There are some properties we visit once, and only once. It’s not that we didn’t love them, or that they didn’t tick all of our boxes, but with so many new hotels popping up around the world, we honestly just don’t have enough vacation days (or air miles!) to spare for repeats.
Every once in a while, though, we stumble upon something truly extraordinary. A place that stays within our hearts and is so exceptional that we will rearrange entire schedules to find the time to visit it over and over again.
And with that, here is a re-introduction to Six Senses Zighy Bay, a resort in Oman that has unlocked the magic of sustainability and luxury co-existing in perfect harmony. My first Zighy experience was in 2016, which left me in complete awe of the brand’s humbleness while still delivering five-star treatment across the board, from villas to spas to service. What really stood out at the time was the underlying sensitivity towards the environment – the beating heart of the entire operation which makes the resort so much more than just another gorgeous getaway.
When I was invited to revisit the property this year to get a firsthand look at the new sustainability developments and upgrades they had been working on, I dropped everything and asked “When do you want me to be there?”. It was an opportunity too good to pass up, especially now that we’re putting a hard-hitting focus sustainability and luxury travel.
Whether you’re filled with constant wanderlust or are more of a once-a-year vacationer, we believe travel is more than just starting and ending with a pretty destination. It should include a deep respect for the planet and its people, which is exactly what Six Senses is doing. This luxury brand’s strong sustainability initiatives deserve to be showcased on their own, so hop over to our article which includes up-close looks at their organic garden, farm, water plant, and earth lab.
And now, onto the luxury side of sustainable travel, with Instagram-worthy shots and a chill factor for all of us hustlers.
The ideal zero-carbon-footprint way to get to Zighy Bay would be teleportation; the more realistic (and only) way right now is to drive. For what it’s worth, though, the 2.5-hour journey from Dubai is anything but boring. The physical transition you’ll see through the car window is an apt reflection of how your mental state of being will change as you leave behind Dubai’s fast-paced life of business, bling, and desert.
Once you cross the border to Oman, life changes for the better (though you will have to remember to leave behind any alcohol as it will be removed at the border!). Towering buildings are replaced by towering mountains, flashy Ferraris disappear and give way to clambering goats, and the air becomes crisper and less dusty. The pace of life slows to a merciful crawl.
To make things easier for you, SSZB can organise your border pass (locals, remember your passports), as well as a driver if you’d rather not deal with potential Google Maps confusion on your own!
The final leg before reaching paradise starts at the top of the mountains curving around Zighy Bay, at which point you have two options. You can take the long way by driving around and down or opt for the more direct route, which will involve setting aside your nerves, strapping in, and gliding down to the beach via paraglide or microflight.
Take it from someone who hates heights but has now paraglided down to Zighy Bay twice – this is the kind of experience you should grab hold of whilst here. It’s your chance to witness more of the planet’s pristine beauty – the white sand beach and vibrant blue waters seen from above are absolutely breathtaking – and if there are any remaining thoughts of needing to catch up on emails or set up meetings, you’ll be snapped right out of that mindset.
When your feet are on firm ground again, the Zighy effect will wash over you like a warm ocean wave. It’s a bubble of happiness that makes me want to refrain from using words like “resort” or “hotel”. The pace is punctual without feeling forced, the smiles are genuine not obligatory, and the reception area feels more like a living room than a check-in hall.
Here, there’s a very good chance you’ll bump into Aaron McGrath, the general manager, who greets everyone like long-lost friends rather than guests and exudes warmth and friendliness. Within minutes of speaking with him, I could tell how passionately dedicated he is to luxury, sustainability, guest experience, and employee experience. Aaron’s approach is simple: offer a real Omani destination experience and bring a sense of feeling and being to it all. It’s certainly working because I guarantee the property will take your breath away.
At eleven years old, Six Senses Zighy Bay still looks like it’s just opened. Regular maintenance and upkeep to keep the property fresh are a non-compromise and they also have some incredible developments up their sleeves for 2019. (Hot off the press news: they’re refurbishing the retreat this year so if you’re really looking for some accelerated turbo charge opulence, then get ready to book because the launch is scheduled for October 2019! Our diaries are already blocked off.)
The service is seamless and sincere. You’ll be designated your own GEM (Guest Experience Maker) host who you can call at any time, whether it’s to help with ordering treatments, picking you up in buggy, or taking you for a tour of the Bay. To say they provide service with a smile would be a huge understatement!
The staff is 400+ strong, and everyone is referred to as a host, creating a sense of equality and ownership. They’re also encouraged to enjoy the property’s activities and have their own private rooms, which all reminds me of Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island.
A few months ago, the staff canteen was vamped up, and this next year will see a slew of upgrades. First up are all the host accommodations, which are being upgraded with more floor space, laundry facilities, and a larger gym. Then there will be the stonking kitchen refurbishment, which will turn it into an open kitchen for a more exciting culinary experience while also making it a better working environment for the chefs.
If you need proof that prioritising your employees pays off, take note of SSZB’s < 5% turnover rate, with people sticking around for an average of 6-10 years. Anyone who’s familiar with the hospitality industry knows this kind of staff retention can feel like a myth at the best of times.
Like Branson says, if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your clients! Which means you absolutely will have an experience to remember at Zighy Bay.
At SSZB, you don’t just get a room – you get a villa. And it is unfaltering luxury.
We stayed in a Pool Villa, which isn’t directly on the beach (you can read about our first villa experience here) but still gave us absolute decadence at a sprawling 2,660 sq.ft. of space. As we came up to our villa entrance, two bicycles with number plates hand-carved with Anna’s and my initials sat waiting to greet us. On the front door, rather than the standard Do Not Disturb sign you can simply slide the eyes to indicate your status. The attention to details here is unparalleled.
Anna and I couldn’t decide where to focus first – did we want to check out the plunge pool with the private sun lounge? Or peruse inside the villa and gawk at one of the largest bathtubs we’d ever seen? Even though this wasn’t my first time here, the excitement of discovery was just as palpable.
The one-bedroom villa, like the rest of the property, is designed in a traditional Omani style, with stone floors and walls, dark wood furnishings, and plenty of rustic touches. It’s a soothing environment that manages to feel utterly luxurious yet modest and close to nature.
Before you start to panic that you won’t have your creature comforts, don’t worry – Six Senses makes sure you’re well-accommodated. The villas are equipped with a Nespresso, water in recycled glass bottles (with a no plastic bottles rule, guests are provided multi-use jugs that can be refilled), an array of naughtiness like Bombay Sapphire (read our sustainability piece to learn what happens to this bottle once it’s empty), and a legendary wine fridge that will make you feel like you have your own wine cellar.
There’s also ample wardrobe space, complete with gowns to drown your body in, a spread of amenities (in brown paper wrapping), and a selection of pillows, from standard to body pillow, for every Goldilocks situation. You’ll even have yoga mats if you’re feeling motivated to do some sunrise downward dog.
The massive tub in the bathroom had me trying to calculate how many litres of water it used and wondering if it wasn’t a bit inefficient and wasteful. But all that was quickly forgotten in favour of the outdoor shower (enclosed but open enough to fall in love with nature and embrace your inner Brooke Shields a la Blue Lagoon), the infinity edge plunge pool, and being steps from the silky white sand beach.
The spaciousness of the villa paired with all of the amenities means you could easily spend the entirety of your stay in your own little bubble and no one would fault you for that. In fact, it’s given me plenty of inspiration for the kind of beach house I’d like to have one day. But with so much to see and explore at Six Senses, you’d be missing out if you didn’t take full advantage of your time here.
With everything from an authentic Bedouin dining experience at Shua Shack on the beach to the signature restaurant with a view, Sense on the Edge, you are absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to wining and dining.
Six Senses Zighy Bay have made sure that pretty much any diet and food preference in existence is catered for, from detox to blow-out meals, meat to vegan, private villa barbecues to seven-course tasting meals with wine pairings. In addition to Shua Shack and Sense on the Edge, there’s also Spice Market (the main restaurant), Summer House (open for lunch and afternoon meals), Zighy Bar (with a “No Rush Hour” that runs from 9:30 pm until midnight), and the Wine Cellar (where you can make arrangements for a private meal of up to eight people).
Executive Chef James Knight-Pacheco told us that his objective is to make every meal consistent across the board. “You can’t have a lovely breakfast, then an average lunch.”
Thanks to the garden, farm, and local sourcing initiatives, you can bet that all of the ingredients and dishes on any of the menus will be as fresh as humanly possible. If it suits your palate, try the burger, which is incredible, and the cows milk ice cream that will have you asking for seconds.
The ultimate top-to-bottom fine dining experience can be found at Sense on the Edge, which is open for dinner only. You’ll have jaw-dropping views while perched at the top of a mountain, accompanied by an exquisite tasting course menu, available with wine pairings to further elevate the evening. While the general vibe at SSZB is “barefoot luxury” (with the barefoot part being quite literal at times), an evening at Sense on the Edge calls for heels, a dress, and a mood to indulge. Weather-permitting, if you’re a romantic and love an extra bit of grandeur, ask about the private table up top, which sits 100 steps above everyone else in its own little enclave of serenity.
By the way: Spice Market is undergoing a huge refurbishment which will reveal an open kitchen on top of completely revamped menus that showcase their farm offerings.
Just being at Zighy Bay is a rejuvenating experience in and of itself but if you really want to make the most of it, peel yourself off the sun lounger and explore all of the other ways to treat yourself.
First up is the saltwater pool which is the only one in the GCC. This is where the sustainability side of Six Senses kicks in again. The salt is actually a product of the desalination process used to purify the hotel’s water. Rather than waste it, the resourceful team decided to use it to make the high salinity pool water. Since it’s away from the main pool, it’s also a good spot where you can spend time with (or without) the family outside of the villa.
The spa is my soft spot since it’s where our relationship with Six Senses originally started and continues to this day. There’s a unique Alchemy Bar, which was created by former Spa Director Rosalin Lau (now in charge of the spa in Dubai), where you can mix up your own oils and creams. Anna and I both opted for a 60-minute massage but their treatment menu is vast and varied, from the Arabian Facial to Ayurveda Aromatherapy to the Royal Moroccan Hammam to the 3.5-hour Zighy Beauty ritual.
If you read our Dubai spa review, you already know what an incredibly immersive sensory experience Six Senses creates, so just trust that you will not be let down, whatever you decide to treat yourself to. Another exciting piece of news is the huge initiative in the works with the spa and the new Wellness Director who’s about to sit on the executive committee. We’ll share more info about this as it comes in so watch this space.
Six Senses offers everything you might desire in a location and resort like this whilst being mindful about its impact on the planet and its people.
To paraphrase Aaron, luxury exists at Six Senses Zighy Bay but it isn’t just a property – it’s alive and breathing. It has a heartbeat which is very unique and comes down to both the untouched environment and the beautiful energy of the hosts.
Will the acquisition by giants IHG potentially dilute this “magic sauce” that Six Senses has created? Not to worry. Aaron strongly believes they have no intention of changing the brand. Rather, they just want to dip into that sauce and since Six Senses is at the top of their game, they can all learn together.
We left a piece of our heart at Zighy Bay and can’t wait to head back. If you’ve travelled to the UAE or even the GCC but haven’t been to Six Senses Zighy Bay, you’re absolutely missing out. It truly is one of the best properties in the world we’ve visited to date.