – 70,000 sq m.
• Roads/car parks – 50,000 sq m,
• Hard landscape/footpaths – 20,000 sq m,
• Soft landscape/beach – 40,000 sq m,
• Utility areas – 20,000 sq m.
Given its rather remote setting, the resort will be almost entirely self-sufficient with its own 33 kV sub-station, reverse-osmosis fresh water plant, sewage treatment plant, industrial laundry, chiller plant, standby power generation system, and waste management facilities.
Perched on an elevated plateau above the rest of the resort, the five-star deluxe Al Husn enjoys commanding views of the ocean and surrounding landscape and is designed to set the standard for luxury hotels within Oman.
Accessed via an exquisite tree-line driveway and footpaths into an imposing porte cochere (entrance archway) area, the boutique hotel will offer a combination of 180 deluxe rooms and suites, world-class dining facilities, exclusive swimming pools including a 600 sq m infinity edge pool, elite fitness facilities, and a private beach.
Al Husn is linked to the Al Bandar by an elevator, which descends eight floors below to the centrally-placed hotel.
Another aspect of the Al Husn is a large courtyard with water features, echoing Oman’s Al Hamra style of architecture.
The 198-room Al Bandar – which accommodates all the kitchen facilities – is expected to be the first of the hotels to open within the resort.
Situated along the main beach area, the five-star Al Bandar is expected to be the focal point of resort activity with its paved piazza area surrounded by numerous restaurants and retail facilities.
The area is aimed to create a suq environment and provide an ideal night-time venue.
The hotel has been designed so as to create the image of a series of small buildings resembling a seaside town built in traditional Omani architecture.
Hence, it has varying facades and colours with touches of mashrabiya for the balustrades and fenestrations, to create the impression of a number of buildings that have come up over time as opposed to one big structure.
Set in lush landscaping, the premium hotel includes a 1,500 sq m ballroom (700-seat) and pre-function area, nine meeting rooms, a poolside amphitheatre and external dining facilities, and 2,600 sq m of swimming pools.
At the eastern edge of the resort, separated from Al Bandar and Al Husn hotels by a steep and narrow jebel and accessed from the main entrance via a tunnel, the five-star Waha enjoys a secluded setting for families and young couples.
Also set in a lush landscape, the 302-room family hotel has its own restaurants including a beachfront seafood restaurant, children’s play areas, swimming pools including the ‘Lazy River’ water ride.
The development also includes a 3,000 sq m world-class spa and health club set in a number of gardens. It comprises a reception building and a spa building, which will feature saunas, steam rooms, plunge pools, fitness equipment and private treatment facilities, including 18 treatment rooms. This area will also include eight spa villas.
The Omani heritage village is the main cultural area of the resort. It features a multi-purpose arena for equestrian and outdoor events with stadium-type seating on the embankment. Fenced off within this village is a typical Omani village, which houses some archaeological artifacts dug up from the site.
An example of how the project continues to evolve is an overhanging cliff that was trimmed off to create a safe working area for the project. The team behind the construction then put in a causeway and created a flat reclaimed area that will be grassed and available as a small private outdoor area with a sheltered beach area.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is the operator of the project.
Sometime this year the government plans to begin construction of a convention centre on the site. The excavated material from this project will be used to create a breakwater and marina in an area on the western edge of the property.
This phase will enhance the appeal of the Barr Al Jissah resort which promises to be a unique place, attracting a business clientele besides being a quiet holiday destination.
Given the spectacular mountain backdrop and scenic beach, the facility will probably be the only one of its kind the entire Gulf region for some time to come.