Poised between the glitzy excess of the Emirates and the rigid conservatism of Saudi Arabia, Oman Dropdown content provides a winning introduction to the Middle East. Politically stable, and packing in a huge range of landscapes from rugged desert and turtle-nesting beaches to misty green mountains, you’ll find off-road adventures, winter sun and old-fashioned Arabian hospitality. Andy Turner introduces what not to miss on a first trip to the sultanate.
Snaking for 30km along the Gulf coastline, it’s hard to tell where the Omani capital,
First on any itinerary has to be the
Portraits of Sultan Qaboos, Oman’s supreme ruler, gaze down at you across the country (the humblest shop is likely to have a framed photograph of the dear leader). Your best chance of catching a glimpse of the man himself is to wander past the
For a quick primer on Omani history, head to the Bait al Zubair museum, a cool, calm oasis in Muscat’s
Compared with Marrakesh or Istanbul, shopping in in Muscat’s
Thanks to its reliable blue skies and balmy temperatures from October to March, Oman makes for a perfect winter escape. While global hotel chains have popped up along the coast, development is mercifully low rise and sensitively done.
Even the vast Shangri La Barr al Jissah near Muscat (over 600 rooms across three hotels, nine restaurants and three beaches) looks tasteful when you compare its rivals in Dubai. Further north in
To experience a wilder side of Oman (and escape the sight of overwintering German pensioners), head to the World Heritage listed
Once a refuge from bandits and invaders from Persia and beyond, Oman’s forts are reminders of its hard-won independence.
A quick detour from the forts circuit takes you to the charming, oasis-like Nakhl Hot Springs. Here you can take a dip in the mineral-rich 30C water and, perhaps more tempting on a hot day, get a free fish pedicure. Tiny garra ruffa or “doctor fish” inhabit the crystal-clear stream next to the springs and will nibble on your feet as soon as you dip them in.
There are plenty of luxurious places to experience the Omani desert, particularly the 1000 Nights Camp at Wahiba Sands and Dunes by Al Nahda near Muscat, which offer four-poster beds, fine cuisine and all the spa treatments you could imagine. But it’s worth remembering you can also sleep under the stars for free as wild camping is permitted across the country.
Come the weekend and anyone with a off-roader heads to the desert for some 4WD excitement. “Dune bashing” – revving up and down sand dunes in a Toyota Land Cruiser or quad bike – is something of a national sport in Oman and a ridiculous amount of fun.
Oman’s restaurant scene may lag light years behind Dubai’s celebrity-chef outposts, but you can find a decent range of Arabian/Lebanese and Pakistani/Indian food. Bait al Luan, near Muscat’s Souk, is a great place to sample slow-cooked biryanis and paper-thin khobose bread in a beautifully renovated guesthouse. If you have a hankering for a burger, head to expat hangout Slider Station where a sushi-style conveyor belt is used to sample Wagyu beef and Cajun chicken mini bites.
Drinking, while nowhere near as hush-hush as Saudi Arabia, is mostly confined to hotel bars. Of these the swankiest and most romantic spot in Muscat is The Beach at the five-star Chedi hotel. For something more authentically Omani, join the locals smoking shisha pipes below the stars at the Kargeen Café.
For Oman packages visit the holidayplace.co.uk. For further information on Oman, visit www.omantourism.gov.om.
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