Amid the ever-changing states of the Arabian Gulf, Oman offers a refreshing reminder of a seemingly bygone age. Overdevelopment has yet to blight its most spectacular landscapes and cultural traditions remain remarkably undiluted, making the sultanate one of the best places in the Gulf to experience traditional Arabia. Quiet stretches of coast are shaded with nodding palm trees and dotted with fishing boats. Mudbrick villages nestle amid sprawling date plantations or cling to the sides of remote valleys. Craggy chains of towering mountains are scored with precipitous canyons and rocky wadis, while the wind-blown dunes and gravel plains of the great inland deserts stretch away into the distance.
Of course, it’s not all savagely beautiful, sparsely populated landscapes. Oman has embraced the modern world, and in parts of the country the contemporary is very much in evidence, particularly in the low-key glitter and bustle of the capital, Muscat, and in the burgeoning cities of Salalah and Sohar. Despite the trappings of modernity, however, much of the rest of the country retains a powerful sense of place and past. Busy souks continue to resound with the clamour of shoppers bargaining over frankincense, jewellery and food. Venerable forts and crumbling watchtowers still stand sentinel over towns they once protected, goats wander past huddles of ochre-coloured houses, and the white-robed Omanis themselves saunter quietly amid the palms.