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Catherine Beattie visits the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa – the luxury resort that introduced the Gulf state of Oman to the concept of the quality holiday experience – and finds much to her liking.

A visit to Shangri-La

Standing in glorious isolation on a rocky promontory overlooking the Gulf of Oman, it’s hard to believe that the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa is just 15 minutes from the bustling capital of Muscat. The resort’s opening in 2006 is credited with introducing modern tourism and the quality holiday experience to the Sultanate of Oman, one of the most developed and stable countries in the Arab world. 

Located on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, with the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west and Yemen to the southwest, Oman is relatively untouched by tourism. The country is cautiously opening up its rich cultural heritage and diverse landscapes to discerning visitors; new hotels and resorts have been built as well as a modern cruise terminal. Oman Air, the state airline, has been transformed from a small regional carrier into an acclaimed international airline with the only direct, non-stop daily flights from London Heathrow to Muscat. Shiny new A330 aircraft are used on the route and the service is friendly and professional. Legroom is generous and the entertainment system shows the latest movies. You can also view live images from cameras positioned at the front and beneath the plane and the airline’s pioneering technology includes mobile phone and Wi-Fi connectivity – a world first. 

Arriving at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, it was obvious that this was no ordinary resort but a collection of three luxury Kasbah-style hotels situated around a picturesque bay with enticing beaches and a desert and rugged mountain backdrop. 

All guest rooms and suites in the three properties have balconies or terraces facing the sea and share the resort’s extensive leisure facilities and most of the lounges, bars and restaurants. The family orientated Al Waha (The Oasis) is Oman’s first dedicated leisure hotel with 262 rooms, a children’s club and three fresh water swimming pools surrounded by gardens and date palm trees; Al Bandar (The Town), is the resort’s main focus with 198 larger rooms, lounges, bars, restaurants, shopping options and a vast ballroom; Al Husn (the Castle) stands on the headland and is the resort’s six-star hotel with 180 rooms. Guests of Al Husn enjoy exclusive facilities including use of a private infinity pool and butler service. 

My spacious room was in the five-star Al Bandar Hotel. It was a long stroll from the main lobby down endless thickly carpeted corridors until I discovered a short cut through the gardens. I slept soundly in the large and supremely comfortable bed and woke up to the sounds of the sea, sunshine and blue skies. The tea/coffee making facilities and complimentary Internet access in my room were convenient small touches that I appreciated as much as the superb bathroom and wide flat screened TV. 

The Chi spa is one of the largest in Oman and one of resort’s main attractions. Chi -The Spa at Shangri-La – to give it its full name, is a tranquil Asian-inspired facility with twelve private treatment villas set in a restful garden. 

The extensive spa menu provides a choice of Asian wellness massages, Chi Signature journeys, hammam and rasul rituals and individual Chi and ila body treatments and facials, carried out by a team of mostly Philippine therapists. You can also have a treatment in the spa garden and or on the beach. 

Only 19 of the Shangri-La’s 66 luxury hotels and resorts have Chi Spas, which are named after the universal life force that governs wellbeing and vitality. To maintain good health, chi must flow freely within the body. Chi massages and treatments are based on authentic Asian healing methods using natural products from sustainable sources. These are combined with the Chinese theory of the Five Elements (metal, water, wood, fire and earth) to harmonise the body’s positive yang and negative yin energy to restore balance and vitality. 

After answering a few questions about my favourite colours, tastes, weather and time of day, my element sign was deemed to be Wood and compatible oils then selected for my treatment. I also completed a detailed health questionnaire with a diagram so I could indicate what areas I wanted the therapist to focus on or avoid. I opted for a Philippine Hilot Massage – a traditional deep pressure massage with warmed coconut oil and the healing hands of the hilot (therapist) to detect and free any blockages in the energy flow. 

Rose-Marie, my smiley and diminutive therapist showed me into one of the lavishly furnished spa villas and after a cup of ginger tea the treatment started with a traditional footbath. An hour of total relaxation followed. The massage was one of the best I have ever had – the warm oil and Rose-Marie’s skilful hands painlessly easing out all the areas of tension I had marked out for attention on my card. Afterwards, I had plenty of time to relax and take in the ambience of the spa before returning to my room. 

The six main restaurants, seven casual dining outlets and pool bars cater for all appetites and tastes. I only sampled lunch and breakfast in the Al Tanoor but was impressed with the quality and variety of the cuisine. 

The choices included appetising international and Arabic dishes and a variety of delicious hot food served on open cooking stations. Breakfast juices were freshly squeezed and the freshly baked breads and pastries were straight from the oven. 

I was curious to see around the resort’s exclusive Al Husn hotel and found it even more opulent than I expected. To preserve its restful ambience, Al Husn is for adult guests only. The rooms and suites are among the largest and most luxurious in Oman with décor inspired by royal Arabian palaces. As well as butler service, guests staying at Al Husn enjoy extra privileges like afternoon tea, pre-dinner cocktails and access to a private beach. 

Oman lies in a unique region with many relatively untouched coastal areas. It boasts some of the most spectacular underwater scenery in the Middle East and a huge variety of marine life, so is a scuba diving paradise. Even non-divers can enjoy the marine life as more than 20 species of whale and dolphin live in the Gulf of Oman and rewarding viewing trips are made regularly from the resort’s Dive Centre. 

From January to June, guests may be lucky enough to see Greenback and Hawksbill sea turtles nesting, laying eggs or hatching on the resort beaches. A dedicated Turtle Ranger can advise on when and where to unobtrusively view these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat. All nature and marine activities are conducted with great sensitivity to the unique ecosystem. 

Landlubbers are equally well catered for with organised beach games and group exercise sessions including stretching classes, breathing exercises, power walking and sun downer classes. In addition, there are four tennis courts and a fully equipped Fitness Centre with a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. 

With its outstanding facilities, distinct scenery and luxurious ambience Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa is the perfect getaway for couples, friends and families. Visit between October and April, when the temperature averages 25°C to 35°C, the skies are forget-me-not blue and the sunshine is all but guaranteed and you won’t want to leave. 

Catherine flew from London Heathrow to Muscat with Oman Air. Return economy class prices start from £476 and include taxes and are subject to availability. To book call 08444 822309 or visit Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, Muscat, Oman
Tel: 00 968 2477 6666For the latest prices and offers visit at Al Waha cost from OMR 122 per night, at Al Bandar from OMR 150 per night and at Al Husn (adults only) from OMR 220 per night.

1 hour Philippine Hilot Massage OMR 55

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