Shangri La Resort & Spa in Oman – A Photo Essay

The Shangri La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa sits in its own private bay a short distance from Muscat. It’s a lovely half an hour drive from the airport, through the quaint city and the beautifully barren mountains, and is a lovely place for a quick weekend getaway.

There are only a handful of top notch hotels in Muscat, including the Ritz Carlton’s Al Bustan Palace and The Chedi, which is better situated for those who want to be closer to the airport and the city centre.The Shangri La itself is split into three hotels,each in their own spectacular bay. I stayed at the the Al Waha hotel, which is the most child friendly, and is linked to the adjoining Al Bandar hotel. The more exclusive (child free) Al Husn perched higher up on a hill, is exclusively for guests of that hotel, and it has its own smaller private beach. (You can, however, have dinner at a couple of the restaurants if you like).

Shangri La Beach Muscat Oman

After the lovely drive, and impressive entrance through a tunnel carved into the mountain, I was a bit disappointed by the lobby at Al Waha which feels a bit tired and dated. I was given a nice room in a quieter part of the hotel overlooking the ocean, and again, it had all I needed and was very comfortable, but I did feel that like the lobby, it could do with a refresh and touch of colour. Fortunately all I was after was a big rest and comfortable room (with free wifi), so personal aesthetics aside, it was perfect.

It rains very little in the Dubai, but for some reason the weekend I travelled, there were serious storms in Dubai, Oman and Saudi, but thankfully the sun did come out again for my second day and I managed to spend the day floating in the ocean and the large pool. Chances are you’ll be far luckier with the weather and there is enough to do in the resort. You can choose to lie at the pool, on the beach or on the lawn at Al Bandar. There is plenty of space to relax and the ocean is calm and inviting. If you have kids, there’s lots to keep them entertained, from the pools and beaches, to tennis courts and the kid’s club. And if you need some pampering as well, there is a Chi Spa that will help you unwind.

There are also plenty of decent places to eat, including poolside bars, a tapas restaurant and Bait Al Bahr, the resort’s signature seafood restaurant on the beach. But if you find yourself there on a stormy weekend like me, then you can also enjoy the room service. It was efficient and the food was good.

So if you’re heading to Muscat for a very luxurious weekend or you don’t have kids, you might prefer The Chedi, which is also closer to the Old City and so easier to get about (or even the Al Husn hotel in this resort). But if you’re after a very comfortable, more affordable weekend getaway in a stunning bay on the beach, the Shangri La is well worth it. If you can drag yourself away from the resort, take a quick trip to the Old City and the Mutrah Souk and you will return home feeling like you’ve had a good break from the city madness.

Muscat Is A Place You Must Visit

We were driving down into Muscat from the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, which is a few kilometers along the coast. There had been a huge storm the night before and as we entered the city, my taxi driver slowed and then stopped in the middle of the road. I looked up to see what was going on. There was team of workers shoveling mud and clearing the road, but one worker had put his spade down and was helping an old local man in his shiny white dishdasha across the road. It was so lovely to see and set the warm gentle tone of the city for me.

I had asked the driver to take me to the Sultan’s palace and thought I could walk from there to the Old City. The friendly driver said he would wait for me and take me to the old town rather, because it was further than I thought. Being a bit weary of taxi drivers trying to make a quick buck I first dismissed his offer, but thankfully reconsidered, because it’s a very long way to walk.

Sultan of Oman's Palace in Muscat

We drove past the impressive new parliament building and down to the Sultan’s Palace, flanked by the Al Mirani Fort and the Al Jalali Fort fort that stand proudly on the hilltops. The palace is actually fairly small and not as grand as you might expect. The Sultan doesn’t actually live there, but apparently does stay over from time to time and I suspect he has a bigger palace elsewhere. In such a quaint city with plenty of small whitewashed homes, it makes enough of a statement though, and the new National Museum will soon be opening its doors across the street.

So after the usual photo burst the driver took me around the coast to the old city. As we approached he pointed out the Sultan’s private yacht, and I proudly said it was very beautiful but not quite as big as the ruler of Dubai’s one, but I was just being facetious because obviously I wouldn’t be upset if I was invited onto the Sultan’s yacht would I?

I hopped out on the corniche that runs around the bay, separating the sea from the beautiful old, low-rise buildings. The whole bay looks like a movie set, that’s been flown in and perfectly assembled between the mountains and the sea. Sure there are cars and people milling about, but it’s a sleepy and tranquil place that’s very inviting.

I walked the length of the corniche taking in the scenery and breathing in the fresh sea air. I passed the Old Merchant’s Houses and popped into the Mutrah Souk, but it was the morning after a particularly bad storm and many of the store owners were shoveling mud out of their stores and trying to clean the mud off whatever merchandise they could salvage. Those with more sturdy roofs were open for business as usual. It is a lovely souk though and definitely worth a visit on drier days. The main passageway has a roof over it, and it has a number of smaller side passages all housing the usual range of clothing, furniture and trinket stores, but it’s an inviting and manageable small city souk, unlike some of the sprawling complexes you’ll find in cities like Istanbul.

After my stroll, and a period of people watching from a sidewalk café, I met my taxi driver down the street at the juice store and he took me on an old back road that offered some great views and photo opportunities. Then it was back along the impressive meandering roads through the mountains to the Shangri La. There are of course other areas to see, and there is a Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off service that will give you a grand tour of the city if you’d like to take it all in. But if you have very limited time (or just want to relax on the beach), the Old City is your best bet for a quick, enjoyable stroll and you only need a couple of hours to look about and perhaps bargain in the souk.

My trip to Oman was only a very brief escape from the bright lights and busy streets of Dubai, but the laid-back vibe and old Arabian coastal ambiance was a fantastic breath of fresh air in more ways than one. This city is definitely worth exploring if you’re looking for a gentler change of pace and even if it’s only for a weekend, you’ll definitely return home feeling refreshed.

The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert

When it’s 50 degrees Celsius outside, most people get on the first flight out of the country, so in the UAE, summer is low season and you can often get 50% off the best hotels. Which is why we decided to cool off in our very own private pool villa for a birthday night getaway at The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert (formally Banyan Tree Al Wadi), and it was an absolute treat.

Less than an hour’s drive from Dubai, we turned into the desert outside Ras Al Khaimah, and arrived about half an hour before the 3pm check-in. We valet parked and strolled up the long covered walkway to the hotel.The lobby, which is more like a private lounge, was already filled with large local families in abaya and dishdasha, and a few other tourists, mostly couples. The beautiful thing is, it was the first and last we saw of almost everyone once we’d checked in, because we all dispersed to our own private retreat.

After our cold towels and fresh juice, we jumped on a golf cart, and were driven to our private villa. While we wound our way through the dunes, the driver showed us where everything was and assured us that all we needed to do was push the red button in the room to call for a cart to fetch and carry us. In 50 degree heat, I was loving that guy.

Thai Restaurant at Banyan Tree Al Wadi luxury desert resort Ras Al Khaimah

Oryx at Banyan Tree Al Wadi Luxury Desert Resort Ras Al Khaimah

Watering hole at Banyan Tree Al Wadi Luxury Desert Resort Ras Al Khaimah

We passed the watering hole where a few Oryx were relaxing in the shade, and the Thai restaurant that overlooks it, and pulled up outside our villa. Having booked a deluxe pool villa, and not one of the much larger tented pool villas, we expected it to be comfortable but cosy. But then we walked inside and realised just how big it was. Off the entrance hall, to the left, we discovered  a large bathroom, with his and hers basins, huge tub and rain shower, all walled in for privacy. We poked our heads into the small dressing room, then went through into the bedroom, separate living room and study, and outside onto the wooden deck where we found our own private pool. Bliss.

Granted, the villa may not be as big as some penthouses, but at 158 sqm, it has more than enough space for two people to play quite happily. So unless you’re really claustrophobic, there’s no need to go for the much larger tented villa (although it is more private and has a much bigger pool).

As we were shown around the villa, our driver told us that there was of course room service, but that there was a delivery charge of 60 dirhams for every order. We nearly choked, even for a five star hotel that seemed excessive. But it only took another half an hour or so, and we realised why. Once you’re in your villa, bobbing about in the pool, you don’t ever want to leave. They’re smart, those hotel people.

Private luxury pool villa at Banyan Tree Al Wadi Ras Al Khaimah

Villa Bedroom at Banyan Tree Al Wadi Luxury Desert Resort Ras Al Khaimah

Bathroom in villa at Banyan Tree Al Wadi luxury desert resort Ras Al Khaimah

Private Villa Pool at Banyan Tree Al Wadi luxury desert resort Ras Al Khaimah

We unpacked and decided to pop out for a late lunch. We wanted to see more of the resort and try out the restaurants and we weren’t quite ready for the room service delivery charge. So we hit the red button and a golf cart ferried us back to the main hotel building.

We went to Al Waha restaurant (which means oasis in Arabic). Attached to the main building, the décor is simple, but elegant. It has very high ceilings, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have a view. It is where breakfast is served, and its menu is Arabic, along with the ever-popular ‘international cuisine’. There were a few other families having a bite, but I suspect it’s more pleasant at night, when the lights are low and the view doesn’t matter. We ate a couple of sandwiches, took a few pictures, and went straight back to our villa for a swim.

Al Waha Restaurant at Banyan Tree Al Wadi luxury desert resort Ras Al Khaimah

I spent the next two hours bobbing in the pool, watching the odd Oryx saunter by. If I was wound up by city living when I arrived, I was almost purring like a sea lion when I eventually got out sometime around sunset. We hit the magic red button again, and were soon on our way to the stylish Samar Lounge and the rooftop Moon Bar. It was still uncomfortably hot even though the sun had set, so we had a quick walkabout on the roof and if it had been a bit cooler we could’ve sat up there all night. Apparently one couple, who were up there smoking shisha, were immune to the summer heat. We retreated back downstairs to one of the cosy corners in the Samar Lounge and this is where the fact that everyone stays in their own villa really hit home. In the hour or so that we were there, sipping on our refreshing mojitos, nobody else came to the bar. Only as we were leaving, a small group walked into one of the private corner areas, and drew the curtain behind them for privacy. It looked like I had booked out the whole resort out for us. The old romantic that I am.

Samar Lounge Banyan Tree Al Wadi luxury desert resort Ras Al Khaimah

We paid up and were carted off to Safran, the resort’s signature Thai restaurant for dinner. In it’s own building, a fair distance from the main hotel and overlooking the watering hole, it is a far more romantic setting. It seemed a few other couples had the same idea as us, but thankfully the restaurant was big enough, so the other five or six couples (and one rather large family) were placed well apart and we each had our own private space.

The ambience was lovely, the food was authentic and very good and the service was low-key but attentive. I love Thai food, so I had starters, main and dessert. We washed it all down with some wine, and then strolled back to our nearby villa for a late night dip in the pool.

Having seen much of the main resort, we weren’t interested in leaving our villa again until we needed to check out the next day. So we happily arranged a late check-out and placed our breakfast order before nodding off.

The next morning the breakfast arrived as requested at exactly 8am. Two men set up a veritable feast in the living room and quietly retreated. There was far too much food, but I did as much damage as I could and then hit the pool again, where I had two cups of tea while soaking up the morning sun. The rest of the morning was spent eating and swimming and when it came time to leave after lunch, we were slightly disappointed, but so relaxed it didn’t hurt as much as it usually might.

Tea in private pool at Banyan Tree Al Wadi luxury desert resort Ras Al Khaimah

We didn’t get a chance to try out what I believe is a magnificent spa, or try our hand at archery, ride bicycles around the resort or take the shuttle bus to the neighbouring Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach Resort. So when, not if, but when we go back to this fantastic resort during the cooler winter months, you can bet it’ll be for more than a night.

Top Tip: Book Al Rimal Deluxe pool villa number 304. I have it on good authority that it’s one of the best in the resort.