I’m a big believer in pulling out all of the stops for a birthday. Particularly if that birthday happens to be a rather large milestone. On April 17th, it was Mr Sunshine-to-be’s thirtieth, and naturally the first thing I thought of to surprise him with was a little trip overseas.
I poured over blog posts and websites, Lonely Planets and travel magazines, until I eventually alighted on a beautiful country just an hour away from our home in Qatar, and a rather fabulous hotel. When the day arrived, I packed our bags, teased him with cards and hints, and eventually, just as the suspense was about to get too much, as we boarded our flight, I announced his surprise.
Welcome to the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, Muscat, in the Sultinate of Oman. Or, the view from our balcony at sunrise to be precise.
True to form, Mr S-to-be had insisted on working on his birthday, so we had taken a late night flight to Oman and landed just as the sun was just beginning to peep it’s way over the horizon. Following the road that weaved itself in and out of Muscat, and later along a dug-out channel through the majestic mountains, our friendly Omani taxi driver described the sights in front of us as we went.
At reception, we were warmly welcomed, told that they were expecting us, and taken directly to our room where we had just enough time to admire the gorgeous cake left out for Rich…
Before passing out in a bed which could have comfortably slept six.
Now Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah resort is not just one hotel, but three luxury five star hotels, set within a 124 acre haven along the turquoise waters of the Sea of Oman.
The palatial Al Husn (“The Castle”) sits majestically on the cliffs looking out over the other two hotels, and carries an air of mystique and exclusivity.
Al Waha, to the other side of the resort, is more open, family-friendly and relaxed, with several pools at its centre, which merge to form a serene oasis in the Omani desert.
Last but not least, Al Bandar, where we were staying, sits proudly in the centre, surrounded by beautiful gardens with pretty water features.
Mr S-to-be’s favourite water feature? The lazy river of course! In fact, he enjoyed lazing about on it so much that he declared it the best feature of the entire hotel!
Everyone knows that this is the most sensible way to get into a rubber ring…
In front of the hotel is Circles Pool Bar and a lawn of sun loungers facing the gorgeous natural beach; a place so serene that turtles have chosen it as a prime location to lay their eggs. We picked a spot close to the sand to wile away our first morning and early afternoon, with a lazy late lunch (which was catch of the day – lovely, firm Hammour SMOTHERED in garlic).
The sun was beating down by this point, and we retreated to one of the many pools to cool off.
Mr Sunshine-to-be found the perfect shady spot from which to check the football scores…
While I got my swim on.
Around tea time, we dried off, headed back over the lazy river…
And wandered over to Chi Spa. We had a date with a couple of masseuses.
Having arrived forty minutes early, we went our separate ways to enjoy the single-sex facilities until we were called for our couple’s massage.
Both Mr S-to-be and I agreed that the rain shower, and bubble seat Jacuzzi were two of the best spa facilities we had ever been lucky enough to sample!
I met my man in a tranquil little room at the side of a courtyard, where he was in a rather blissed-out state.
One hour of hard kneading later, and we emerged, feeling light as a feather, into the early evening sunshine. We picked out the perfect spot to see out the last of the rays before dinner.
For dinner, I had booked us a spot at the resort’s famous seafood restaurant on the sea front.
Bait Al Bahr is known for its super-fresh fish…
Mussels and champagne…
And romantic setting overlooking the waters of the Sea of Oman.
I loved the rustic and yet perfectly presented look and feel of the food, which was a gourmet experience from start to finish.
The tempura prawns were meaty and filling, and were accompanied by a seaweed salad which tasted fresh and slightly salty. It was perfectly fitting for our location.
The scallops with basil jelly and jam were sweet, tasty and interesting, but a little overdone for our liking.
But the main courses were the real stars of the evening. Fresh fish which we had picked out from the counter, with spring vegetables and a rather garlic-y sauce which I discarded in favour of being able to taste what I was eating. By this point, we were beginning to realise that the Omanis love their garlic, which was fine in moderation, but I was starting to find it a little overpowering (not to mention the protestation of my table mate who was going to have to endure my stinky company for the rest of the evening).
Anyway, back to the fish. I opted for the Omani speciality of Sharry, and Rich went for the Koeffer. Neither of us had tried these fish before and we weren’t disappointed. The fillets were firm, yet delicate, expertly seasoned, and beautifully grilled to perfection.
With a glass of red in hand, I was one happy lady.
Meal over, we were asked if we would like to move to a seat tucked away in a quiet corner, where a special table had been laid out for us.
The waiters had cottoned on to the fact that it was Mr S-to-be’s birthday and brought over champagne and cake to celebrate! Such a lovely surprise, which was fully appreciated by us both (I actually knocked over my wine in excitement at this point! Whoops).
Full of sugar and bubbly, we were ready to do what we do best. Explore.
On the roof above the restaurant we found the gorgeous BAB Bar.
After surveying the views over the resort from this excellent vantage point, we reentered the hotel and took a turn around the impressive lobby, which is resplendent in its traditional and rather opulent Dhofari style.
Through the lobby, towards the long corridors that make up the belly of the hotel, you are greeted by a fantastic silvery floor to ceiling chandelier to light the way.
And an ornate winding staircase of contrasting marble and carpet, with wrought iron banisters to guide you down.
Intricately carved archways welcome you on your route through to corridor after corridor.
And huge mirrors reflect the space and light (and are just too enticing to pass by without a quick snap).
Eventually, we found our way home, cooled our tired feet off in the bathtub and headed to bed.
It was another day, and having slept through breakfast the day before, we weren’t willing to pass up on sampling the delights of Al Tanoor for a second day running.
We hopped downstairs to the bright and airy dining space of the restaurant.
It was another hotel breakfast spread which couldn’t disappoint.
I particularly enjoyed the fluffy American pancakes, which I ate on the semi-covered terrace outside in the sunshine.
And then all too soon, it was time to wave goodbye to our relaxing time at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah. We stepped out of the huge doors and breathed in that mountain view one more time.
It was time to explore Muscat! But that’s another blog post.
Have you been to Oman, or stayed in a Shangri-La hotel before? I’d love to hear about your experiences.