Rebecca Underwood on the magic of Oman
The Sultanate of Oman, located at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf, is a land of elements steeped in rich traditions and warm hospitality, a land that offers the discerning traveller a variety of surprises including majestic ancient forts and imposing castles to beautiful mosques and dramatic geographical features.
The Omani mountains soar 3000 metres into the sky and represent a cross section of almost all the rocks of the earth, from the upper mantle, continental and oceanic crust; a geologist’s joy!
Oman is a country of diversity, from the monsoons in the south to the deserts of the north and it’s a place of contrast and legend.
It is said that the Queen of Sheba resided in Taqah, a coastal town in the south-west, and the aromatic gum, known as frankincense, and that which was carried by the three kings, came from Ubar in Oman’s Empty Quarter; the heart of the ancient spice routes.
Muscat, Oman’s picturesque capital is delightful and although this cosmopolitan city provides today’s visitors with all the modern amenities expected it has retained its ancient traditions and a strong sense of identity within a truly serene environment.
Muscat, which means ‘anchorage’, lies in a natural volcanic bowl and the view of the scenic harbour draws one’s eyes to the aquamarine sea, reminding the visitor of Muscat’s sea faring past.
Prior to the 14th century Muscat was a strategic trading post and became a stronghold for the Portuguese until the Omanis re conquered the town in 1650.
Take a glimpse into Muscat’s fascinating trading roots and head for the Mutrah Souq; a warren of meandering alleyways crammed with little shops bursting with all manner of glittering trinkets including ornately decorated Khanjars; the small daggers worn by Omani men.
The extensive displays of sparkling jewellery boxes, decorative lights and silver and gold jewellery easily persuaded us to part with more than a few Omani Riyals and for a breather we selected a table outside one of the little cafés and sampled a serving of thin Rukhal bread, which is baked over a fire of palm leaves and dipped in Omani honey, and accompanied by a small cup of steaming hot coffee it is quite simply delicious.
Thirsts quenched and appetites sated we took a leisurely stroll around the pretty harbour and admired the latticed buildings, the tall minarets of the mosques, and His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s majestic dhow bobbing on the waters with its white sails billowing gently in the breeze. Sultan Qaboos, who acceded to the throne in 1970, is responsible for one of the most respected environmental policies in the world and the evidence is apparent.
Muscat is a naturalist’s garden with the most extensive array of flowers and plants reflecting a kaleidoscope of colours and exotic fragrances linger in the air.
For nature lovers, Ras al Hadd is a nature reserve based 170 km south of Muscat and is the nesting ground for more than 20,000 turtles. Visitors will be rewarded with the opportunity to observe these graceful creatures laying their eggs in the sand in the dead of night with the moon lighting up the beach and the sound of the waves lapping the shores creating a sense of tranquillity for the fortunate spectators.
Birdwatchers will wish to note that Oman is a strategically located land bridge through which millions of birds migrate twice a year. There are more than 400 species including lappet-faced vultures, white storks, flamingos, blue cheeked bee eaters and imperial eagles.
Oman has one of the largest protected nature areas in the region, home to the only free ranging herd of Arabian Oryx in the World and it is possible to spot Ibex, Gazelles, Striped Hyena, Hyrax and the elusive Arabian Wolf.
And for those with a real sense of adventure and energy to spare, a trip to Wahiba Sands in a 4WD is not to be missed. The sight of a sea of red sand dunes under a carpet of glittering stars in an inky black sky is simply mesmerising.
Weary travellers seeking a luxurious base and the highest levels of comfort and service should head for the Sheraton Oman, located in Ruwi; Muscat’s financial and business district. The property, which is the tallest in the city, was built in 1985 and completely renovated, to a very high standard, in 2016.
Accommodations are spacious with stylish, sumptuous furnishings and the comfortable beds swathed in crisp, white linens ensure a deep slumber after arduous days of exploration. We relaxed in an impressive executive suite, measuring an ample 93 square metres, and which featured uninterrupted glorious views of the Al Hajar Mountains. Hotel facilities include a fitness centre, a spa tub and sauna and an absolutely gorgeous outdoor pool surrounded by swaying palm trees, water fountains and beautiful landscaped gardens, and the ultra comfortable sun loungers are perfect for an afternoon snooze in the sunshine. For a first class casual dining experience the hotel’s Courtyard restaurant offers all day dining and presents an elaborate buffet and a wide variety of à la carte options for lunch and dinner.
Flooded by natural light, the venue’s atrium-style interior is surrounded by pink peach trees and it’s the ideal spot to ‘chill’ and plan the day’s activities.
To learn about Oman’s military history head for the nearby Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum, located in the Bait Al Falaj Fort, which dates back to 1845 and Bait Al Zubair, located on Al Saidiya Street, is a museum within a traditional Omani house that provides a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyle and traditions of ancient Omanis. Exhibits include a fine collection of khanjars, jewellery, swords and firearms, stamps, coins and medals, maps, household goods and male and female apparel.
Follow this with a visit to the 17th century Nizwa Fort, 90 minutes by car from Muscat. A large earth-filled circular tower soars 35 metres above the fortification and it offers an astounding view of the surrounding date palms. Nizwa Fort is connected to a labyrinthine castle and for those keen to practice their bartering skills, it’s adjacent to a traditional souq.
Tours, airport transfers and car rentals
For a first class service visit oldmuscat
tourism.com, call +96824539342 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Add on Qatar; only 90 minutes by air from Muscat.
Explore Doha, the capital of Qatar, which is preparing to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Doha offers an extensive choice of glamorous hotels including the excellent Fraser Suites Doha, located beside the Corniche, one of Doha’s most popular attractions. This property provides the highest standards of comfort and service and features luxury accommodations including spacious deluxe rooms, family suites for 6 or 8 guests, and one bedroom apartments, which are serviced daily and include fully equipped kitchens with washer/dryers. Facilities include WIFI and access to the gymnasium and there’s a dazzling open-air swimming pool with very comfortable sun loungers. For visitors keen to take advantage of the freedom that apartment-style accommodation offers, this is the ideal place. For more information visit doha.frasershospitality.com, email: email@example.com or call +974 442 43443
For more information on the Sheraton Oman visit sheratonoman.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (968) 2237 7777.
Visit Oman for an unforgettable Arabian experience.
Images (excluding Sheraton) courtesy of Oman Tourism.