First Impressions are Everything. Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on Oman’s northern Musandam Peninsula, a scenic 120-minute car Journey through an other-worldly landscape from Dubai. Unlike anywhere else, the Omani village inspired resort is set between sand colored craggy mountains on one side and a long sandy beach on the other, remote yet accessible.
At the deserted border crossing into Musandam, I was somewhat apprehensive, my driver held my passport, he exited the car and mentioned, don’t speak unless the guard questions you. I considered my geography. On the sandy roadside ahead, a division of armed soldiers sat on tanks under the cover of a full military camouflage net. I was in good hands with the Six Senses driver. Trusting our partners is implicit in our Journeys, I frequently travel alone and sometimes in my enthusiasm for adventure, I may not focus on all the ramifications of my Journey! As an example: a blond woman traveling alone, many men in ‘outlying areas’ are stunned I am not traveling with a group or a family. Men in Muslim countries seem particularly emboldened to question my travel status. I’ve enjoyed many amusing encounters and offers…my enormous black sunglasses belie the fact that I could probably be the mom to some of these inquiring locals! And I will talk to practically everyone I meet along the way – there is always a story lurking. However, I am rarely ‘alone’ my guides and drivers are my trusted companions, I still remain in touch with some guides and drivers who have accompanied me in remote locations. Of course, our local teams are in place for our clients, but my travel is a little more free form and I need to assure clients, yes you will be safe here.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is very secluded, near fishing villages on a section of land that juts into the Strait of Hormuz in between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The steep winding road through jagged fiords opens to the sparkling sapphire Gulf of Oman. A white crescent beach, thousands of date-palm trees, and a stone village sit on the edge of the sea.
Multiple hotel arrival options: speed boat, 4×4 or paraglider. The most exhilarating arrival is as a passenger with their paragliding professional. Launch from Zighy Mountain soar through the jagged mountain range from 1000 feet upwards and enjoy the breathtaking views before making a soft landing on the white sandy beach.
I’ve always wanted to soar, and I’ve always thought of myself as fearless…the winds were up on arrival, preventing the ultra-exotic para-glide cliff jump. Jad Frem took me to the spectacular restaurant at the top of Zighy Mountain, we stood on the cliff edge, my heart stopped, and I knew I would never have jumped from this mountain top, I was quietly relieved.
Jad instead surprised me with a breakfast hang gliding experience. I found it rather terrifying – sadly, I can no longer say I am fearless…the soaring experience through the jagged Hajar Mountains lodged my heart in my throat for 20 solid minutes. We did glide through a wispy white cloud; a very pleasant experience, warm and moist, a momentary distraction from my terror! Our trusted hotel partner, Jad, wasn’t going to let a little wind mar my visit. We rely on our teams to pivot and please our clients on their Journeys.
I loved my escape to Six Senses Zighy Bay, it’s a restful authentic experience in the midst of small local villages. Six Senses has fashioned a resort laid out like a traditional Omani village. Low buildings of natural stone with jareed (date-palm stick) roofs and generous pool terraces. Sandy paths, lined with fig and pomegranate trees connect the villas. My pool and Villa opened to the sea. Mini tree climbing goats wander the property, it’s truly a restful zone of tranquility. Activities abound if you must: hiking goat paths, paragliding from surrounding cliffs, canyoning in a rocky wadi. You can also cruise the seas on the Dhahab, a 90-foot restored dhow. Oh, and more delicious date varieties than I’ve ever tasted!
Jad wanting me to see more of Oman, arranged my departure in a seaplane back to Dubai. Encouraging me to depart in my shorts, I fearful and respectful of the modest culture was very uncomfortable travelling with my legs exposed – in Muslim culture and even in the heat, I cover up!
Driver stacked three weeks of baggage into the black SUV, another adventure ensued, the seaplane was waiting on a beach in a few inches of water. What a visual contrast, a well worn wooden fishing boat, a turbaned man in long white robes and my seaplane. The rare landing attracted a cluster of barefoot ancient grizzled men and shrieking little boys. I’m sure they expected Madonna to emerge from the SUV, their disappointment was not evident; they offered to schlepp my enormous bags across the sand into the seaplane and waved farewell.
First Impressions bestow lasting memories. Jad assured I wouldn’t miss the exotic arrival and even made the return an adventure not to be forgotten. Another ‘story’ for my journals, another memory to savor. I had completely forgotten my border apprehension, I’ll never forget the grizzled old man waving and welcoming me at the beach. I hope he also treasures a memory of the day a seaplane landed on his village shore.
Highly recommend Six Senses Zighy Bay, add a beach visit when passing through the UAE or Dubai. Some moments are planned, some unexpected, isn’t that why we travel?
The truth is, and it must be obvious, I frequently need to escape from Covid confinement. Accustomed to exploring every new five-star hotel all over the globe, lockdown has been challenging for me; however, with pandemic cleansing cautions, I am carefully moving about. My most recent visit was a repeat stay at The Claremont Club and Spa, a Fairmont Hotel.
More Staycation – with a deep purpose. When I perform site inspections, I usually cast a net in a broad circle – what else is in an area within 90 miles or 90 mins? What exceptional ruins, well known potter or chef can be found within a parameter of a destination. FOMO? No, serendipitous discoveries led me to a lovely golf resort outside of San Juan owned by former tennis star Charlie Pasarell, if you don’t recognize his name, do read highlighted post.
I’m exploring nearby areas which were previously day visits for theatre, retail therapy or dining in scrumptious bay area restaurants. Look up the SF Chronicle best restaurants, reserve and relish some safe mini escapes. The Claremont is the perfect home base for exploring. The East Bay is a foodie mecca, lace up your boots, wrap a woolen scarf, many restaurants are still serving outside!
Berkley is a noteworthy enticement for me, I’ve popped over to the grand old dame, Claremont Hotel a few times pre-pandemic. Since 1915, the hotel has been a Bay Area icon, providing rich history and elegance. The property features 22 acres of landscaped gardens and a rejuvenating spa, 10 tennis courts and several pools. Each of the 276 elegant and classically contemporary guest rooms and suites provide the perfect setting to make the most of the resort’s exceptional location. Many rooms offer unrivaled views of the San Francisco Bay and skyline. The 7th floor Presidential Suite has an office, massive living room with panoramic Bay and City views, and can connect to a two bedroom suite for the kiddos, with some advance notice, you can have a meal prepared in the well-equipped kitchen which features a separate service entrance. Reserve the tennis pro, schedule laps in the pool – and relish a glorious Staycation very close to home!
The historic hotel situated at the foot of Claremont Canyon in the Berkeley Hills is located in the Claremont district which straddles the city limits of Berkeley and Oakland. At its elevation, the location provides panoramic views of San Francisco Bay. The hotel building is entirely in Oakland, as are the spa, the gardens and parking area. However, two small portions of the property, one just east of the Berkeley Tennis Club are within the city limits of Berkeley. On a clear day from downtown San Francisco you can see the lustrous white ‘Castle’ amid the green hills and towering trees. It evokes the feeling of a private club and has become a popular spot for guests and locals alike – a place to lose yourself in a bit of history while marveling at the world-class setting right outside the windows.
I’ve enjoyed stunning city skyline vistas from my suites, sunset is dazzling as the amber lights glow and darkness overtakes the bay. For a pictorial look at the unique history of the hotel, wander the expansive hallways lined with vintage black and white photos of Berkeley and prominent guests. When I’ve stayed with friends and family, we love comparing rooms, some very cozy top floor rooms are in the eaves of the roofline with massive dormer windows looking out over the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco city skyline. Gorgeous views of the Blue Moon last month rising over the bay. Though no two rooms are identical, they’re consistent in traditional décor, a warm palette of gold, blue and rust color hues. Big comfy beds, a desk for working or dining, if tubbing is essential, do ask for a room with a tub. The bathrooms are massive marble masterpieces, my favorites are the suites with the egg shaped soaking tubs.
One of my friends told me that as a Cal student, he and friends would sneak over the back gate and up to the rooftop seven stories up. The hotel had a famed fire escape system shaped like a corkscrew slide, and “some people” would slide and shoot their way down in feverish hilarity. The fire escape slides were removed many years ago, the day they closed the ‘slide’ the hotel opened it to the public and for a charity donation, one was given a monogrammed towel and enjoy a last slide.
During Covid, indoor dining has been suspended and they’ve creatively added a few outdoor dining spots. The original Limewood Bar & Restaurant offers regionally-sourced cuisine, has a petite terrace with amazing city views, a few heaters kill the chill. The hotel has added two dining spaces near the entry in what was once the arrival portico, the Bungalow is tented with 1 or 2 plastic ‘sides’ that unroll. Nearby on the driveway, scattered rugs are ‘designated rooms’ with heaters and exceptional bay views. Gaze to the tall wall and watch full length films from this dining area, Covid creativity! The Claremont is making the best of a challenging situation. Bulky blankets and heaters assure winter warmth. You can also dine in your room, with special access or bring in snacks from the Provisions shop. Post dining, as you pass through the swanky lobby, ask about the dessert cart! Trundled out for your pleasure, seize a midnight snack of sweets or fruit.
A new addition is the Carriage Level East Bay Provisions, which offers take-out only menu options. There are a couple of outdoor tables available on the Carriage Entrance terrace, physically distanced. Guest are also welcome to take their food including alcoholic beverages and use the Adirondack chairs located throughout the gardens.
I’m not fond of those pod coffee makers – frequently jammed into cupboards which makes adding water a chore; I am coffee challenged until I consume my oversize cup of black brew… I do whatever I can to avoid those sputtering machines. many guests love their convenience, to their credit, the Claremont has them. Caftans are my solution to morning wanderings in search of a cup of java – sunglasses on, I navigate, incognito and slightly blind, to locate the coffee bar wherever I travel. It can be an experiment and reminds me of my Marquesas ship adventure… it took a day to decipher a safe route to schlep steaming coffee and a banana in one hand on a swaying ship, as one must always have a free hand for a boat rail. East Bay Provisions is a mere elevator ride away and drops you to a quiet unoccupied hallway, slip into the café and peruse the morning menu of breakfast pastries, quiches and fresh coffee. Mosey back to the elevator and make your way to the cozy bed view and welcome the day. Tribe of the Bed Girl necessities. One can truly be under cover now with the mask rule, a covert coffee excursion is practically guaranteed. Transitioning in the afternoon and evening hours, the East Bay Provisions menu offers fresh breads, gourmet deli sandwiches, craft beers and local wines.
I love a glamorous hotel lobby, one where I can linger and people watch. The Claremont lobby and public spaces are elegant, vast and extremely comfortable. I love to observe random guests and create their life story. Have you discerned that I sometimes must wait for my non-Virgo friends who don’t have internal time clocks and respect punctuality!?
Many reasons to stay at the charming Claremont Hotel – in pre-pandemic days, theatre, boutiques and divine dining brought me to Berkeley. One can still safely wander Fourth Street, a bohemian mecca of retail therapy. The Gardener is stunning, offering a diverse mix of merchandise, a destination for Bay Area residents and visitors, there’s always something new to see. Blocks of interesting boutiques to explore.
On your meander to the Claremont Hotel, don’t miss the extraordinary Tail of the Yak Trading Company on Ashby. I’ve been stopping in for over 40 years, it’s packed to the gills, but gorgeous; marvel at paper lanterns and garlands, antique chandeliers, fantastical vignettes of curious objects and paper works. Each of the new, vintage and antique gift items, which range from fine stationery to imported textiles to unique glassware, are personally selected by the owner artists. I’m so surprised when my friends say they haven’t been – they are wowed by the sensory experience. Check Covid hours as you don’t want to miss this whimsical experience.
The Claremont Hotel hillside location offers splendid hiking, wander down to the edge of the parking lot, and look to the left for a hillside stairway, known as The Short Cut. It ascends through narrow paths on the edges of tree and brush lined homes. The Short Cut was landscaped as an extension of the original 14-acre, park-like grounds of the Claremont Hotel. San Juan Island palm trees, matching those bordering the front of the hotel, were planted along the lower two-thirds of the path. As you climb the steps, the old palms still stand on your left. Look closely on the right to spot some tenacious survivors, struggling for light among the live oaks, pittosporum and shrubs.
Talk about people watching, this is an architectural playground of notable interesting homes. Initially the steps are composed of worn rocks without handrails, it’s tricky footing and can be covered by broken branches and leaves, but as you climb up the hills interrupted by a street, the stairs are more uniform and there are handrails. The steps and walls at the lower end of the path were fashioned from the same stone as the lower front façade of the hotel and the public hardscape in the Claremont-Uplands neighborhood.
It’s steep, but the house peeping and the aromatic fragrance of eucalyptus and pine trees will motivate you to reach the peak for the panoramic views. One route ends at Garber Park, but I’ve not explored it yet. Wander down the narrow curving streets back to the hotel or descend the stairs for more garden glimpses.
I spent a few days over Thanksgiving and found even more paths and hills! The Claremont leads to multiple outdoor experiences. From the back parking lot, head down the hill and make a right on Stonewall Street and continue to the Claremont Canyon Regional Reserve, a very steep incline upwards to Panoramic Hill. Walking sticks advised! Saving my knees the next morning led me down hill from the tennis club to the tree lined luxurious neighborhoods. Don’t worry, it’s uphill on the return, you’ll engage your muscles and relish the ancient homes, a neighborhood of historic architecture. Head down hill to Russell Street and Claremont Avenue, locate the historic red brick entry gates of Claremont Court and wander through the tree lined streets with many secret paths defining the neighborhood.
The 25,000-square-foot Fairmont Spa at the Claremont offers oodles of relaxing and restorative services: hot stone massages, lavender scrubs and an Ayurvedic re-balancer are just a few of your options at this serene California Craftsman-inspired space. (Check for Covid openings).
It’s almost hard to believe that the city is just a hop, skip and a jump away when you’re relaxing in the comfy armchairs or lounging around the gorgeous pool (Check for Covid pool options). Prior to the pandemic, lounging under the ivory umbrellas at the main pool felt like a scene from a movie at a 1950’s country club. It’s old school elegant and relaxing, a splendid spot for reading or catching up with a friend or a favorite niece.
I feel I am Covid safe during my frequent visits to The Claremont Hotel. Visit the local boutiques and practice the same distancing you do at home, browse and meander back outside to the leafy trees festooned with tiny white lights. Nosh and return to hike the steps, mental clarity is restored, and strenuous physical activity is achieved.
We need to escape the routine and tedium of the pandemic. There are getaways in teeny doses and I highly recommend The Claremont Hotel for a slice of local history and an elegant Staycation.