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An utterly lazy weekend at Six Senses Zighy Bay

I recently had the pleasure of (finally) staying at Six Senses Zighy Bay. And by pleasure I mean my six-year anniversary with the boyfriend was approaching and I said, “what shall we do?” and he said, “don’t worry, I’ll think of something” and I replied, “sure, sounds good”. Then probably less than 30 minutes later, I said, “Nevermind, I’ll sort it” because internally I had already made the decision to stay at Zighy Bay days before.

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The resort preps for your pampering before you even arrive, asking you to fill out a guest profile, which lets them know all kinds of details, including what sort of pillows you would like (even bath pillows), how you’d like your pillow to smell (I chose chamomile), how you’d like your villa to smell (frankincense, please) and if you’re celebrating a special occasion during your stay. Once you arrive, you’re assigned a “GEM” (guest experience manager), who is there to help you with any whim that may come to mind.

The drive from Dubai is pretty easy, taking around two hours, and the entrance to the resort is only about 20 minutes from the Dibba border crossing (which UAE residents can only cross if they have a hotel booking; nationals and those on tourist visas can cross freely). Don’t wash your car before you go – the last bit of the drive is on a dusty track and your car will become filthy pretty fast. From the entry at the base of the mountain, you can decide to either leave your car in the (very cramped) parking lot or drive over the mountain to the beach on the other side yourself. For the latter you will require a SUV that’s fairly high off the ground. We almost drove ourselves but decided why not accept a hotel SUV? The drive up and over the mountain is really steep with a lot of hairpin turns and we were glad we decided against driving after getting on the road. Alternatively, you can arrive by paragliding from the mountaintop, or on a speedboat from a nearby port.

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The resort’s main pool (there is also a saltwater pool, which was being renovated during my visit). The bar is on the right, and the summer house restaurant is on the left.

Six Senses is known for its sustainable luxury resorts that compliment and blend into the local environment and community. The natural materials used to create the grounds and accommodation are locally sourced and result in a destination that is the very definition of “rustic luxe”. In Zighy Bay’s case, the all-villa resort resembles a traditional Omani village, each villa made of stone and wood, with private sand gardens shaded by date palms. 

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a sheltered majlis area in the villa’s garden

Even the “standard” accommodation is far from modest. A spacious villa is roughly separated into three spaces: a living room, bedroom and bathroom. A sound system is wired throughout and there’s even an outdoor shower in addition to your indoor one. The just-the-right-amount-of-plush bed was quite possibly the most comfortable one that I’ve ever slept in. But it’s the outdoor area that really impresses: a spacious terrace with plush sun loungers and a dining table leads to your private infinity plunge pool. Ours was L-shaped, with the shorter side being more shallow with a sloped end, perfect for lounging. The pool itself was nicely chilled, a plus considering it was around 105-degrees the weekend we were there. That being said, it was much less humid than Dubai, and the evening was surprisingly comfortable – we ate outside. Beyond the pool there’s a cushy seating area with a ceiling fan as well as an enclosed sort of outdoor majlis that was very cosy. All this is surrounded by tall walls made of wood and cobblestone for total privacy (if you’ve got a beachfront villa, one length of wooden walls opens up directly to the sea). Whimsical little touches were found around the villas, like a sliding “do not disturb” sign, a message jug at the front gate, ceramic pots with spoons to wash your feet at the front door and pool, and a doorbell (literally a bell) on a drawstring that ran from the front gate to inside the villa.

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villa interior

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outdoor shower

For the most part (okay, the entire part) the weekend was spent faffing about in the pool and lounging with a book. The Six Senses spas are some of the best, but I decided against any spa treatments this time around (I will be back, though, and will look forward to checking out the spa then). As it was Ramadan, the signature restaurant located atop the mountain, Sense On The Edge, was closed, which would have been nice to try – but then again I wasn’t hugely interested in getting out of my bathing suit and into real clothes (the bar area by the main pool was also closed due to the holy month). The in-villa dining was fantastic: an Arabic mixed grill of perfectly-cooked meats was a standout dish. Breakfast in Spice Market was pretty impressive, too. A selection of fresh, organic fruits, yogurts, juices and Arabic mezze was available along with an à la carte menu of breakfast items, like sautéed mushrooms and eggs on muffins. It was almost certainly the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had.

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the “do not disturb” sign

As we dined, the villa received its evening turndown service, which included (I think because I had mentioned we were celebrating our anniversary on the guest profile?) lighting candles around the pool. It’s a really lovely way to spend an evening.

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Given the name of the resort, yes, there is a beach as well. It’s a nice little stretch of soft (albeit crab-inhabited) sand with the rocky peninsula’s walls on either end. To be honest, we didn’t really bother with the beach much. Between the fact we had a private pool and it was 100+ degrees (so that ruled out sea activities like kayaking, which we would have loved to do) we simply took an evening stroll down the stretch to see what it was like.

In the end, it was both one of the least active, but most enjoyable resort getaways I’ve ever done. I went in with high expectations that were completely exceeded. If I had to complain about anything it’s that they have photos of goats on their website, but I didn’t see any on the property except in the parking areas, and that was kind of disappointing. I was also hoping to see some cute cats, as I think I recall seeing, maybe on their social media feeds, that they try to find homes for the local strays (although, I guess it’s nice if the local strays have been homed)? All I saw were (lots) of crabs. Six Senses Zighy Bay is a total treat and one that pulls off incredible luxury in a sophisticated and surprisingly understated manner. The ostentatious luxury seen around much of the rest of the GCC could certainly take a tip or two from Six Senses, but I suppose the brand’s careful taste is what also makes it stand out as so excellent.

It’s going to be a stark contrast to the tent I’ll be setting up in during my trek in Turkey in a month’s time.

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the beach at Zighy Bay dotted with little hills of sand built by the burrowing crabs

On a completely unrelated note, the boyfriend is currently playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and the coat the main character wears is incredible. If any costumer feels like taking up the task of making that coat for me, that would be amazing, thanks. I promise, I would wear the shit out of that coat. Even in 115-degree heat.

For the full photo album, click here.

A rare update

I find myself with as little time to update as usual, but thought since I don’t really have the opportunity to share any travel excursions here any more, I may as well share some of the material I’ve had published. Most recently, I found myself back in Greece – Athens and Mykonos. After last year, I was determined to return to Mykonos again this summer for a bit of carousing, and imagine my delight when the opportunity presented itself through work. So, perhaps less on the carousing end of things, but still a very welcome return. And if you find yourself in Athens and want to treat yourself, there’s no better way than booking a room in the Hotel Grande Bretagne – while a bit too traditional for my personal taste, that didn’t make it any less impeccable in terms of service, decor and atmosphere. For incredible modern Greek food set within a restaurant that is one of the most visually interesting that I’ve ever encountered, book a table at Aleria and eat everything you can.

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Prior to that I took a detox and spa break in Kuwait, at the Jumeirah Messilah, where I learned that maybe a five-hour marathon of spa treatments is not really for me (but I also can’t really complain, can I, as I’m being exfoliated with diamond dust from head to toe).

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CNT ME – and more of my babbling – is also available in Apple’s App Store (search for “conde nast traveller middle east”) as a monthly digital download. And I think it’s free right now. It’s a rare moment when anyone can do something to make me happy that doesn’t involve spending obscene – or any, in this case – amounts of money. You’re welcome.

It’s full-on summer here in Dubai (110 degrees, humid and Ramadan, t’boot) but I’m soon off to finally give Six Senses Zighy Bay a go in Oman’s Musandam Peninsula. I’ve been eyeing it up for many a year and look forward to finally making it there.

A trip to Turkey’s southern coast is also under consideration for a late summer getaway. Much like Zighy Bay, the Lycian Way trek has been on my mind for some time, although I won’t be taking on the full month-long, 500+ kilometre journey. I imagine after two days of shoving as many Iskander kebaps down my throat as humanly possible, I’ll no longer have to walk, though, and can simply let the boyfriend roll me. Maybe prod me along with a blunt stick or something. I would also love to try to fit in a visit to the Pamukkale hot springs. Before I get fat on Turkish kebaps, obviously.

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Animal house

I’ve been chugging away at working on my writing over at Conde Nast Traveller Middle East, not really leaving any time for the blog (or much else). This is one of my little stories from the February issue I felt worthy of a share. If for no other reason than I finally decided to dig up my illustration background.

(As always, click to embiggen.)

CNTFeb14 Animal House Laurel Munshower

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Oh man, Oman

As I seem to so often whine at the start of many of my blog entries, I have been so very busy guys, thus the lack of updating. I also haven’t been doing anything terribly interesting. So, there’s that.

We had a long holiday weekend for Eid Al Adha a couple weeks ago – actually, more like a month ago – that I filled with a quick tripette to Oman. And I really feel like Oman can do pretty much no wrong. Muscat in particular grows on me significantly with each passing visit. Often when in Muscat, I am shacked up in The Chedi, with little interest in leaving. As we weren’t staying there this time (wah) more time was spent around the city than usual, and I felt like I got a much better feel for it than I had in the past. One of the things that I really love about Muscat so much is that they seem to have utilized their waterfront areas much better than Dubai has. There are chilled out little cafes just off the sand, a long park filled with people cooking amazing-smelling foods and and a lovely old corniche (where you’ll often get to feast your eyes on Sultan Qaboos’ super yacht – one of the largest in the world).

I had never been to two of Muscat’s more popular hotels, the Grand Hyatt or the InterCon, so decided it was high time to give them a try. I loved the Grand Hyatt’s beachfront view from a poolside tiki bar (great people watching both in and outside of the hotel grounds), but I think that the InterCon edged the Hyatt out with their chilled out and unpretentious  poolside bar set in a forest-like garden. Relaxing to the extreme.

The city’s residential neighborhood’s really hooked me as well – how nice to live a stone’s throw from the beach and nice little cafes in Shatti Al Qurum or even a bit further inland, in Madinat Sultan As Qaboos, with sea and mountain views from the balcony. Or, best yet – a fancy beach-side villa in the ridiculously wow diplomatic neighborhood. I have to admit, at times I find it very frustrating to be living in Dubai while the Muscat lifestyle taunts me just over the border.

Outside of Muscat, we decided to head down south along the coast to have a go at camping. We were hoping to set up on a beach around Sur, and maybe catch a glimpse of some sea turtles, but no such luck. We eventually settled on a clifftop near Fins, with the crystal clear Gulf of Oman crashing against the rocks below us. Even from far above (I would say at least 20-25 feet?) you could still clearly see colorful fish swimming in the water below.

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fishes!

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our camping site near Fins

While looking for a camping spot, we stopped at some incredible wadis between Muscat and Sur. In my time here on the Arabian Peninsula, I have never seen any wadis like the ones I saw during this trip. It was, to me, not even a wadi, but something venturing into swamp territory. Seriously. And there were frog noises (I saw no frogs, but they were certainly there), white egrets, dragonflies – things that are very much not desert-like.

We first stopped at Wadi Shab, which was just off the coast and very easy to access. It was huge, but also extremely busy and, sadly, full of garbage from holiday picnicers. We didn’t stick around. There was an amusing Che Guevara graffiti, though.

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Next up was Wadi Tiwi, which was also full, but not quite as badly. It looked stunning, so after a brief peek around, we left but decided to return early the following morning before anyone else had arrived. The morning trip back uncovered seriously verdant surrounds and a tranquil little village, full of very active falaj. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful wadi I had ever seen. If you’re in the Muscat area and want to have a look at a veritable oasis, Tiwi is the place. I think it was only about an hour’s drive south of Muscat and very easy to access.

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falaj and swampy wadi at Tiwi

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Tiwi’s waterfront real estate

On the way back to Muscat we also checked out Wadi Suwayah. This was one was a bit more difficult to get to than the other two (it was further into the mountains, after a long dusty, rocky road) but was worth it. After finally reaching the wadi, we were greeted with something more like a small lake. There wasn’t much exploring to be done in the area, which consists of the lake-like wadi surrounded by cliffisides, and a very small village, but the clear and apparently very deep waters, would be excellent for some cliff diving.

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A small portion of what was practically a lake at Suwayah

…and a month later we were back to Oman for a visa run. Now that the weather is perfect for outdoor exploration, we made our way to an area beyond the Hili border post in Al Ain called Wadi Kitnah. Again, a ridiculously stunning area. It’s amazing what awaits you once you cross the border into Oman. Stupidly, I deleted the few photos that I took from my phone already, so a couple Instagram shots will have to do.

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There are two areas within the Kitnah wadi that you can visit (possible more) and both are gorgeous. One was filled with smaller pools, and was reminiscent of a creek, with bubbling water, frogs jumping all around  and water trickling down boulders overgrown with small plant life. The other area was filled with narrow canyons holding deep, crystal clear pools of water. You couldn’t explore part of the area very well without swimming (and I didn’t) as the pools were set deep within steep canyon walls and there was nowhere to walk. However, in the other direction, the wadi opened up, and after scrambling around some rocks you’ll find yourself at a deep pool that is perfect for cliff jumping. Scramble along some more rocks further into the wadi, and the water slowly trickles to a stop as you find yourself at the base of the high, red walls of a canyon.

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red dragonflies and crystal pools in Kitnah

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Any recommendations for fab wadis in the UAE-Omani border area are very welcome, so please don’t hesitate to share your favorite wadi spots with me! There must be endless amazing options out there.

And it’s quite blowy and grey this morning – exciting weather for Dubai. It would be nice to see some rain come this way soon (although hopefully not while I’m driving). Shit. It just started raining and thundering, and I need to leave for work.

[Oman wadi photo album]

Hey, detour.

Back in late June, it was announced to me that I’d be losing my job at the art gallery because said art gallery would be closing its doors. This was both terrifying and a great relief. Losing your job is never good news, especially when you’re living in a foreign country. However, the job’s challenges and learning opportunities had dwindled some time ago, which, in turn, lost my interest, causing me to start considering a career change (writing, in some form or another). With the end of a job that I was no longer happy at in sight, it seemed like exactly the push required to set me off on a more fulfilling path, and for that I was very thankful.

I was to be employed into September, and as summer plodded along towards the light at the end of the employment tunnel without a replacement job in sight, I approached my impending unemployment with both trepidation and unbridled glee. More than anything, I was scared of unemployment being boring; I feared it would drive me utterly mad. But – I was also really looking forward to giving up the responsibility that comes with a job, and just unwinding.

When unemployment came, it ended up being an absolute treat. I wasn’t nearly as bored as I feared I’d be! I could get so much stuff done! Sure maintenance guys, I’m home ALL DAY so you can drop by and fix the aircon whenever you like! Be four hours late, like you usually are, I don’t care! Grocery shopping was no longer a post-work chore; I had ample time to shop without it eating up precious personal time! I’m going to get fit! Jogging in the morning and cycling in the late afternoon had me starting to feel pretty good about myself! What delicious, healthy lunches I had time to prepare every day! And books! I can finally read you – poolside, no less!

Maaaaaaaaaan, I was getting used to this unemployed gig. In fact, why would I ever go back to work? This was good times. Oh…shit, that’s right. Life comes with (ugh, financial) responsibilities. Damn it. Where’s my Greek shipping heir husband? I’m ready for my villa in the Cyclades now, thank you very much.

Ah, that pesky job, it just had to be found somewhere. But what to do? I really did not want to start my way down the path of another unsatisfying career. I toyed with copywriting, but in the end I could not ignore the siren’s call from the soon-to-launch Condé Nast Traveller Middle East magazine.

A travel writing gig. Condé Nast. Traveller. Writing is awesome. Travel is my life’s passion. Hey, may as well try to make a career out of it. Slight problem. I can’t just roll up to Condé Nast and be like, hey there, I have a blog I write in every now and then, it would be your great honor to hire me. But I could get an editorial internship. And so, in the interest of trying to chase what I basically see as a dream job, that’s exactly what I did.

I figure, worst case scenario it will be a decent learning experience. So, it’s been just over a week now, and I’m enjoying it. I’ll just have to wait and see where it takes me.

And after just seven days of work I’m looking forward to the 5-day holiday weekend for Eid starting this Tuesday. Five days hearkening back to the good ol’ days of poolside unemployment.