Our Middle Eastern Expert Kelly has just returned from a trip to Oman and was astounded by its incredible diversity, friendly people, and just how much coffee and dates she managed to consume in one week.
When it comes to luxury winter sun holidays, Oman is a no-brainer. Perennial sunshine, sumptuous hotels and exotic cuisine, Oman is just the sort of place you dream of escaping to – but it is so much more than a fly and flop destination.
During dreary November, I was delighted to be flying off to Oman for a slice of summer and some exciting adventures. I had no idea what Oman had in store for me: from the awe-inspiring, contrasting scenery to the smiling faces I encountered on the way, Oman was full of surprises for me.
Culture in Oman
One of the first things that I quickly became aware of was the Omanis’ deep commitment to and reverence for their Sultan, Qaboos. I learned that he was responsible for the miraculous transformation of the nation in terms of infrastructure and economy: back in the 1970s Oman had just two roads, two schools and one hospital, and over the past 40 years the face of the country has changed dramatically. An Islamic country, there are very few mosques that non-Muslims may visit, one of which is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, built with the aim to educate people about Islam. It is a stunning building, and I was even able to talk to the Imam – they are very open to questions, making it a truly enlightening experience.
Then there are the souks, which was surprisingly laidback and rather unlike the mayhem of Marrakech! In Nizwa, the former capital and one of Oman’s most ravishing cities, I strolled through the souks without any hassle from the merchants – there is no pressure from them to buy anything and you don't have to barter as hard because they are very fair with prices. I saw beautiful silver hanjars being made here: this is a curved dagger which is Oman’s national symbol and it appears on their flag. As well as all the shimmering silver, frankincense burners and hand-carved wooden objects, the souks were brimming with dates – I never knew there were so many different kinds!
Action and Adventure in Oman
What you don’t think about when you envision Oman is the scope for adventure, but with such diverse topography there’s an outdoor activity to suit every taste: from dune bashing in the Wahiba Sands, to diving the dazzling blue sea in the Gulf of Oman. We ventured into the Western Hajar Mountains close to Nizwa on a guided hike, witnessing a spectacular landscape of gorges, rivers and wadis (little pools), and making friends with curious goats on the way.
Meanwhile on the coast, particularly in Ras Al Jinz, you can watch turtles hatching or dolphins jumping. In the desert we encountered white camels, gazelles and oryxes, a cherished national symbol. The desert was extraordinary, and the highlight was without a doubt experiencing the Bedouin culture.
Accommodation in Oman
We stayed in a traditional Bedouin camp, under glittering night skies and with colourful Bedouin entertainment and exquisite buffet dinners. You can visit Bedouin houses which are truly authentic and the hosts are happy to welcome you to their home. The experience of staying the night in the desert is an experience like no other. Then there are the luxury hotels of Oman, bedecked in sumptuous amenities and each with distinctive décor.
Six Senses Zighy Bay oozes rustic-chic, with sandy paths, natural stone floors in the bedrooms and best of all, expansive private pools. Alila Jabal Akhdar in Nizwa affords spellbinding views over the gorge – Oman’s version of the Grand Canyon – the best view is from the glittering infinity pool, and then there’s the Chedi which has a sleek, Asian flair and enticing swimming pools. Its superb location on the coast makes it a beachy oasis, and yet is close enough to Muscat to soak up the vibrant culture.