Giles and Monica travel to Oman to visit a resort seeking to blend local tradition with modern tastes.
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This programme contains some strong language.
All over the world, there are remarkable hotels, born of bold vision and daring endeavour.
Wow. This is how I ought to live.
Whether it's one of the remotest hotels on earth,
hidden on a Pacific island...
Or a sumptuous resort on one of the highest mountains in the Middle East.
What an incredible view.
The people running these hotels strive to create the perfect sanctuary.
But what does it take to offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences...
..in stunning locations?
Construction was a logistical nightmare.
No water, no source of power.
I'm a restaurant writer, newspaper columnist and critic.
I have opinions on just about everything.
He's not a very good driver, is he?
And I'm a chef who's worked at the top end of the hospitality
industry for well over 20 years.
This is awesome, whoo!
We'll travel to amazing hotels in every corner of the world.
We'll spend time getting to know the people working away behind the scenes.
I polished Elton John's fruits.
You've polished Elton John's fruits?
Do you recall life under apartheid, has it changed for you?
Nelson Mandela, the first black president,
gave me more inspiration to achieve what I want in life.
Join us as we venture inside...
The world's most extraordinary hotels.
Oman. An oil-rich Muslim kingdom of four million people.
It is renowned for its harsh beauty.
On the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula,
it has become a magnet for high-end travellers.
Nowhere more so than the 2,000-metre-high Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort.
The highest five-star resort in the Middle East, it opened only a year ago.
Built to resemble an ancient Omani fort, it has a forbidding exterior.
But once inside, its opulence is mind-blowing.
Wow! What an amazing place.
The hotel treads a delicate line.
Striving to be authentically Omani...
..whilst providing international levels of luxury.
And it has one attraction that is unquestionably world-class -
the breathtaking location.
Wow! What an incredible view.
It's a long way down.
We're going to be working in this mountainous resort...
..getting to grips with the three restaurants,
spa, 82 rooms, and 33 villas.
And helping out the 250 staff who work on the six-acre site.
Double basket, please.
But luxury at altitude isn't cheap.
Prices reach £6,000 a night for the best villa.
The man in charge of this huge operation is former soldier Darren Darwin.
I've always had an eye for detail,
but it was definitely drilled into me in the Army.
We really had to support and help each other,
and it's the same principles here.
Good morning, Abdula, how are you?
Darren was the hotel's first employee.
I'm very emotionally attached to this place.
I came here, it was bricks and mortar and scaffolding, and mud everywhere.
And everything is going OK on the gate?
I feel a pressure, because I try, I live up to my own expectations,
which are very high.
It's 8:00am at reception,
and I'm kicking off my stint at the hotel with Darren as he does his daily inspection.
-Good morning, Monica, very pleased to meet you.
-How are you, you well?
-I'm good. Please.
Everywhere he goes,
he is joined by staff noting down the tiniest of defects.
This is the reception waiting area.
So this is the first impression for the guests,
so it's very important that everything's in its place, everything's perfect.
So, the candle...
Ah, the candle's fallen down, yeah.
I'm quite obsessed with symmetrics.
So, if I stand in the middle, like,
I can see everything on the left the same as everything on the right?
-You can see the umbrellas...
-And they're pointed out.
And here, they're pointing in.
Oh, I thought they were meant to be yin and yang.
No, I would be thinking about that all day now.
If you can see the candle stand...
-This one needs to be moved over to the left.
-Oh, much better.
-All is good in the world now.
Oh, yes. Everything is now Zen.
And also, Capilla, see where there is finger marks on that middle glass?
It's not just about the interiors.
Here, even the view has to be double checked.
Look at this, these are finger marks.
Oh, goodness, yeah. Wet, ugh, sweaty!
That's not acceptable. The glass has to be perfectly clean,
the decking has to be polished.
Then I can enjoy the view.
The man tested with creating a hotel beautiful enough to rival the view was architect Lotfi Sidirahal.
I've been designing more than 20 hotels in seven different countries.
I dream about sequences, I dream about moments.
It's not really about, I mean, the building itself.
It can be wrong to think that a hotel is a building.
A hotel, I think, it's life.
It's a year since construction of the hotel finished,
and Lotfi is back to check on its progress.
It's an amazing place to build a hotel.
I mean, who owns all this land?
It's the military, actually.
The hotel is owned by the Omani military pension fund.
First time when we came here, we were hearing the shootings.
I mean, here before the opening of the hotel,
we were still hearing the training and shooting each time we came here, so...
It took over three years, 200 million,
and 2,000 people to realise Lotfi's ambitious plans for the hotel.
One of the biggest challenges he faced was the expectation of privacy.
For many Omani women,
it is unacceptable to be seen in public wearing a bathing suit.
Amazing, it's like a swimming pool in the middle of a cowboy western
-movie, or something.
There is one big communal pool,
but the other 34 are all designed to provide complete concealment,
despite some being open to the cliffs.
Privacy is at a premium.
How do you stop people just walking past and looking in?
What we did is that, actually...
..it's not allowed to walk in,
because there is no way you can get directly to the bed rocks on the cliff edge.
The resort has been built to stop guests being able to access the
cliffs without putting up any obvious barriers.
If you were sort of walking up and down here naked,
you might still be worried that someone was going to appear.
Yeah, well... Some goats may appear, actually.
Well, I don't think they will take pictures of guests and send that on Instagram, so it's fine.
Today, Darren's mind is not solely on privacy,
but also on making sure all of his staff look immaculate.
-Good morning, everybody.
We are dropping in on a grooming inspection for the housekeeping team.
How are you?
-Very good, sir, and you?
Oh, actually, what happened here?
You need to change this, yeah?
We're trying to create perfection.
7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
-How are you?
-Thank you, sir.
What did we forget this morning?
-Polish, my friend. Your shoes, please.
If you are not passionate to the core, you will fail.
And that goes for not just me, but all of the team.
-Oh, he looks very good.
Guys, thank you very much. Very good, thank you.
-Have a good day.
-They're so nervous...
One of the reasons Darren demands such high standards is the number of
high-profile guests the hotel attracts.
When we go through the VIP list, it's so huge.
I mean, it can be over 60% of our guests.
But the reality of it is we love it.
Is it challenging at times?
Very, but we've not had any complaints, touch wood.
Today, a guest is arriving to stay in the Royal Villa.
Every VIP gets an authentic Omani welcome.
And I'm going to be helping Nasser al Sicuani.
He's giving me a crash course on national greetings.
-OK, I have problem...
-I haven't got it, I should write it on a thing.
-OK, OK. Giles. Giles. Giles.
-It's a very English name.
-So, there's no Arabic equivalent, unfortunately.
Hills. Hih-ales. Yeah, but... Giles.
-This right here, for me.
I'm struggling with a dishdasha,
they're worn by almost all Omani men.
So, also, you have to close this.
What do we do with that?
So, first we do this.
My headgear is a traditional turban known as a muzzar.
It's quite Lawrence of Arabia.
I look like a public school boy with all this get-up here.
The uniform has a novel accessory, should any guest prove truculent.
-So, this is just ceremonial?
-Yeah. Don't kill me.
Come on, look at that. He looks really, really cool.
Him, he can do my accounts.
The welcome is not only about looking the part.
We're giving our guest a full musical performance.
So I'm going to tell you how to do the drum.
Honestly, I have no rhythm.
GILES BEATS THE DRUM
Just keep it the same.
The same time.
So you have space to drum.
It doesn't make a nice noise...
More heavy, your hand makes it more heavy.
Despite my best efforts, Nasser concedes defeat.
After we do this, we will start singing.
Yeah. # Yalli-lalli... #
But if there's one thing I'm even worse at than drumming, it's singing.
It's not my natural gift.
But I've forgotten the first bit now.
Nasser makes an executive decision.
You will do drum, I will sing.
Thankfully, I still have a couple of hours to practise before our guests arrive.
NASSER SINGS AND DRUMS
One man who has no need for practise is the unflappable Villa host, Fahad.
Villa host is a butler.
Normally, I am looking after a lot of VIPs.
The jewel in the hotel's crown is the Royal Villa.
It's one of the best villas in the Middle East.
Fahad is the Villa host to the Royal suite.
And today, we are working together to make sure everything will be perfect for a new arrival.
Oh, wow. This is nice.
-You know, wherever I go, I seem to just go straight to the view, you know?
-This is the place which attract our guest in the beginning.
Temperatures can reach as high as 35 degrees in the day,
and as low as freezing during winter nights.
The pool is kept at a constant balmy 29.
We have to check first the pool temperature.
-But the best way to know the temperature is to take a swim, Fahad.
We are obviously in a Muslim country,
is there anything especially different you need to organise for that?
We have signage, which is right in the top.
-It's an arrow.
-The arrow that points to Mecca?
Exactly. And we also, we have for Muslim guests,
we have a prayer mat and a Koran.
Our guest, he asked to remove alcohol, so we have to make sure...
-OK. All of it?
-All of it.
As part of the service, Fahad bathes guests' feet.
It's not a rude question to ask, you must get some good tips, though?
Most of the time, you are getting a very nice tip from the guest.
So, what's the biggest tip you've had?
It was 950 Omani rial, from one of...
That's almost £2,000!
The Royal Villa is ready.
Which is lucky, because our guest is only moments away.
You have to be in one line.
There is a palpable sense of tension.
Even Darren is here for the grand welcome.
The car has been spotted.
Fahad, worried I might embarrass our guests,
has some last-minute advice for me.
Shake hands for man, as you, as a lady, no.
-For me, it's OK.
For you, for ladies, you can't.
So you shake hands with only the same gender?
He may shake your hand.
Yes. If he offers his hand, then I'll take it.
-Or give him the choice...
And after all my practice, I'm not even sure they noticed me.
-Hi, Monica, how are you?
-How are you, how is things? Excellent.
-Pleasure to meet you.
The pleasure is mine!
-Get the luggage.
-The heat is on to get those bags.
Whilst Fahad and Monica are checking the guests in,
we've got to get their luggage to the Villa.
It's unacceptable for the guest to arrive before their bags,
or even to see us moving them.
-Right, I'll drive, sir.
It's all feeling so Ocean's Eleven until we hit a problem.
We need to go inside, but we don't have key.
You don't have a key?
We've got no key.
We have a coffee shop, they're open from 10:30 to 7:30.
It's part of the villa host's job
to give their guests a tour of the hotel.
And we have Al Maisan, which is the main restaurant, buffet restaurant,
where you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And we have a shisha lounge right here.
It's time to panic - the main door is locked, too.
We got to this villa, and we didn't have a master key,
so we couldn't put the stuff in, and they're nearly here, so...
This chap himself may have a key.
-Have you got a key?
But it turns out it's still not simple even when we have a key.
-Does this key not open this?
-No, this is for the Wi-Fi.
-OK, that key doesn't open that?
Luckily, Monica and Fahad are taking the scenic route.
I will take it, you take one.
-I will take it. OK.
Eventually, someone manages to find a key that works.
-Where shall I put these?
-In the luggage room.
-Yeah, I guess you really need a sweater.
And Fahad and I managed to deliver our guest
to their secluded luxury...
-..none the wiser.
Well, that was a close one, wasn't it?
-Let's blow this joint.
One last job remains - to wash our guests' feet.
-It's no problem, it's OK.
-Is that OK?
-The car is OK, fine.
-All of us, we can do this.
-Really? Have you ever done that?
Yeah, before, two times before.
-One day, I broke one of the lights here.
Nobody knows about this.
The man who has to cater for all guests, VIP or otherwise,
is executive chef Sam Greco.
If I didn't make people happy with my food,
I might as well hang up my hat and stop cooking.
Sam has been working in the Middle East for the last 14 years.
To keep the Omani guests happy
requires that they have a lot of food,
an abundance of food at the table, but that the food has to be amazing,
it has to taste amazing.
I'm joining Sam on the breakfast shift.
The hotel tries to cater for all tastes - of dim sum,
French pastries and local delicacies.
So, what do the Omani like to have for breakfast?
So, Omanis basically love ful medames, which is a fava bean dish.
If you're looking for an English breakfast,
Sam has some interesting variations.
-Veal sausages and...
-..obviously beef and turkey.
There is a lot of Muslims come here,
and obviously pork is out of the question,
so we don't really feature it.
We do have pork, but we keep it sort of hush-hush.
In order to serve pork,
the hotel has a special licence and uses entirely different utensils.
A much more traditional element of the breakfast is the bread station,
manned by Egyptian chef Mahmoud.
I hear you make something quite special.
Yeah. This is actually the saj bread, we're doing saj bread.
This comes from all Arab countries.
Saj is an unleavened flatbread, similar to pitta.
So I start just opening... slowly, slowly.
The dough is made overnight, then it's a case of kneading, rolling
From right to left. Again, right to left.
The specially designed saj dough heats up to 220 degrees.
Mahmoud! Mahmoud! Wow, that is just so awesome.
Absolutely love it. Clearly, Mahmoud's a master.
I'm like a little kid when I'm learning something new.
When things get hectic, Mahmoud can make 250 in a shift.
After the cheese, I'm going to bake again, to melt the cheese.
Look at that!
The hotel serves a saj with cheese, or the more traditional za'atar,
a blend of thyme, oregano, marjoram and toasted sesame seeds.
So, I will just get the cheese melted nicely.
Shall I roll this one?
Just be careful, because the olive oil's still hot.
So, you want to try now?
Well, if I must, yes.
-Look at the cheese now.
-Look at that.
-How is it?
-It's so good. Oh...
This has got to be the most fun I've ever had on a breakfast shift.
Not only that, it is delicious.
For me, it beats an English breakfast hands down any day!
Oman has not always been open to luxury tourism.
For much of the 20th century,
an all-powerful sultan took a feudal and isolationist approach
to running the country. As late as the 1960s,
most Omanis lived without running water or electricity.
There were only three schools and six miles of paved roads
in the whole country.
But in 1970, Sultan Qaboos grabbed power from his father,
and ushered in a period of oil-funded rapid modernisation.
Schools, roads and whole new towns shot up.
The changes have been dramatic
for people like the hotel's mountain guru, Maher.
Just when I wake up early morning to see the sunrise,
to look to this mountain, I really feel happy,
I feel like this is my home, this is my heaven.
Maher leads walking tours of the mountain.
Today, we are guiding the Knight-Jeppesen family from Denmark.
Then I want to introduce my friend and the new guide, Giles.
Right, I'll look after you, don't worry.
I may not have an in-depth knowledge of local culture,
but I am well equipped with caution.
Mind your step, it's quite rocky.
Don't bang your head or fall off the side.
If you fall, the phone goes!
OK, Giles. I want you to guess which tree is this.
Ooh! That's delicious. I assume it's pomegranate?
No, no, jasmine leaf.
So, because the man, he spends all the day working in the farm,
we take the leaves,
we put it in the hat right here, we close it.
So when you go back to your wife, at least you have good smell.
In English, "al jabal akhdar" means the green mountain.
But in recent years, it has lost its colour.
There are tiers of dried-up, disused terraces
and, indeed, the ancient villages here are deserted.
-Why did they leave?
-For two main reasons, actually.
The houses were really small for a big family.
Omani family, they have, like, three generations live in one house,
and the water starts to get dry from the irrigation system,
so we don't have any more water.
OK, guys, so this is where the water used to start
for the irrigation system.
It springs from the ground.
So the water was flowing here,
so this was like a big river right here.
-When that new village came up...
-They took the water away,
they pumped the water from here to the new village?
-That's what's happened.
-And killed all these...
-All these terraces are gone now.
-That's so sad.
So, that's Shirayjah village.
-And that's where we're going to finish the walk?
With the guests heading for home,
Maher invites me to see where he grew up.
This is my old house.
I miss the life in this village.
So, what has to happen
for you to move back?
If the water comes back to the irrigation system,
I will be the first one back who will come back to this village.
And is that a possibility, might that happen?
Yeah, the government is now working to bring the water from the sea
-after the distillery...
-It's a desalination plant?
It's a big problem, yeah, because less raining here.
Maher hopes that the hotel's presence may speed up
plans to pipe water to the terraces.
When we want to bring a lot of guests to Oman,
they want to see all of these terraces green, not dry.
So, they must put a lot of water right here.
And what would you do if that happened?
-Would you still work at the hotel?
-No, no, no.
Maybe I will retire, I will come back and work!
What started out today as a tragic story, Maher was saying,
I thought it was the end of the village,
turned round to him saying it's all going to come back,
the water's going to come back, the people are going to come back.
It's a lovely vision of the future.
He seems very confident in it, and I hope he's right.
Despite the water shortages,
the Green Mountain is still renowned for its pomegranates.
The hotel uses them in molasses, and as a garnish with meat.
They get through 30 kilos of them in a week.
Sheikh Abdullah is one of the local suppliers,
his orchards sit just two kilometres away.
-Can I help?
Pomegranates sell for as much as £2 a fruit.
So, you can't just pull it off, you've actually got to...
..break it gently.
-Tear like this?
-There you are.
-How do I know which one is good and which one is not?
Oh, so sweet!
-It's so good!
It's nothing... Nothing like a pomegranate we get back in the UK.
Working with Abdullah,
it feels like we are in a completely different world from the VIPs and
extravagance of the hotel.
Do you worry that foreigners coming here would have a change on some of
Here we go.
The hotel has found another and ingenious way to use the local pomegranates...
..in the spa.
-How are you?
-How are you? Are you well?
I'm working with manager Gina Da Costa.
In order to respect Omani sensibilities,
the spa is split according to gender.
There are private pools,
saunas, a hammam, and five treatment rooms.
Unusually, the spa also has a kitchen, where Gina and Maria -
one of the therapists - make an unusual scrub.
You're going to blend all this lovely pomegranate for the scrub?
Yeah. It's very tasty.
The flesh and the husks are blended with salt.
What a gorgeous colour!
It's so natural, isn't it?
I can make this at home.
Blitzing done, it's my chance to try out my massage skills.
-Do you feel uncomfortable?
-You're not comfortable?
The scrub is designed to remove dead skin cells and to leave the skin
Is this not too much? It's perfect. I've never done a salt scrub on a
or anyone, for that matter.
I have put a salt rub on pork.
This is my first human being.
She does feel much nicer to rub,
put a salt rub on, than on a piece of meat or fish.
Your treatment is finished. How do you feel?
Great. Thank you.
The hotel accommodates a cosmopolitan clientele, and for the Omani staff,
life at work can be radically different from the lives they're used to.
I'm back with Nasser for a daily ceremonial lighting of the fire pits.
Our own little ceremony. Well done.
I'm interested in how he feels about the hotel's Western ways.
What do your family think?
Do they think it's a good job?
Sometimes my mother, she is worried about me because, you know,
the hotel is serving alcohol.
Does she ask you, "Have you had a drink?"
-And what do you say?
I say, "I will not drink."
Because, in our religion, it's wrong.
Does she worry about you mixing with people who are not Omani?
No, she is not worried about this.
Instead of that, she is encouraging me
to learn about the other cultures.
And supposing they give you a job in the hotel group in another country?
-Would you leave Oman?
I don't think so. Because my home is here,
so I see my future is here in Oman.
And my future now appears to involve more singing.
Three, two, one...
THEY CHANT IN OWN LANGUAGE
It's easy to worry that something is being diluted,
something's being destroyed about the local culture,
that the locals are being made to compromise working here.
So it's interesting to hear Nasser say that he loves Oman,
and that he appreciates his job, he's giving away nothing of himself,
he's remaining true to his Omani culture.
It may not be terribly Omani,
but the hotel has recently found a new way to attract guests.
It was just one picture in a magazine that just showed...
..a shoot of two people doing yoga.
And I just said, "I just want to do that."
It was just that picture.
Kelvin and Katrina are from Essex.
I said to my wife, "We've got to go there because I want to do the yoga!"
Before coming to Oman, they had never done yoga.
My God, you feel so small when you look out there
and you see all of those mountains.
It's a good leveller.
Darren's plans to capitalise on the hotel's extraordinary location go
well beyond picturesque stretching.
We don't want people just to relax and see the mountain,
we want people to really experience it.
And a big part...
To really do that, it has to be driven on an adventure.
He's opening a 200-metre climbing route on the sheer cliff face
immediately beneath the hotel.
I haven't tried it yet.
I got to be honest with you, it looks terrifying.
Mountain guru Maher needs to practise taking people on the route
before it opens to the public.
And we're going to be his guinea pigs.
Have you done any climbing before?
I used to do it at school, but it was to separate the men from the boys,
and the weaker kids just fell off and died,
and you're left with the strong ones.
-Hi, how are you guys?
Very well. So, you haven't done it with any real clients yet?
With real clients, no, not yet.
I'm going to practise on you guys.
It's really safe, yeah.
It's really safe, you assume, having never done it before with clients,
-And if it's not, we'll find out?
The route begins just metres away from the viewpoint.
-Come on, how hard could it be?
Do you think you're on?
Now we are safe.
We all connect to the cable.
Climbers are attached to a steel cable throughout the climb.
So, you just hold on to this...
It starts with a descent down a crevasse,
with a 30-metre drop beneath.
Oh, God, don't look down.
-You can do it, come on.
-It's really scary.
What are you meant to hold on to? Are you meant to hold on to the rope or the rock?
The rock, the rock, go for the rock.
And is this some sort of deliberate comedy ladder?
Almost there. Almost there, Giles, keep going.
Step back. Good...
There we are.
Knees still trembling, I've at last found a shelf wide enough to stand on.
Wow, look at that.
With the adrenaline pumping and tethered only by a rope,
the view is even more awe-inspiring.
The view is exactly the same as the view from my swimming pool,
where I sat and had a cup of coffee this morning in literally no
percentage danger of death.
The fun is not over.
The route stretches over another 180 metres of spiralling cliffs and
-What do you hold on to?
Oh, no, another step.
What am I meant to be holding on to?
Underneath the... Underneath where you were, underneath there.
-Cool, yeah. Keep going.
and I just step across to that?
Yeah. Keep your legs straight...
But then, where does my right leg go?
The same place with your left leg.
Oh, I just want to get this shit over with.
So, Monica and Giles, how's it going?
I haven't hyperventilated so much since I gave birth.
I don't think I've breathed at all.
Now we get into the most challenging part.
Oh, no, what's that?
And just when I thought it was almost over...
The zip line.
-It's the zip line time, guys.
You trust me all the way up there, right?
-You'll need to trust me on this one.
OK. The zip line is 35 metres long, with a 30-metre drop.
-I can't get a grip! Ah!
-Three, two, one!
And it's absolutely thrilling.
I can't do that.
There is nothing, nothing in my DNA that would ever allow me to do that.
Luckily for me, the hotel has designed escape routes for exactly
Wait, and then I can climb back and up this thing?
-Giles is taking the escape route out.
He has a fear of heights, and he's done so well to get this far.
I don't want him to be afraid.
But that was pretty awesome!
Up I go, I'm getting out of here.
Obviously, my appearance of fear was a cunning ruse to give Maher some
practise with easily scared guests.
I just think it's important to test the escape routes for them!
Soon, I was joining Giles back at the top.
Oh, get me away from the edge.
Well done, wherever we go, you have to do the brave stuff.
Oh, you did amazing!
I did half an amazing...
-You did amazing.
-You do the brave stuff...
Good job, guys, well done.
Oh, my goodness, I need to sit down.
Of course, before guests can risk life and limb on the cliffs,
they need to ascend 2,000 metres to get there.
It's driver Mubarek's job to make sure they do.
I'm born in the mountain, my heart's in the mountain.
I need the mountain, I love the mountain.
The hotel has a fleet of five four-wheel-drive cars.
Mubarek is going to give me a lesson in mountain driving.
The drivers are very important, because we are high up a mountain,
a long way from the airport.
Now, my driving is fine, but it's not amazing,
and I'm not known for my politeness and hospitality,
so I'm thinking it may be a bit of a struggle.
Welcome, my name is Mubarek Mohammed...
After the regrettable golf buggy incident, I'm eager to prove myself.
Which side of the road do you drive on in this...?
You take it right here.
-I'll take a right?
Mubarek has some strict rules.
Before the drive...
-..you can't keep your phone...
Silence, no need using your phone, and no need using it for WhatsApp.
Am I doing the right speed?
I'm driving at about...70, is it too slow?
No, they have only 60.
-Should I be going slower?
-60, OK, 60.
You're using your phone?
Yes, my wife is...
Oh, is that different? The rules are off if it's your wife?
Fine. If my wife phones, I'll... No, that's fine, carry on!
I am done to drive, you drive now!
If I drive, I cannot...
You chat to the wife, Mubarek, I'll drive, that's fine, you chat.
-Say hello from me.
-No, no problem.
Because the road to the hotel is a relentless descent,
you're legally obliged to use a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
A normal car runs the risk of dangerously overheating brakes.
-Not need fast.
-Because fast like that's not good to you.
-Yeah, the guest with you...
-Oh, of course, the guest.
OK. I will, OK...
With my driving not impressing,
I thought maybe I should learn some Arabic.
What do I need to learn to say to the guests?
How do I say, "Hello, and welcome to the hotel"?
HE SPEAKS IN ARABIC
-We're going to stop, so... Don't...
You see, he's not a very good driver, is he? HORN HONKS
Should we wind down the window? What?
He's a complete majnun!
To avoid our road rage escalating, Mubarek suggests we take a break.
And that's the hotel?
Yes, you can see nice, that's the Anantara Hotel in the nice view.
In the hotel, where the men and women work together?
-That didn't used to happen in Oman?
No, that's OK now, because all think now, that's needed,
jobs for men and women, that's OK.
-Is that OK?
-What if your daughter wanted to work in there?
My daughter, that's maybe, leave it, no need.
-No need, that's...
Nothing, that's no need.
In Oman, fathers and husbands are legally considered to be the heads
Only in 2003 were all women allowed to vote.
The hotel employs 46 expat women,
but it also has a small number of Omanis.
We are six Omani women who work at the hotel.
With a degree in chemical engineering,
Marshaal is in charge of food hygiene and determined to break the mould.
The women can do anything, and they can even be better than the men.
Marshaal's very feisty, she's not scared to say what she thinks.
It's her first managerial role, and she's an Omani lady,
you can imagine... It wasn't embraced with open arms
with a lot of the guys at the resort.
She goes and tells them herself, and they do it.
Every morning, she checks the chefs are maintaining standards of hygiene.
I just want to have a look at your nails.
-There are four kitchens and 38 employees to monitor.
Almost all of whom are men.
You didn't shave today.
It's like they're our standard, I have to send him back to shave,
and to come back to the kitchen.
One of Marshaal's pioneering Omani colleagues is Amal.
She teaches staff English.
I advise Omani ladies to work in tourism.
I want to advise those families who restrict their ladies.
I want to tell them it's good, let her to see her life.
She will work, she will be strong, she will be a leader,
she'll protect herself,
and don't worry.
In Oman, industries like hospitality, where women mix with men,
are traditionally frowned upon.
Over coffee and dates,
I've got a chance to find out how Marshaal and Amal feel about working
in the hotel.
What do the locals or the people in your community think of you
-My family, actually, they're totally fine,
and they always supported me.
Especially my father.
I have to be honest, I can't say that they love
a woman who is working in hospitality.
They cannot accept a woman who is dealing with guys too much.
-You understand me?
-But I think for me, I have to ignore it,
because I'm doing just my duty, and then I'm leaving.
How do you think the hotel has changed women's lives here?
I mean, women come here and they see that there is Arab ladies or Omani
ladies working here, and they feel that Oman has changed.
Could you imagine one day having an Omani woman as a general manager here?
I want to be a general manager.
-Well, you can.
-Yes, maybe I'll be the first Omani.
Yes! Right there.
Yeah, really, I'm working on it.
For me, it's still surprising to come to a place where women working
alongside men is seen as novel.
But there is much to celebrate.
These women want more, they want their independence,
and they're working for it. And to see that happen, for me, is...
..something to rejoice in.
In some hotels, housekeeping can traditionally be seen as women's work.
But here, they have an almost-exclusively male team.
Yes, I like things in spick-and-span,
and has to be perfect for the guests.
Ateev Shah is executive housekeeper.
And a man who takes his job personally.
I'm not married. Yeah, you can say that housekeeping is my girlfriend.
We're preparing one of the 82 standard rooms.
For Ateev, it's about more than just keeping the rooms clean.
He demands creativity from his team.
We have to fold it, and then we start rolling it.
Today, we're using towels to make elephants.
They also make monkeys and swans.
Wow, look at that!
-Look at his little head!
..we fold it from the centre.
And there's an elephant!
-So, you want to try it?
So, we basically want the legs to be the sort of same size, don't we?
OK, and then...
Flip it like that?
Which actually looks like...
A snowman, naked, bending down.
The pressure to impress Ateev is beginning to tell.
Is this definitely the only way you can do it?
-OK, let me help you.
When people doesn't do their attention to detail,
it's a pinch in my heart.
No, leave my elephant legs alone!
OK, and then, you turn him around like that?
And then, don't come undone, don't come undone...
There we are!
It's looking like a baby elephant.
Thank you! A baby elephant after a difficult birth.
Yes, yes, yes. It's something unique.
So what's that amazing smell?
Yeah, it's rose water, which we use in our guest rooms.
We do it on the curtains.
Rose water is traditionally used in the Middle East to make houses,
and people, smell good.
And then we do it in bathroom, shower area and the main bathroom,
-and it's finished.
-So how much more do I need, lots?
No, no, it's enough, enough, enough.
The area around the hotel is famous for its rose water,
and Sheikh Abdullah, along with growing pomegranates,
uses age-old methods to produce it in his workshop.
THEY SPEAK ARABIC
Oh, my word!
I'm going to help Abdullah make a batch of his potent perfume.
Oh, you can smell them.
Wow. How many roses does it take to make a bottle?
Over several hours, the fire heats the roses.
The steam from the petals condenses on the plate above,
and drips down into the bowl.
You put water on there?
Rose water has a host of uses.
The rose-infused water has already begun to condense.
-Look at that!
That is amazing.
Once the cooking process is over,
the liquid is strained and left to settle for two and a half months,
before being decanted.
A bottle of this precious solution costs £12.
Oh, smells quite smoky, yeah?
Yes, OK, OK.
Smells smoky. That's beautiful.
What a great way to refresh yourself, as well.
Using rose water to keep the hotel smelling fragrant is only one of
housekeeper Ateev's responsibilities.
It's also down to him to keep everything looking immaculate.
This hotel is positively brimming with ornate ceilings and beautiful
chandeliers, which is obviously lovely, on paper, if you're an architect,
and beautiful to look at if you're a guest.
Not so much fun if you have to clean them.
So these are the lights, which we're going to clean today.
And you saved this job until I was available to help you?
-Someone thought I might be handy.
Yes. Before we start, you can have gloves.
-Do I need gloves?
The chandelier hangs across two floors,
connecting the cocktail bar and the Al Baha restaurant.
It's made up of 53 different lights.
It's like polishing Christmas decorations.
It's like Christmas every day.
Some of the areas, still dust is there, OK, but not bad.
Quite fun, getting these.
As you spend time in the hotel,
it becomes obvious that not all the staff are Omani.
You're not from around here, are you?
I'm from India, basically.
What's the place that most are from?
Like, we can say Indians are there, then you can take Sri Lankans,
there are from Pakistan, there are from, like, UK,
then you can say Philippines.
But why are there so many foreigners working in the hotel?
There are lots of Omanis also working in our companies,
but they are not comfortable with cleaning up the rooms.
With its oil wealth, Oman has become accustomed to relying on
foreign workers, the rights of whom have at times been under the spotlight.
Although the place feels quite Omani,
and when you arrive you are greeted by Omanis,
and the whole vibe here is designed to be local,
it has become very clear from talking to Ateev that to keep it
actually running, they are dependent on hundreds of people who are not
Omani, who are expats.
Of the hotel's 260 staff, 190 are from overseas.
Keeping them happy whilst living and working on a remote desert mountain
is a challenge for Darren.
We have over 30 nationalities here, from various cultures,
all continents of the globe.
The community is very much ingrained within us.
I think a lot of it is, we all live together, we're a family.
I know it's a cliche, but we literally live, breathe, sleep together.
Maybe not sleep together!
When I was in the Army, one thing that brought us all together was sport.
In the shadow of the staff accommodation block
sits the most unlikely of
sporting venues - a cricket pitch, hewn from the rock.
Got quite a good crowd today.
It's a long wicket for a game with a tennis ball, isn't it?
-You want to see them play.
-Are they really good?
Really good, really good.
Well, they'll have fun bowling out an Englishman, won't they?
I've been picked to play for Housekeeping against the might of Food and Beverage.
I'm playing alongside Ateev.
-Is it important that we win?
One has to win, so that is the most...
And does Housekeeping normally win, do we generally...?
-Darren is umpiring today.
Make sure you get this guy out, first ball.
Do you get the Omanis playing cricket with you, or not?
Yes, sometimes some of the Omanis are also keen to play various games.
They are also taking part in playing cricket with us.
So we are also giving them a chance to play,
and then they are also learning.
With a total of 70 on the board, it's Food and Beverage's turn to bat.
It doesn't start well for them.
I never thought I'd play cricket in the Middle East.
I've played in Malaysia, I've played in Yorkshire,
never played in the Middle East before.
Very exciting, and I actually took a catch.
It's easy to see why cricket is so important for Ateev and the others.
I'm a long way from home, but only for a week or so,
and it's already making me feel lifted and excited and happy about
being here, and working in the hotel,
but to get out and have a game of cricket in this kind of surroundings,
who couldn't feel enlivened?
It's a big win for Housekeeping,
but our victory is not the only cause for celebration.
The hotel is about to have its first birthday.
The first-year anniversary is a huge milestone.
We want the anniversary party to be as local as possible.
And you can't have an Omani party without a goat.
I've headed down the mountain to stock up for the festivities.
I have never bought a live goat before, and I have no idea where to start.
Luckily, I'm with chef Ibrahim and mountain guide Maher,
who has been buying and selling goats here since he was a child.
Farmers employ salesmen from the market to parade the animals in
front of potential buyers.
Oh, little baby.
The baby is for family, not for cooking.
-So we keep it for family.
A top breeding goat sells for as much as £1,000,
but normal prices are about £100.
If I choose, I want to take it home!
Here, you try before you buy,
and each goat must be inspected before we make an offer.
So we'll check the teeth.
-To be sure that it's really young.
-See the teeth?
-That is the same, yeah.
-Six to eight months, the age of this goat.
So we'll take this one.
-We take this one?
-We're going to take this one.
THEY SPEAK ARABIC
Before we go, I want to talk to the seller.
So, does he have a big herd?
-He have almost, like, 70 goats.
-Oh, my goodness.
-Yeah, he love to be with the goats.
He loves his goats.
Back at the hotel, Ibrahim and I are reunited with the goat.
Now, this kind of salt rubbing I'm familiar with.
No pomegranates this time.
We are using a blend of Omani spices.
That smells fantastic.
The goat will be the centrepiece of the party.
Executive chef Sam is cooking it using a traditional Omani method.
So if you tell an Omani that they've got goat for dinner,
the immediate thing that they think about is shuwa.
What do you do, do you toothpick it together, or...?
Basically, what it involves is cooking a goat in a pit with embers,
and it's cooked for 24 hours.
It's used in celebrations, it's used in weddings,
so this is the first thing they think about goat.
Having wrapped the meat in local banana leaves,
we head to the hotel's own shuwa in the garden.
The shuwa both cooks and smokes the meat.
Do we close it now?
How long will it cook for?
It's going to cook until tomorrow.
-Really, that long?
-Yeah, we're going to leave it in there all night,
-for 24 hours.
It's the morning of the first-year anniversary party,
a chance for Darren to say thank you to his staff.
I am very proud when I look at my team.
I don't know if I'll ever have a team as good as this.
All right, mate, I'm here to help, don't worry, it'll all be fine.
Just under two hours until we start.
I'm already nervous, because it's the one-year anniversary, I've got my speech,
it's quite emotional for me, when I think back to the journey,
where this all started.
Along with the team, there will be hotel guests, media, the owners,
and an alarming number of men with guns.
We've got high profile VIPs from the owner's party,
so there will be security.
The band has arrived, and is practising.
It turns out, even they're packing heat.
An interesting musical instrument this fellow's got.
Just behind the courtyard, we're back at Sam's goat pit.
Oh, absolutely, it smells amazing from here.
It's been a while now, hasn't it?
The goat has been cooking for the last 24 hours.
Shall we open it up?
Oh, look at this.
It melts like butter.
You have that little bit of a charred taste,
but you can also taste all the spices, and a little bit of the
infusion and the smell from the banana leaf.
-I could eat all of this now, actually.
You got a nice big chunk there. We're not going to have anything left for our anniversary.
Oh, my God.
We're turning the distinctly Omani-tasting goat into something
more international - canapes.
Before any of the party guests can eat, it's Darren's big moment.
Good morning, everybody. I'd like to thank the team.
We have the most amazing team in this resort.
I feel proud and humble to lead you,
I feel proud and humble to know you,
and I feel proud and humble to have you with me on this exciting journey.
So I would like to ask everybody to thank the amazing team that work
here at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar.
I need a cigarette!
With the speeches over, it's time to serve our smoky goat canapes.
Would you like to try one?
Yes! Thank you, enjoy!
And it turns out that even though it's 11 in the morning,
and there isn't a drink in sight, it's time to dance.
CHANTING AND SINGING
Seeing Darren and his team celebrate together,
you're reminded how different it is here to the world outside,
but also how well it seems to work.
It is a great event.
There was an amount of stress beforehand, Darren was all worried.
I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I thought it would just be the men standing there, just clapping.
And there were all the kind of Indians and Sri Lankans and Pakistanis were
all there, in amongst the Omanis, and there was, sort of, yeah,
they sort of made a new thing out of all the different constituent parts.
And with its inclusivity,
the celebrations really capture the ethos of the hotel itself.
Yeah, I mean, they haven't got 100% authentic Omani here,
but what they do have is very distinctive, and special.
In the second episode, Giles and Monica travel to the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar in Oman. It is the highest five-star hotel in the Middle East and a resort seeking to blend local tradition with modern tastes. Built to resemble an ancient Omani fort, and situated 2,000 metres above sea level on the rim of a dramatic canyon, the hotel has recently made the most of its location by constructing a jaw-dropping via ferrata and zip-wire rope course along the cliff edge. Led by the hotel's mountain guru Maher, Giles and Monica undertake a test-run of the stunning adventure course before it opens to guests, facing 30-metre drops and Giles's prolific fear of heights.
Giles is marginally more comfortable learning how to drum and sing, a customary Omani welcome as he works alongside Nasser (crashing his golf-cart along the way), overcomes road rage with driver Mubarek on the relentless gradient of local mountain roads, and meets visionary architect Lotfi, who reveals the challenge of constructing a resort on military land and designing 34 pools that respect a cultural need for privacy.
Giles comes into his own on shift with Indian head of housekeeping Ateev, who demonstrates the merits of rosewater and embroils Giles in a magical team-building game of cricket against the might of Food & Beverage. Monica works with one of the few Omani women working at the hotel, food hygiene manager Marshaal, whose ambition is to be the first Omani female GM. Monica also accompanies British general manager and former soldier Darren Darwin on his rigorous morning inspections, flings saj bread dough on a breakfast shift with Chef Mahmoud, picks local pomegranates with Sheik Abdullah (which Monica then uses in a modern spa scrub), and buys a local goat to be prepared using a traditional shuwa recipe, cooked underground and served as international canapes. The hors d'oeuvres are devoured at the hotel's one-year anniversary party, which culminates in a spot of midday dancing for the assembled staff, guests, children - and men juggling guns.