Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

A two bedroom villa at the Six Senses in Zighy Bay. (Supplied)
Updated 13 December 2018
0

Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

  • The luxurious resort Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village
  • The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical

DUBAI: After a two-hour drive from Dubai, crossing the border at Dibba into Musandam, Oman, we found ourselves, alone, surrounded by mountainous rocks only made visible by the full moon. The headlights of the car showed a long stretch of endless rough road ahead to us, and no sign of the highly exclusive, luxury resort to which we were headed.

But this is just one of many ways to enter Six Senses Zighy Bay, the holiday resort that has hosted the likes of Bill Gates and Arab royals. You can make a James Bond-style entrance by speedboat from Dibba Marina or, if you’re feeling extra-adventurous, by paraglide tandem.

On our more prosaic road trip, we finally reached the resort, where we were welcomed by Six Senses’ friendly staff, and a 4x4, into which we climbed for the drive up the steep mountain to the resort.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village, shielded by Al-Hajjar mountain range, giving it the privacy most VIPs look for. The story goes that, before the owners were able to build the resort, they had to strike a deal with the villagers, building them new homes and a school, and offering them employment at the resort.
The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical, using stones, wood, and cool desert tones, blending into the natural surroundings. It has the feel of an authentic Omani village — fitted with modern-day luxuries. There are 82 spacious beach villas with their own private pools — fashioned to resemble stone huts — and high walls for privacy.

Inside the open-plan villas, there is a lounge area with glass doors that open out to the infinity pool area, complete with loungers and a majlis. In the bathroom there is a large stone bath and a shower (there’s also a shower outdoors).
For anyone caught-up in the hustle-and-bustle of city life, the first thing you notice is the deafening silence. The distant sound of waves crashing ashore and background birdsong only add to the peaceful tranquility.

The brand’s identity is based on a stripped-back, organic lifestyle in tune with nature and the outdoors. And the whole operation seems effortless. This, in fact, is far from the reality as the resort has a staff of just over 400 to keep things running smoothly.
When it comes to food, the resort is committed to the brand’s philosophy of making food “healthy by default.” They do this by growing as much of the produce as possible in their organic garden or sourcing from local farms.

During our stay we had a taste of their newly launched menus, created by celebrity chef James Knight-Pacheco, in the mountain-top restaurant, Sense on the Edge, which offers breathtaking views. The menu uses French and Japanese techniques with regional flavors for a fine-dining experience. The principle idea behind the menu stems from the concept of “land and sea.” It consists of five- and seven-course “journeys” of meats and poultry (a personal favorite), “voyages” of seafood, or “expeditions” for vegetarians. There’s also a fresh tapas menu at the Zighy Bar, the shining stars of which are their chorizo empanadas.

But the real feast is at the “Spiced Market” breakfast buffet: All types of seasonal fruits, a selection of cheeses, eggs cooked to your taste, or Middle Eastern favorites shakshouka and foul medames.
Aside from its traditionally themed luxury and the variety of food on offer, the real highlight of a stay at Six Senses is the range of activities available. After paragliding over the resort, we went scuba diving (spotting Nemo the clown fish three times). We didn’t have time for rock climbing, mountain biking, or — sadly — a treatment at the resort’s signature spa.

Overall a stay at Six Senses is bound to be unforgettable, with a laid-back luxury that makes it stand out from the high-end competition. Along with its dramatic mountain setting, calming sea views and accommodating staff, it makes for a perfect romantic getaway or an ideal holiday for a young family. But it doesn’t come cheap: Expect a bill to match the exclusive luxury.


Iraqis turn to budding ecotourism to save marshes

Updated 22 May 2019
0

Iraqis turn to budding ecotourism to save marshes

  • The Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert
  • Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden

CHIBAYISH, Iraq: Thirty years after Saddam Hussein starved them of water, Iraq’s southern marshes are blossoming once more thanks to a wave of ecotourists picnicking and paddling down their replenished river bends.
A one-room home made of elaborately woven palm reeds floats on the river surface. Near it, a soft plume of smoke curls up from a firepit where carp is being grilled, Iraqi-style.
A few canoes drift by, carrying couples and groups of friends singing to the beat of drums.
“I didn’t think I would find somewhere so beautiful, and such a body of water in Iraq,” said Habib Al-Jurani.
He left Iraq in 1990 for the United States, and was back in his ancestral homeland for a family visit.

Tourists sit in a canoe as they are shown around the marshes of the southern Iraqi district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

“Most people don’t know what Iraq is really like — they think it’s the world’s most dangerous place, with nothing but killings and terrorism,” he said.
Looking around the lush marshes, declared in 2016 to be Iraq’s fifth UNESCO World Heritage site, Jurani added: “There are some mesmerizing places.”
Straddling Iraq’s famous Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert.
Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden.
But they were also a haven for political opposition to dictator Saddam Hussein, who cut off water to the site in retaliation for the south’s uprising against him in 1991.
Around 90 percent of the once-expansive marshes were drained, and the area’s 250,000 residents dwindled down to just 30,000.

This picture taken on March 29, 2019 shows geese swimming in the marshes of the southern Iraqi district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra. (AFP)

In the ensuing years, severe droughts and decreased water flows from the twin rivers’ source countries — Turkey and Iran — shrunk the marshes’ surface from some 15,000 square kilometers to less than half that.
It all culminated with a particularly dry winter last year that left the “ahwar,” as they are known in Arabic, painfully parched.
But heavier rains this year have filled more than 80 percent of the marshes’ surface area, according to the United Nations, compared to just 27 percent last year.
That has resurrected the ancient lifestyle that dominated this area for more than 5,000 years.
“The water returned, and with it normal life,” said 35-year-old Mehdi Al-Mayali, who raises water buffalo and sells their milk, used to make rich cream served at Iraqi breakfasts.

Wildlife including the vulnerable smooth-coated otter, Euphrates softshell turtles, and Basra reed warbler have returned to the marshlands — along with the pickiest of all species: tourists.
“Ecotourism has revived the ‘ahwar’. There are Iraqis from different provinces and some foreigners,” Mayali said.
A day in the marshes typically involves hiring a resident to paddle a large reed raft down the river for around $25 — not a cheap fare for Iraq.
Then, lunch in a “mudhif” or guesthouse, also run by locals.
“Ecotourism is an important source of revenue for those native to the marshes,” said Jassim Assadi, who heads Nature Iraq.
The environmental activist group has long advocated for the marshes to be better protected and for authorities to develop a long-term ecotourism plan for the area.

An Iraqi boy pets cattle by the marshes of the southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

“It’s a much more sustainable activity than the hydrocarbon and petroleum industry,” said Assadi, referring to the dominant industry that provides Iraq with about 90 percent of state revenues.
The numbers have steadily gone up in recent years, according to Assaad Al-Qarghouli, tourism chief in Iraq’s southern province of Dhi Qar.
“We had 10,000 tourists in 2016, then 12,000 in 2017 and 18,000 in 2018,” he told AFP.
But there is virtually no infrastructure to accommodate them.
“There are no tourist centers or hotels, because the state budget was sucked up by war the last few years,” Qarghouli told AFP.
Indeed, the Daesh group overran swathes of Iraq in 2014, prompting the government to direct its full attention — and the bulk of its resources — to fighting it back.

An Iraqi tourist grills fish by the marshes of the southern district of Chibayish in Dhi Qar province, about 120 kilometers northwest of the southern city of Basra, on March 29, 2019. (AFP)

Iraq’s government declared victory in late 2017 and has slowly begun reallocating resources to infrastructure projects.
Qarghouli said the marshes should be a priority, and called on the government to build “a hotel complex and touristic eco-village inside the marshes.”
Peak season for tourists is between September and April, avoiding the summer months of Iraq when temperatures can reach a stifling 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
But without a long-term government plan, residents worry that water levels will be hostage to fluctuating yearly rainfalls and shortages caused by Iranian and Turkish dams.
These dynamics have already damaged the marshes’ fragile ecosystem, with high levels of salination last year killing fish and forcing other wildlife to migrate.
Jurani, the returning expatriate, has an idea of the solution.
“Adventurers and nature-lovers,” he said, hopefully.