- Detailed Review
- Facts & Amenities
Zighy Bay is something of a legend in luxury travel circles. It’s conversation fodder at chic London dinner parties, and often a challenge for travel agents; with an impressively high repeat rate of previous guests/Six Senses fans, booking during busy times can be challenging.
Although the industry buzz about Zighy Bay had me both intrigued and excited about my stay (‘I did the best yoga class of my life there’; ‘Just wait till you see the rooms!’; ‘Oh, you lucky thing; it’s in my top five!’), I have to admit that, contrary to Six Senses’ ‘barefoot luxury’ signature style, I usually like my luxury more polished than rustic. So I was ready to be ‘turned’.
There are 82 private pool villas, hidden from the world by the dramatic limestone mountains of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula. They blend, almost invisibly, into the surrounding barren scenery. Set on the most beautiful beach I’ve seen in the Gulf region, there are a variety of villa sizes and layouts, ideal for couples or families, most with one or two bedrooms and with options for extra beds. There is also the impressive four-bedroom Reserve. Some are right on the beach, some set one or two villas back, and all have private pools and gorgeous outside areas with plenty of comfortable places to lounge. Whatever the size and layout, they all offer the same distinctive style, furnishings and finish.
Highlights include the spa, an award-winning domain, and there are plenty of choices when it comes to food and drink, in both style and location. The property’s fine-dining restaurant is one of a kind, magically clinging onto the cliff’s edge high above the hotel.
The hotel somehow achieves that elusive formula – being genuinely family-friendly but not compromising on a luxury experience (even for child-free couples). There’s an incredible variety of activities for kids and adults alike, including the legendary method of arrival: paragliding in from the top of the cliff above the hotel. I was lucky enough to experience this, and I was on a high for days afterwards.
In this secluded location I felt a long way from the outside world; three days felt like three weeks, incredibly restful. This unique, quirky, sumptuous and soothing place soon had me under its spell.
The journey to Zighy Bay contributes to the feeling of otherworldliness while staying here; you’re a long way from anywhere even though, in reality, you can find civilisation a short drive away on the other side of the surrounding cliffs.
The hotel is well versed at smoothly transiting people in and out of the enclave – the closest airport is Dubai (a two-hour drive), plus another hour to Abu Dhabi. They use superb 4x4s with professional and friendly drivers, who are happy to stop for photo opportunities or bathroom breaks. Cars are stocked with plenty of cold water, and even comfy neck pillows should the passing desert landscapes, stunning rock formations, industrial towns or the odd camel or two lull you to sleep.
Twenty minutes from the arrival lodge the smooth tarmac turns into a bumpy, unpaved track, taking you slowly through increasingly dramatic mountain scenery – hardy trees provide shade for the even hardier ‘Zighy goats’ who, when not standing in their shade, use them as climbing frames. The road winds steeply up and over the mountains around the hotel and give you a spectacular bird’s-eye view of what’s to come: the hotel, the beach and the local village, Zighy, right next to the property.
Arrival is faultlessly smooth, with too many smiles to take in; a cold, wet flannel drenched in orange-blossom water (the first of many during my stay) and a delicious date smoothie.
My bags were taken from the car to my room without me noticing, and check-in was fast and professional. I was introduced to the senior manager on duty, as well as my GEM (Guest Experience Maker), my primary point of contact for arranging anything I needed during my stay. From the second I arrived, I felt welcome, relaxed and at home.
Staff whizz you around the resort on golf buggies, but it’s compact enough to walk if the heat allows. I was given a brief tour of the main areas that was comprehensive enough to get my bearings but short enough to get me to my villa as quickly as possible.
Rooms and suites
The Zighy Bay style is no more evident than in the villas. Regardless of size and layout (the hotel has a variety of villa types), the same colour scheme is applied. Understated, natural dark hues with smooth stone floors and splashes of citrus brights: orange, turquoise and lime green make for a harmonious blend. There are plenty of big, comfy cushions and sofas and, primarily, lots of natural materials used everywhere, designed with sustainability in mind.
Each high-ceilinged villa is styled like a traditional Omani house – your villa and its private outside space sits within an outer cobbled wall, which gives Zighy Bay a unique ‘village’ feel as you stroll around the sand tracks of the resort. The only drawback of this layout is that, despite the privacy, you’re never far from another villa, so you can occasionally hear noise from your neighbours. Villas set on the beach have clever woven screens: open them for that ‘on the beach’ feeling, or close them for privacy. Other villas have similar gates so that you can enjoy a more open feel or shut out the world.
My Pool Villa was 247sq m (2,659sq ft) in total, with a generous interior space of 82sq m (882sq ft), but the ratio of room size to extensive outside spaces is common across all villa types. Most villas are open-plan, with separate sleeping and living areas, large, comfy daybeds, and the exteriors are equally sybaritic. Sunbeds are large and squishy, there is space to dine outdoors should you wish, and many villa types have outside ‘Summer Houses’ – shaded huts with tons of floor cushions so that you can relax outside in the shade. All villas have a private pool (various sizes according to the size of the villa) – mine being 21sq m (221 sq ft).
Six Senses tries not to use plastic containers anywhere on the property, so you will find plenty of refillable glass bottles of locally filtered water in your room, and the mini-bar is well stocked with delicious snacks and enviable glassware.
Six Senses has a fantastic ‘sleep policy’: the beds have Naturalmat mattresses, and the bedding is luxurious 300-thread-count, unbleached cotton. However, the devil is in the detail, with no fewer than 14 pillows to choose from. And with a further choice of four fragrance pillows, from ‘jet lag’ to ‘tranquillity’, it’s impossible not to have a great night’s sleep.
Technology is subtle and intuitive, and none of it jars with the environment: even the AC units are brilliantly hidden behind woven wicker covers. TVs have a selection of international channels, and there is excellent wi-fi connectivity throughout the resort, not just in the bedrooms. You can play CDs, DVDs and hook up your own music. The a/c noise was, at times, slightly obtrusive, but plug sockets were plentiful. Overall, it was a well thought-out room.
The bathrooms are essentially an extension of the rest of the villa and embody the Six Senses’ use of natural materials – with oversized terracotta bathtubs, indoor, cave-like showers and lots of smooth stone and polished concrete. Again, the commitment to the environment, sustainability and minimal waste is evident. Six Senses’ brand of products is plentiful in refillable containers, including insect repellent and after-sun lotion, as well as the usual staples. There is good lighting, two basins, a good hairdryer and plenty of space to store your things.
Huge by anyone’s standards, my bathroom led out to a private courtyard with a lovely outdoor shower, which was very private from the outside, but do bear in mind that these villas are built for couples and close families. With no doors between the bedroom and bathrooms, and internal windows overlooking the outside shower, it’s not for shrinking violets.
There are several dining options at the resort, so a stay here of any length offers plenty of choice. A strong part of the Six Senses identity is its wellness ethos, and there are super-healthy options available on all menus, clearly marked. They are extensive, and all the healthy options are delicious. Again, with sustainability in mind, much of the produce used is grown at the resort’s organic garden and farm in nearby Dibba.
Breakfast always has the potential to be a highlight of any hotel stay for me, and Zighy Bay did not disappoint. From a huge variety of fresh juices and smoothies that changed daily, to freshly baked breads, pastries, fresh nut butters, delicious local specialities and an impressive a la carte selection, staying at the hotel for over a week still wouldn’t have given me the chance to try everything I wanted. I loved the ‘carrot cake overnight oatmeal’, the ‘kick-start’ juice (carrot, young coconut, ginger and turmeric) and the fresh, local lemon curd – delicious. I also loved the ‘Scotch egg’ made of lamb kofta, beetroot hummus, tomato and basil salsa. Lunch at the Summer House was also delicious – an extensive menu, light and flavourful, with lots of Asian fusion and local options, including the exceptional ‘waterfall beef’ dish (Thai nam tok, tropical fruit and fresh herbs) and the homemade peanut-butter ice cream.
Other restaurant options
When staying at Zighy Bay, you’re very much based at the resort, so eating out locally isn’t an option. Luckily, the choice at the hotel is good enough to keep you interested, and the quality was almost universally excellent.
Sense on the Edge is the fine-dining restaurant, only open a few nights a week and set a five-minute drive away at the top of the mountain, so you have a wonderful view of dusk and the twinkling lights of the resort.
However, the disadvantage of outdoor dining at certain times of the year is that the heat can be quite uncomfortable, even at night, and although the alternative is to eat inside in more comfortable air conditioning, the point of being on the cliff edge is then rather lost. I opted for the five-course dinner with wine pairing, which was delicious, with great service, beautiful presentation and a brilliantly knowledgeable sommelier. By the end of the evening I was too hot to appreciate the experience, and the delicious white wine had to be downed quickly before it became tepid, but it was still a wonderful experience.
There are several other options dotted around the resort, and there are impressive buffets and barbecue options at night at the Spice Market, the main restaurant, which is Arabic in style and has a lovely environment. Although it was a great meal with impressive choices, I did feel that the quality wasn’t proportionate to the cost.
The Zighy Bar is great. It’s one of the real focal points of the resort, and probably the most sociable place, where everyone seems happy to chat to each other. It’s a very natural and comfortable place to mingle, and the small plates served here are delicious, with olives and nuts dispensed generously, although there is a charge for water.
There is also an impressive ‘wine tower’ and cellar, built in the local style, with a private dining room, and destination dining is available in select spots throughout the resort and beach (including barbecues in your villa).
Spa and wellness
This is where Six Senses really focuses a lot of attention, and the spa here is truly impressive.
The gym is well equipped and a decent size (with plenty of natural light), but the real focus is more on the extensive spa-treatment menu and the quality of the therapists.
There is a programme of daily exercise classes, many of which are complimentary, and in the cooler months this includes yoga on the rooftop terrace. I thoroughly enjoyed a morning Hatha yoga class but didn’t attend the hand massage workshop or ‘sunset stretching’. I did, however, go for a Balinese massage – definitely among the best I’ve ever had.
The spa shop sells some gorgeous products – only the strongest-willed guests can escape without buying some signature essential oil blends, or a ‘Kick Asana’ yoga bag. Changing rooms are large, luxurious and well equipped, and the relaxation room is lovely. Like all spas in the Middle East, male and female areas are separate. I also underwent the wellness screening assessment, which was very interesting – the basis for undertaking one of the wellness programmes if your stay is long enough. There is also a range of highly respected, visiting therapists.
Pool and beach
The hotel is not only on a fabulous, mile-long sandy beach, but there are two swimming pools, one of which is the only salt-water pool in the Middle East. There are plenty of comfy sun beds and many different areas to find your own space or be sociable, relax in the sun, or find shade to eat or drink. I particularly liked the area of beach around the Shua Shack area (where food is served Bedouin-style), and it would be very easy to find child-free spaces if you are looking for a more adult experience. Pool service everywhere was very good, with plenty of water available at all times.
There are many water sports to keep you busy, from kayaking to snorkelling, and any number of other activities both within and outside the resort, from slacklining to tennis, wadi biking to rock climbing and abseiling. Staff at the activities centre were particularly impressive in their knowledge and efficiency.
There is a marina nearby in Zighy Village, where the hotel keeps various boats used for cruises and diving, and also the luxury dhow, which can be hired for a couple of nights to combine a stay on the water with a stay at the hotel. I was lucky enough to go on a sunset cruise where the crew was delightful, and it was amazing to see the stunning landscape from the sea as well as the land. I enjoyed some delicious canapes and a bottle of sparkling date juice, a suitably celebratory way to end my stay.
Unlike many hotels, Zighy Bay has separate clubs for kids (Chaica’s Club for four- to 10-year-olds) and for teens (Al Feetean’s Club for 11- to 18-year-olds). The extensive programme of age-related activities includes hiking, biking, Arabic cookery, etc, delivered specifically for younger guests. There’s an outdoor jungle gym that teens would enjoy – as well as trampolines, archery and a kids’ area of the pool.
The big kid in me especially enjoyed meeting Humphrey and Wednesday, the two resident camels.
Although I did not visit during school holidays, there were plenty of younger children staying, and it very much felt that they were welcomed and catered for throughout the resort. ‘Family’ and ‘adult’ guests were not segregated, although I sensed that staff are sensitive to the potential impact of families on other guests, and skilful in how they deal with each.
One of my favourite things about Oman is the genuine warmth of the locals, and this very much extends to the way the staff relate to children and parents alike – from bar staff and waiters to housekeeping staff, families seemed to be met with real enthusiasm and friendliness.
There are very good food and beverage plans and choices for children, and babysitting services are also available.
The willingness and availability of staff and golf buggies to help you around the resort make life easy for those holidaying with one or more child – and the easy airport transfer is also helpful.
Parents might also be interested to know that there is an on-site nurse available, and lifeguards on the beach during the day.
Staff and service
It is a long time since I’ve been to a hotel and experienced such genuinely happy staff, so eager to please and utterly proud to work here. As with most Middle Eastern hotels, the staff are from all over the world, and most are resident on-site. Time and time again, one or the other told me enthusiastically how much they love the property and working for Six Senses – it seems that the brand’s ethics are equally applied to their responsibility as an ethical employer, and this is great to see.
The staff were all knowledgeable, I was greeted by name wherever I went, bar staff remembered my favourite drinks and seemed to want to get to know me.
Zighy Bay attracts a variety of nationalities, mainly from Germany, France and the UK in terms of European visitors, and also has a large following of both locals and expats from the UAE. You can expect a mix of couples and families, and I saw young adults holidaying with parents as well as young couples holidaying alone. The hotel does manage to have quite a universal appeal, although I believe school holidays to be quite family-dominant, which is worth bearing in mind if you are looking for a quiet retreat during these times.
Because of the private, secure and laid-back nature of the hotel, it does attract some high-profile visitors, but usually the kind of people who are looking for the opposite of ‘see and be seen’.
Zighy Bay does exude a very understated, relaxed and subtle glamour, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
There is a very good library near the reception (incredibly well stocked with books in many languages, as well as books on the local culture, flora and fauna and plenty of board games, etc). The bill was settled quickly and accurately, and my transfer was ready at the expected time. Before I left, I also found time to visit the shop, which stocks some lovely brands of jewellery and beachwear, as well as souvenirs.
How to get here
120 minutes by road from Dubai International Airport
82 villas, suites & private reserves