Making an entrance is easy at Six Senses Zighy Bay, just book a paragliding tandem session with the luckiest staff member, the flying instructor, and arrive in style with the best views.
Six Senses Zighy Bay caught my eye in 2009 when I spent three days on a corporate retreat. The resort had just opened and was still on the soft opening phase. Ever since then, I had been meaning to return to fully enjoy it, which was not easy between company presentations, drinking sessions, parties and all nighters.
With the excuse of a trip to Dubai, I made a reservation for a long weekend and headed to the Northern tip of Oman, the Musandam Peninsula, a strange part of the country that is entirely encircled by the UAE. It is not until the last moment, after we parked our car at a large supermarket parking lot and were picked up by the resort’s 4×4 car that we crossed the border into the Arabian Peninsula friendly country of Oman.
The Musandam Peninsula was a popular weekend getaway when I was living in Dubai. Trying to escape the sweltering summer heat, residents would flock to the mountains where there was a bit of fresh breeze and some natural pools in Hatta, on the way to Musandam, where cooling waters provided much respite. Temperatures were still above 40 Celsius, but that was a bit better than 50-degree Dubai.
Until the Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort opened its doors, the area was only supplied by simpler and less luxurious resorts, including a Golden Tulip I stayed at in 2006. Today, aside from the Six Senses Zighy Bay there are also two Banyan Tree Resorts, one by the sea and one by the desert. They are not as far as Musandam from Dubai, more on the way there, still in UAE territory.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on the bay of the same name meaning “hot bay” in the local language spoken by the many tribes that inhabit the area. Although Oman is the UAE’s poorer cousin, tourism has done much for Musandam’s development yet a few traditional villages and families still live in their old stone huts, without electricity, running water or supplies, largely relying on their goat herds and the difficult life in the desert and mountains of the Peninsula. Their goats roam the mountains and dried river beds freely and can often be seen jumping and standing in perilously narrow stone ledges as if they were challenging death.
Arrival and Check in
We drove across the desert for about 1,5h on my friend’s white convertible sports car. The issue with driving a low car is that you must leave it before crossing the border because the path is nothing more than a goat’s dirt track at times and the usual sports cars of Dubai cannot cover the last few kilometres. The resort will pick you up. Even if you drive a 4×4, the other hyper common luxury car in Dubai, you will still have to park it at the entrance to the mountain track as there is no parking space at the resort. A Six Senses car will drive you through the last dramatic piece of road. And trust me, you do not want to be driving yourself because you want to enjoy the views.
At first, the road climbs up, leaving the dried rivers and the dirt road behind. It then reaches the top, from where the sea and bay below are visible. Right there, the show of nature develops in front of your eyes. The track snakes through, windingly covering the few hundred meters slowly, as if to let you take it all in. The typical mountains and rock scenery of Mudandam and the Hatta Mountains make this part of the world very unique and special. It is the desert, but it is a rocky one. Forget the sand dunes of Dubai, here the landscapes are made of escarpments, rocky outcrops, precipices and sharp turns.
I opted to arrive in style, paragliding, so we drove all the way down, got our villa keys, quickly changed clothes, and drove all the way back up to the take off point. Within a few minutes I was up in the air with the instructor, flying high up, drawing “eights” in the sky, right and left, following the current and the wind flow. I will admit that past the first two minutes on land thinking “what am I doing” when the instructor told me I should just run towards the cliff, I was in complete peace. Flying was indeed terribly calming and soothing. We glided for about 15 minutes then landed on the soft beach, by the resort’s entrance.
You can also decide to book your arrival by sea, on a speedboat from the nearby town of Dhiba, on the border between the UAE and Oman. That would mean that you miss out of the dramatic arrival views from the top of the mountain, but it does give you a different perspective on the resort. You could also mix arriving by paraglide/mountain and then returning by boat. That would be the best of both worlds. The resort can also pick you up from the Dubai or Abu Dhabi airports if you arrive from overseas.
Should I not have chosen to paraglide, our check-in process would have been more pompous, in the Six Senses style, with a tour of the villa with our GEM (Guest Experience Maker), that is omnipresent in every Six Senses, and a run down through the activities available. Given that I was late for my paragliding, we had to skip that and could only sign up for the Shua Shack underground oven dinner that was going on that evening.
In keeping with the brand’s principles and identity, Six Senses Zighy Bay perfectly blends into the surroundings. The villas are fashioned like an Omani village and, in fact, Zighy Bay Village, located along the beach next door to the resort, looks exactly like it. The use of stone, desert tones and wood make the resort feel as if it had been built with the materials that some shipwreck passengers lost at sea found in the Bay, only with 21st century luxuries. The resort’s agreement with the local tribes included the construction of the Zighy Village next door for the local families yet we were not encouraged to visit them.
Six Senses does not promote a technologically advanced escape nor does it offer modern designs, the brand’s identity is based on organic food and back to nature vacations that embody the true meaning of barefoot luxury. Luxury is defined as being able to forget about all our responsibilities and stress. At other properties, like the sister property Soneva Kiri Koh Kood, in Thailand, or the Six Sense Laamu in the Maldives, I have even been requested to turn away my shoes upon arrival, as a symbolic gesture of letting go. At Zighy Bay that would be unpractical since the sand gets extremely hot by 9am and there are activities that involve treks and other outdoor excursions where shoes are a must.
The Villas resemble one of the goat herder’s stone huts. Off-white walls, stone floors, carved woods and the signature orange cushions. All villas have outdoor pools, some are right on the beach and some have multiple rooms for extended families, so common in the Middle East. Smart privacy is another regular feature of Six Senses. Despite villas are relatively close to each other, tall walls, date palm trees and other bushes and bamboo doors ensure that you have utmost privacy.
Inside, there is a sober bedroom that could well be taken off a monk’s cell, a large bathroom with two sinks, a massive stone bath and an indoor and outdoor shower and a spacious lounge with a L-shaped sofa. There are no doors between the three spaces and the mud walls are carved to fashion chic headrests and shelves. Although you are unlikely to turn it on, there is a TV in the lounge area.
The outdoor area of the pool villa has a table where meals can be served, a shaded lounge with comfy sofas and a bamboo relaxation room with low cushions for lazy afternoons away from the sun. We had two sun loungers ready with towels and thick mattresses to sun bathe.
The decor across the resort uses natural materials like bamboo, wood carvings, unbleached fabrics, ropes and other organic, locally sourced and natural fabrics and materials. You will not find any piece of furniture featured on design magazines for the Six Senses style is unique to its properties and especially designed for and by the resorts. The designs may look rudimentary and basic but are well thought-out and attention to detail is everywhere.
One of the best parts of a stay at a Six Senses property is the food. The resort’s advocate for locally sourced and grown food items and for organic fresh produce. Most resort have their own garden for herbs and other vegetables. The Six Senss Zighy Bay had numerous trees and bushes planted across the resort alluding to local species and dozens of palm trees for dates that were harvested and collected daily. Despite being an arid and desert location there were a number of fruit trees grown and appropriately labelled. The local garden supplied a lot of the herbs that make Omani and Middle Eastern dishes. Food experiences are also a staple at Six Senses properties. I’ve had Sommelier wine pairing dinners and sand bank romantic barbecues in the Maldives, cooking lessons at Vietnam’s Con Dao Six Senses and incredible food experiences at each of their properties.
At Six Senses Zighy Bay the Food and Beverage Manager was heading a Shua Shack underground lamb dinner on the night of our arrival. This is a traditional dinner cooked across the Middle East and also in Oman. We attended the meal which featured several typical Middle Eastern dishes to share followed by the star of the dinner: the lamb cooked slowly on hot rocks under the sand. It was delicious.
Where the resort steals hearts is at the hilltop Sense on the Edge restaurant where fine dining dinners are served under the stars from a breathtaking hilltop location. The food was tasty but perhaps overly engineered for my taste, but the location was a must for anyone visiting the resort. The restaurant is not opened on all days and it is closed in the summer months as it is too hot but make sure to book a spot by the balcony setting, on the edge, if it is open while you visit. Go early to grab the last rays of light. As the resort is facing east, the sun sets behind so unfortunately there are no sunset views here, yet the last hues of the day vanishing behind the mountains give the resort a terrific colour nonetheless.
The main restaurant, Spice Market, serves a mixture of international and Middle Eastern specialties. The food is delicious and beautifully prepared but, given that you can’t really go anywhere else the no-frills easy options for dining are limited and may be repetitive. Hence, booking a personalised dining experience is a must. Be it a wine dinner at the Wine Tower, a private barbecue on your own villa or any other idea that tickles your fancy is sure to give you that sense of exclusivity. The resort also offers sunrise and sunset treks into the mountains and local villages for a different setting, and a chance to see the sunset.
Breakfast is perhaps, like at all other Six Senses properties, a show stealer. The spread is always huge and variety of locally soured and hand made jams, local dishes like flat breads filled with yogurt, cheese and nuts or the huge array of fresh fruits and juices are always something that gets me looking forward to getting up. Six Senses sure knows how to get you to rise and shine in the mornings. Zighy Bay was no different and I found their breakfast something deserving of a couple of hours. We sampled several of their egg options, their French toast, the pancakes and the Middle Eastern live stations as well as a few of the breads, the cereals, nuts and fresh fruits.
Although you are more likely to spend the evenings counting stars of taking a late night dip into your private pool, there is a bar that also serves light snacks throughout the day.
Activities and facilities
Although this is a beach location, the proximity to the Hajar Mountains and the sea allows for a wide range of activities to be offered. You can go climbing, mountain biking or off-roading. Treks and walks are all possible but take a visit to a local village or a local herder still living in a mud and stone hut up in the mountains to understand more into the lives of the Omani goat herders that still inhabit these deserted lands. A chat with the local elder is a true insight into tribal life.
If you are more of a water person, you can go diving, snorkelling or simply sailing. Fishing is also possible, as is dolphin or whale spotting in season.
In-house, the resort has a child and teenage center for the younger to get entertained. There are games of petanque, a playground and various not-so-childish games for families.
Even if you choose not to leave the confines of the resort you will get two choices of pools, a sea and a fresh water one, various hammocks, sun loungers and magazines to read. You can take a stroll on your personalised bikes, with your initials on them, or simply walk along the palm-fringed, fine-sand paths. If you want to take to the skies, both paragliding and microlight flights are available thanks to the great constant winds above the resort. At sea, kayaking, stand up paddle, waterskiing and wake boarding are available on site. If you want to get your diving PADI certificate, this is a good place to do so as the waters are almost always warm and the diving is relatively easy. Plus, if you live in Dubai, you avoid the limitations with having to fly before or after which restrict the number of days you can actually get underwater.
The resort also organises complimentary Cinema Pardiso open air cinema nights during the weekends as well as cooking and cocktail making lessons and you can even learn to speak Arabic for free.
The only downside to the adventure and activity menu? The prices, very steep. We took a 4×4 3h tour to a local uninhabited village and the mountains with a guide/driver and ended with a short sunset picnic with some canapes and a bottle of sparkling grape juice which cost upwards of USD400. All activities have a high mark-up so check the exchange rates before booking to avoid surprises at check-out.
Last but not least, the Spa is perhaps one of the reasons most people visit a Six Senses resort anywhere. They are renowned for their great detox, well-being and relaxation packages and for their high standards. Six Senses Zighy Bay is no exception and, especially if you come during the summer months, the spa is a great way to avoid the day’s heat. Retire to a separate spa village and let the experts work their magic to return home as good as new. The resort also offers yogi packages and integrated wellbeing journeys.
All villas have their own GEM or butler to arrange and organise everything. Usually, a call to the GEM or the reception will get anything sorted. Service across the resort was attentive and friendly and the staff looked genuinely happy to work there. Some of the staff members we interacted with including the paragliding instructor, the activities staff and the restaurant waitresses, had been working there for a long time, illustrating their satisfaction with the job, even if their families and friends were far away. Perhaps the only observation was the relatively slow service at meals where we would wait for what felt like an unnecessarily long time to get our food, especially considering the restaurants were empty when were eating our meals. This could be due to the fact that most meals are cooked from scratch or perhaps because we had already entered the low season and the staff numbers had declined. We were told the resort employs 300 people for 80 villas so the guest to staff ratio was extremely high. Or maybe I was just too hungry!
On one occasion we also had to wait for over 20min to get a car to pick us up from Senses on Edge restaurant and take us back. This seemed like a rookie oversight considering there were only two tables left at the restaurant and we were on our desserts, so the restaurant staff should have foreseen we would need a car straightaway. These is a small oversight that I would not pay attention to in most cases, especially since holidays usually mean that I am very chilled, but with the very high prices one pays at such property, service should be the usual “anticipating-needs” formula I have experienced elsewhere at Six Senses. The staff was apologetic but at 11pm those 20min felt like eternity.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is definitively a remote barefoot luxury getaway worth a visit but make sure to go in the winter months when the weather is more agreeable. If you go during the summer, escaping the Dubai heat, then make sure you have lined up enough indoor or water activities to keep you occupied. A spa journey, a few diving trips, cooking experiences or wine dinners and you are set for a true rustic luxury vacation that will bring you back to nature. Six Senses does unostentatious and unassuming luxury like no other luxury hotel chain does and, who can resist the dramatic mountain setting and the romance of an Arabian hideaway. Just be ready for a final bill to match the exclusivity of the property.
Once in a Lifetime Journey enjoyed media rates for this stay. All opinions are, as always, my own.