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PRODUCTION ADMINISTRATOR

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CONTENTS 4 16

04

introduction: The unique background, history, culture and natural beauty of this authentic Arabian enclave

06

what’s new: From Muscat’s upgraded airport to beachside resorts, the latest major new developments in Oman

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muscat & beyond: Exciting and fascinating things to see and do in Oman’s political capital and cultural centre

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the regions: A guide to Oman’s diverse regions, from the subtropical south and cultural centre to the rocky fjords of the north

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inland adventures: Desert forts, dune camps, wadis and natural oases... Discover the hidden wonders of Oman’s hinterland

18

coastal activities: From scuba diving and dhow cruises to dolphin and turtle watching... Oman’s myriad aquatic adventures

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itineraries: Ideas for stopovers in Muscat, week-long trips, selfdriving holidays, fly-drive tours and longer Omani odysseys

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fact file & events: All the essential information for planning a trip to Oman, plus annual events to time it with

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O

man is a little-known oasis of calm in the Middle East – a sunny sultanate of stirring landscapes to soothe the soul and lift the spirits. Its exotic eastern souks, shifting sands, Arabian fortresses, starry desert nights, stunning sandy beaches and seas full of colourful fish conjure up tales from The Thousand and One Nights. The perfect setting for an Arabian Nights adventure, Oman is safe and easy to visit, with the best beaches on the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a natural alternative to the glittering artifice of UAE hotspots such as Dubai and has carefully preserved its thousandyear-old history and cultural traditions.

HERITAGE HOTSPOT

4

AUTHENTIC

ARABIA

Stretched out along the eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, next door to the UAE and just south of the Tropic of Cancer, Oman is roughly the size of Italy. Ruled by Sultan Qaboos – who is said to be good friends with the British royal family – the country remains neutral in political affairs. Its culture reflects the sultan’s ethos of respect and tolerance towards all religions and creeds. In fact the sultan himself is a peace-maker in the region. Long before oil was discovered in the peninsula, the Omanis had built an empire based on sea trade stretching from Arabia down Africa’s east coast to Zanzibar, buying and selling exotic wares such as frankincense, harvested from trees that grow wild in the mountains. Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba lived in Oman, and Sinbad the Sailor set sail from the ancient ports of Sohar and Sur, where traditional wooden dhow boats are still built to this day. In fact, the dhow has become as much a symbol of Oman as the iconic khanjar dagger worn by Omanis on ceremonial occasions. The capital city, Muscat, is the country’s epicentre. Home to more than half of Oman’s population, it’s also brimming with

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cultural sights such as the state-of-the-art National Museum. The capital also features a glittering Grand Mosque, the region’s only Royal Opera House and Mutrah Souq, one of Arabia’s oldest markets. Exploring old Muscat offers a rare window into authentic Arabia, unaltered by the passage of time. Muscat is also a gateway for exploring many of the region’s man-made marvels, including UNESCO-protected fortresses standing watch over oases planted with palms in nearby Al Batinah and Al Dakhliya.

Top tip From rosewater distilled in the foothills of the Hajar to frankincense harvested from the trees of Salalah in the south, sweet scents are a signature of Oman.

NATURAL ATTRACTIONS Geographically, Muscat sits at the heart of a country awash with fascinating enclaves and natural attractions. From scenic wadis to subtropical waters, Oman’s hidden green oases, towering dunes and remarkable hot springs are the setting for countless outdoor adventures. Oman’s landscapes are in stark contrast. The hefty Hajar Mountains dominate the northern half of the country and create fjord-like seascapes in the Musandam Peninsula, while the annual monsoon turns the southern state of Dhofar verdant green. To the west, Oman borders the world’s largest desert, the Empty Quarter, that has long-fascinated explorers such as T E Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger, and to the east the Gulf of Oman bubbles with underwater life. Along the coast, Oman’s crystal-blue waters offer the chance to sail, kiteboard, kayak and windsurf, and scuba diving is particularly rewarding in the protected Dimaniyat islands. The golden beaches indenting the country’s coast are an idyllic setting for a beach holiday, and secluded coves provide nesting sites for endangered turtles. The sweeping dunes of its desert hinterland give rise to sand-surfing, quad biking and dune bashing. Deeply carved wadis and dizzyinglyhigh mountains can be traversed on foot, mountain bike or by Via Ferrata, affording rock climbers an iron trail into the sky. •

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Pictures clockwise from opposite page: Omani man making rosewater on Jabal Akhdar; Omani girl with sweet dumplings; fishermen in Dhofar, Salalah; Omani men in Mutrah Souk; Bilad Sayt oasis in the Hajar Mountains; Bandar Al Khayran snorkelling spot; a typical Omani wooden dhow boat

Top tip Experience the Arabia of yore in the ancient shipbuilding yards of sultry Sur where dhows are still built today. The seaside enclave is said to have once played host to Sinbad the Sailor.

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THE

LATEST Pictures clockwise from top: Al Bustan Palace resort; Dunes by Al Nahda desert camp; Muscat International Airport; Royal Opera House, Muscat; Bimmah sinkhole; the view down to Muscat’s old harbour

O

man’s star is on the rise and it’s fast-becoming a hot winter sun destination as new hotels open up, transport links improve and the country expands its range of tourist attractions.

FLY

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Top tip The two-millionyear-old Al Hoota cave complex now features an enhanced experience including Oman’s first electric train, delivering visitors to the cave entrance.

The main gateway to Oman, Muscat’s brand new international airport opened in 2018 providing a further boost to the country’s thriving travel sector. With a much larger capacity than the previous terminal, the new airport can handle up to 12 million passengers a year, with a runway and two gates designed to accommodate superjumbo Airbus A380s, the world’s largest aircrafts. It comes at the ideal time for flag carrier Oman Air, as it steps up its international flights from its Muscat base. Among its international routes, the airline now has twice-daily direct flights between Muscat and London Heathrow operated using its Dreamliner jets, and daily flights from Manchester. British Airways also runs daily flights from Heathrow to Muscat during the winter season from October to March.

The shiny new glass and marble Art Decostyle terminal commissioned by Sultan Qaboos features traditional mashrabiya designs, contact stands and air-bridges negating the need for buses from gates to planes. World-class facilities include 96 check-in counters, 8,000 parking spaces, a 90-room airside hotel and 6,000 square metres of duty-free shopping.

STAY From dune camps and mountain hideaways to Arabian palaces and classic beach resorts, Oman boasts some of the best places in the Middle East to rest your head, and its collection of great mid-range and luxury hotels is growing year-on-year. Adding to a handful of luxury hotels in and around Muscat, Jumeirah Muscat Bay is a modern arabesque resort offering a new place to stay on Bandah Jissah Beach, while the Kempinski Hotel Muscat Oman close to the popular Wave development has cemented the city’s five-star offering. One of the city’s best-loved luxury beach hotels, Al Bustan Palace reopened in 2019

Muscat’s brand new international airport opened in 2018 providing a further boost to the country’s thriving travel sector Beauty Has An Address | experienceoman.om

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ADVERTORIAL

after enhancing and refreshing all its interiors, and the list of new hotel openings continues with W Hotel Muscat and Westin Muscat joining the fold. Ramada Muscat and Swiss Belinn Muscat are also debuting in the capital, offering more mid-scale hotel options in a region dominated by high-end hotels.

See One of Oman’s most graceful buildings and a regional hub for music, theatre and entertainment, Muscat’s Royal Opera House has expanded to include a new House of Musical Arts. Connected to the main building via an intricately-designed bridge, it has its own theatre, musical library and cultural centre, and hosts permanent and touring exhibitions from world-renowned institutions such as the V&A. A magnet for visitors to the capital, Muscat’s long waterfront has been expanded and improved to include new developments and hotels. Enhancements include the transformation of Port Sultan Qaboos into a waterfront shopping and eating destination that integrates into the old Mutrah heritage district. Elsewhere, Muscat Bay has been created as a modern seaside community to the south of the city with two five-star Jumeirah hotels overlooking Bandah Jissah beach right at the water’s edge. Tourism development in the southern subtropical city of Salalah also continues apace. The seaside destination can now lay claim to Oman’s first waterpark, Hawana Aqua Park, with snaking slides, mega waves and aquatic attractions perfect for a family day out. The new park is the latest addition to a vibrant waterside complex that boasts several hotels, its own marina and a collection of cafes and restaurants. Another key tourist attraction, Al Hoota Cave in Nizwa has also seen development. The fivekilometre-long karst cave complex that runs beneath the Hajar and features an underground lake has been reopened with new visitor-friendly facilities and an enhanced experience. •

Pictures clockwise from top: Aerial view of Al Bustan Palace; Kempinski Hotel Muscat Oman; the infinity pool added to Dunes Al Nahda luxury camp

THE CHEDI MUSCAT The Chedi Muscat is located by the Al Hajar

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ADVERTORIAL

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A

timeless

muscat

low-slung adobe city knitted along a meandering coastline, Oman’s capital is a mix of old and new Arabia, where local traditions are very much alive and well. Days in Muscat are best spent gazing in awe at manmade marvels, exploring atmospheric souks, people-watching from cafes and dolphin-spotting on the coast. Perhaps the most welcoming and authentic country on the peninsula, Oman is ideal for visitors who want to experience the Arabia of yore. As well as being an administrative and political centre, Muscat is Oman’s cultural heart chock-full of fascinating museums as well as some brilliant spots to get a taste of the real Arabia.

gold and frankincense

10

Exploring old Muscat puts visitors in touch with the fabric of Oman. Skirting the seafront, Mutrah Corniche stretches from Sultan Qaboos Port to Al Bustan beach and many people come to visit the atmospheric Mutrah Souq, said to be one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle East. The perfect place to practise bartering skills and peruse for gifts and souvenirs, its shaded alleys are lined with little shops selling everything from gold jewellery to local frankincense and myrrh. Local exclusive fragrance, Amouage, worn by many Omanis, can also be purchased in the souk. For a fascinating insight into Omani heritage, the area encompasses two of the city’s premier museums. Opened in 2016, the National Museum boasts state-of-the-art exhibits and facilities, giving visitors a great introduction to Omani history and culture from the first human settlement on the Arabian Peninsula two million years ago to the modern day. The smaller Bait Al Zubair offers an overview of local traditions and architecture with collections of Omani artefacts, such as traditional desert dress and ceremonial knives (khanjar), and traditional Omani constructions such as mud-brick and

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Top tip

palm-frond houses known as Barasti, and local wooden dhow boats on display outside. Old Muscat is also home to one of the city’s best restaurants, Bait Al Luban, translated as House of Frankincense. Tucked inside an antique house with traditional Omani low tables and cushioned seating, visitors can expect local home-cooked cuisine, frankincense-infused drinks and even rosewater-soaked hand-cloths.

Muscat means ‘safe anchorage’ in Arabic, and the sea still plays a vital role in city life to this day, from dhow cruises and fishing to swimming from its natural sandy shores.

Sultanate of swing Nearby the Sultan’s pretty Al Alam Palace can be viewed from the outside, but central Muscat’s most architecturally arresting buildings - the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House can be explored inside and out. The Royal Opera House is one of a kind in the Middle East, testament to Sultan Qaboos’ love for music and hosting a range of shows including concerts from internationallyacclaimed artists as well as theatrical performances. Its graceful white marble facade is reminiscent of an Arabian Taj Mahal, while the auditorium feels like a Victorian theatre. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is another of Muscat’s unmissable attractions with a huge golden dome that can be seen from all over the city. Richly decorated interiors include the world’s second largest Persian rug and a giant 8.5-tonne chandelier dripping in Swarovski crystals.

Down by the water As a waterfront city, Muscat offers ample opportunities for relaxing or getting active by the water. The Wave Muscat and a new development at Port Sultan Qaboos are perfect for leisurely shopping and eating. Taking a dolphin-spotting boat tour from one of the city’s harbours is an absolute must. A sandstone coastline of protruding headlands and indented bays offers a mix of public and private sandy beaches just a few minutes’ drive from the capital with the best beaches to be found around Al Jissah •

Pictures clockwise from opposite page: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque Muscat; birds’-eye view of Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah; lanterns at Mutrah Souk; fountain in Muscat; dolphin-watching in the Gulf of Oman; Omani man outside the National Museum; browsing for traditional Omani wares in Mutrah Souk

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Top tip Enjoy Muscat’s dazzling orange sunsets overlooking the ocean with a sundowner on one of the many elevated outdoor terraces of the city’s upmarket waterside hotels.

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lands of plenty Pictures clockwise from top: Enjoying the view in the Musandam Peninsula; camel rides in the Omani desert; caving in the Hajar Mountains; wadis in subtropical Salalah; scuba diving in the Gulf of Oman

B

eyond Oman’s capital Muscat, there’s a world of wild wonders and cultural experiences waiting for adventurous travellers. While the capital city offers a window on the country’s heritage, venturing further afield reveals mighty mountains, hidden oases, deep canyons and boundless sandseas. In sleepy seaside enclaves life continues much the same as it has for centuries. Visitors can cruise the calm waters of the Gulf of Oman to spot its abundance of sea creatures or dive below the surface to discover protected subtropical reefs.

Al Batinah: forts and oases

Top tip For a snapshot of Oman’s impressive collection of desert fortresses, ancient oases and natural hot springs, a tour of Al Batinah province is an absolute must.

West of Muscat, the fascinating Al Batinah region is divided into north and south and boasts an impressive collection of desert fortresses standing guard over palm-tufted oases, while hot springs bubble forth from deep desert wadis. The pre-islamic castle of Rustaq is built into a rocky outcrop at the centre of the region, with the visitor-friendly springs of Ain Thowarah streaming through a nearby valley. Oman’s only UNESCOlisted fort, Bahla, also sits within Al Batinah, along with the restored round fortress of Al Hazim, with cannons still pointed over the oasis. On the coast, travellers can explore the town of Sohar, which has been an important port for Oman since ancient times, while Al

Mussanah has a golden arc of sand perfect for beach days. If that wasn’t enough, there are even more natural attractions to be explored inland, with luxury desert camps amid the wadis of Barka offering lodgings between dramatic hillocks of shifting sand.

Al Sharqiya: dhows and desert

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The centuries-old shipbuilding yards of Sur and sparkling desert of Sharqiya Sands lend Al Sharqiya a timeless Arabian air. To the south of Muscat, the Al Sharqiya region has been Oman’s seafaring and trading hub for centuries with exotic spices and wares from far-flung lands of the east, Africa and the Indian Ocean passing through its waters. Legend has it that Sinbad the Sailor was from the sultry seaside town of Sur, where visitors can still see traditional dhow boats being constructed in the natural harbour. To the west, Sharqiya Sands is a desert playground with luxury camps offering everything from sand surfing to dune bashing.

Al Dakhliya: culture and camels Centred on the city of Nizwa, Al Dakhliya is one of the most rewarding regions to visit in Oman. A hotbed of Omani culture and heritage, its enchanting castles and oases are hemmed in by the Hajar mountains, with canyons and caves to delight outdoor explorers. Around an hour-

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Pictures clockwise from top: Monsoon season in Dhofar; Nizwa Fort; village oasis in Al Batinah province; sea turtle in Ras Al Hadd; the Musandam Peninsula; Birkat Al Mouz abandoned village and oasis

and-a-half’s drive west of Muscat, Nizwa is an atmospheric tangle of dusty streets surrounding a huge fortress sheltering age-old local institutions including a souk packed with local wares and a camel market. Just beyond the town, the stunning Al Hoota Cave has been developed for visitors, and Birkat al Mouz offers a glimpse of life in an ancient oasis crisscrossed with the centuriesold stone viaducts that irrigate its palms. Cutting through Al Dakhliya, the hefty Hajar concertina into its highest point at Jebel Shams and rising above the country’s Grand Canyon, Wadi Ghul, with the Balcony Walk taking trekkers around its edge. Popular for hiking and offroading, the region also encompasses Jabal Akhdar, Oman’s Green Mountain, topped by a pair of luxury resorts and rimmed by the terraces of rosewater distilleries.

Musandam: Arabian fjords 14

Top tip Distinct from the rest of Oman, Dhofar is a subtropical microcosm visited by an annual monsoon and the traditional centre of the frankincense trade.

Musandam sits at the northernmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, a mountainous wilderness boasting one of the region’s highest peaks, Jebel Jais, and a fragmented fjord-like coast. Flanks of the high Hajar jut into the ocean where the clear jade water harbours one of the healthiest marine eco-systems in the Middle East. Little populated and separated from the rest of the country by the emirate of Fujairah, the peninsula is ideal to explore by boat, sprinkled with isolated golden coves, and spectacular diving and snorkelling spots featuring

dramatic seascapes and underwater life. Dolphin sightings are almost guaranteed. The regional capital Khasab has a splendid little fort, and a handful of beach resorts such as high-end Six Senses Zighy Bay are dotted along the shore.

Dhofar: subtropical south In the far south of Oman, Dhofar is no mere outpost. Its regional capital, Salalah, was once the traditional home of the sultan, though Sultan Qaboos preferred to make his base in Muscat instead. Although far from the capital, this hidden green oasis adds a completely different dimension to a holiday in Oman, and is something of an anomaly in the region. Visited by an annual monsoon known locally as the Khareef, every year between July and September the rains turn its valleys and plains a verdant green, cooling the air and offering Omanis a welcome escape from the Arabian summer heat. A subtropical enclave, it’s also the traditional centre of the incense trade where frankincense trees grow in abundance. Chief among the handful of local hotels, the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara offers luxury stays on Salalah’s untouched golden coast. Northern Dhofar is the gateway to the infamous Empty Quarter, or Rub al Khali, a vast desert that captured the imaginations of famous explorers including Lawrence of Arabia and Wilfred Thesiger. From Salalah it’s possible for visitors to arrange expeditions into its towering dunes with local guides. •

Along the fjord-like coast of Musandam, flanks of the high Hajar jut into the ocean where the clear jade water harbours one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in the Middle East Beauty Has An Address | experienceoman.om

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Anatara


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Its striking and authentic architecture is framed by lush

first of their kind in Salalah. The exclusive three-bedroom

well-crafted cocktails and shisha.

watching and an array of other exhilarating water activities. •

SALALAH.ANANTARA.COM

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DESERT

WONDERS 16

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ong blissful days exploring abandoned arabian fortresses, relaxing in lush green desert oases, playing Lawrence of arabia amid shifting sands or bartering for silk scarves in frankincense-scented souks are just a few of the amazing travel experiences that oman has to offer. Visitors after some high-octane action can plump for dune-bashing in a four-wheel-drive or quad-biking in the desert, or head to the mighty Hajar for challenging hikes and rockclimbing trails such as the Via Ferrata in Jebel Shams, also known as the Green Mountains.

sanD CastLes An hour-and-a-half’s drive south-west of Muscat, the town of Nizwa is an Arabian gem with a graceful old fortress surrounded by the crumbling walls of the old mud-brick settlement. Exhibitions on Omani history and customs are displayed in a network of courtyard rooms. The bustling old souk around the castle walls is an Aladdin’s Cave of local wares – from silk scarves to raw frankincense, while the camel market is a timeless spectacle. Not far from Nizwa, the abandoned mudbrick village of Birkat Al Mouz, knitted into the slopes around an ancient oasis, is ripe for exploration, while the subterranean beauty of the Hajar foothills is revealed at visitor-friendly Al Hoota cave. Oman’s Al Batinah region, west of Muscat, is guarded by some of the country’s most atmospheric fortresses, which have been restored as tourist attractions. Visitors are free to let loose their inner child and explore every nook and cranny of these Arabian sand castles, which include hidden stairwells and darkened tunnels. Recently-restored and rising from a rocky plain, Rustaq sits at the centre of the region. A secret tunnel runs from the second floor deep underground to the nearby magnificent Al Hazim fort, also well worth exploring with cannons pointing from a round tower across the date palm plantations.

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Desert oasis Travellers touring the area can visit the turquoise Al Khasfa Spring. Said to have curative properties including easing arthritis and common ailments, it bubbles up in a circular pool from deep underground and is routed into a series of baths where locals come to immerse themselves. Nakhal Fort is possibly the most photogenic of the sand castles, with views to the distant rustcoloured Hajar. Nearby is one of Batinah’s most beautiful spots, the oasis of Ain Thowarah that appears like a miraculous mountain stream with banks swathed in green. Visitors can bathe in a square pool or perch on waterside rocks to let the resident ‘doctor fish’ give feet a free manicure.

Top tip Don’t miss a visit to at least one of Oman’s dramatic desert fortresses, the largest of which, Bahla, has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Arabian nights In central Oman, off-road into the Mars-like landscape of Wadi Far and up onto a plateau hemmed in by mini mountains of sand is the Dunes by Al Nadha Camp (dunesbyalnahda. com) that offers desert glamping at its finest. Most people come to take aim at the mighty ochre dunes – whether on a quadbike or in a four-by-four. Similarly, the Desert Nights Camp (omanhotels.com/desertnightscamp) is cradled by towering dunes and offers activities including quad biking, camel treks and dune bashing. Travellers looking for a more authentic desert camping experience can stay in traditional Bedouin tents at the 1,000 Nights Desert Camp (1000nightscamp.com). For those not staying at a resort that offers outdoor adventures, everything from rock climbing and canyoning to caving and trekking can be arranged by Muscatbased specialist adventure tourism company Twenty3Extreme (twenty3extreme.com). Up above the wadis in Jebel Shams, visitors can also find luxurious mountain retreats clinging to the edge of canyons such as Alila Jabal Akhdar (alilahotels.com). The five-star Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort (anantara. com) guides guests along the Via Ferrata and arranges bespoke outdoor adventures. •

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Pictures clockwise from opposite page: Omani man walking in Sharqiya Sands; Omani boy in the rose plantations of Al Jabal Al Akhdar mountain; Nakhal Fort in Al Batinah; Arabian oryx; dune-bashing in the Omani desert; Nizwa souk; quad biking in the desert

Top tip Oman’s deserts and mountains are a virtual playground for outdoor explorers, offering everything from dune-bashing and rock climbing to camel treks and wild hikes.

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AQUATIC ADVENTURES 18

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hilling out on the beach, chasing wild dolphins, snorkelling with hawksbill turtles or diving in underwater coral gardens, Oman encapsulates a side to arabia that few even know exists. Oman has a long seafaring history, trading across the Indian Ocean and as far south as Zanzibar. Today, traditional wooden dhow boats are still built in the sultry seaside town of Sur and Omanis still turn to the ocean to escape the heat. Activities out on the open water are readily accessible to visitors too with everything from kayaking and jetskiing to windsurfing and dhow cruises easily arranged from hotels and local tour operators. Going on a dolphin-watching excursion is an absolute must in Oman. Smallish passenger boat The Star of the Sea runs trips from Muscat. There’s an excellent chance of spotting pods of playful dolphins in the early mornings, but cruising along Muscat’s blonde shores in the sunshine makes for a pleasant voyage all the same. After all, this is one of the region’s longest and most beautiful coastlines, indented by natural soft sandy beaches and sea arches, with mountains softly unfolding into the sea.

TURTle iMMeRsiON Oman has an impressive array of creatures in its underwater environs. As well as peoplepleasing dolphins, the Sea of Oman harbours green turtles, whale sharks and multi-coloured coral reef communities beneath its calm, clear waters. Plenty of sea turtles make their nests on the sultanate’s sandy beaches and visitors can see them at dawn or dusk at certain times of year. Just south of Sur, Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve is the ideal place for turtle-watching, offering guided tours and a luxury camp for overnight stays. Close to Muscat and backed by the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort (shangri-la.com), Al Jissah beach is also frequented by turtles. A secluded beach sandwiched between sea cliffs is reserved

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for nesting turtles, and the resort includes a turtle education and conservation centre. For those who prefer to see them revelling in their underwater habitat, the unspoilt Dimaniyat Islands, around an hour offshore by boat, form an underwater sweet spot that easily rivals the Red Sea’s riches. PADIaccredited operators such as Oman Sail, based in a little harbour at Mussanah, takes visitors on snorkelling and scuba diving trips to the UNESCO-protected marine reserve. Below the sapphire seas, underwater gardens are adorned with rare bright purple antler corals. Divers are sure to see a diverse array of creatures from reef sharks to rays. Aquatic sports specialist Sea Oman (seaoman.com) offers everything from scuba-diving charters to wakeboarding. For visitors who want to go windsurfing, Oman Sail takes groups out along the sandy shores of Mussanah.

Top tip The Gulf of Oman’s abundance of life means spotting dolphins on a boat trip is virtually guaranteed, while Ras al Jinz offers turtle-watching in season.

Beach bliss From sweeping sandy bays to tiny turtle-haunted coves, Oman is blessed with the best beaches on the Arabian Peninsula. Visitors can explore the wild coast from the comfort of the country’s modest collection of luxury beach resorts that include the glamorous arabesque Chedi resort (ghmhotels.com), Al Bustan Palace – A Ritz Carlton Resort (ritzcarlton.com) on one of Muscat’s best beaches, and the palatial Shangri-La (shangri-la.com) which has a trio of beaches indented into the rocky shore. Beyond Muscat, the Millennium Resort Mussanah (millenniumhotels.com), which also incorporates Oman Sail, has a protected sandy beach perfect for family bucket-and-spade days. Further afield, Six Senses Zighy Bay on Oman’s wild Musandam Peninsula is a secluded five-star resort set amid breath-taking scenery. While in the deep south of the country, the stylish new Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara has claimed a pristine stretch of beachfront on Salalah’s palm-studded creamy sands. •

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Pictures clockwise from opposite page: Traditional Arabian dhow in the shipbuilding town of Sur; coral reef in the Gulf of Oman; aerial view of fishing from Salalah’s beaches; Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve; dolphin watching in the sea of Oman; sea kayaking in Khasab on the Musandam Peninsula

Top tip Oman’s uninhabited Dimaniyat islands are a protected haven for underwater life offering worldclass scuba diving and snorkelling.

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ready

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rom stopovers to long stays, here are some itinerary ideas to get the most out of Oman.

short stay Halfway between Europe and the Far East with plenty of international flight connections from its new modern airport, a stopover in Muscat is the ideal way to break up a long journey and add another dimension to a holiday. The coastal city’s key attractions are contained within a few areas, making it perfect for a day tour. Less than 24 hours in the city gives travellers enough time to catch a glimpse of the real Arabia in Old Muscat and take an enchanting dhow cruise along the coast to see the city’s spectacular sunset from the water. A longer stay offers the chance to explore its architectural marvels, relax on golden beaches, and take a dolphin-watching boat tour, with sightings almost guaranteed.

wadis and water A week or more in Oman allows visitors to relax on its sun-soaked coast and explore the country’s dramatic and diverse landscapes. After an introduction to authentic Arabian culture in Muscat and a stay at one of the city’s arabesque luxury beach resorts, there’s the option to head inland to discover desert fortresses, oases and natural springs in Al Batinah and Al Sharqiya en route to Nizwa. Atmospheric Nizwa’s souk, cattle market, castle and caves make it well worth an overnight stay. Travellers can also choose to take the coast road from Muscat to heritage towns such as Sur and turtle-nesting beaches, or sail out into the sea of Oman to discover the pristine protected coral reefs of the pretty Dimaniyat islands. Towering dunes at Barka and a glittering sandsea at Wahiba Sands provide the perfect desert playground with luxury camp sites for overnight stays, while the hefty Hajar offers cool five-star retreats from the desert heat around Jabal Al Akhdar with activities including hikes, Via Ferrata and rosewater distillery tours.

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Top tip

oman odyssey A lengthier itinerary can cover the fascinating regions at the farthest reaches of Oman, including the fjord-riven Musandam Peninsula in the north and the subtropical microcosm of Dhofar in the south. Very long road journeys can be skipped with domestic flights from Muscat to Salalah in Dhofar and Khasab in Musandam. Wild, isolated and mountainous, Musandam is perfect for lovers of dramatic landscapes, and its sapphire waters harbour one of the healthiest ecosystems in the region, making it ideal for dhow cruises, wildlife-watching and scuba diving. Adding a few days exploring Salalah lets travellers see the miraculous transformation brought about by the annual Khareef monsoon between June and September. Highlights include the Frankincense Trail from the ruined city of Samhuram, capital of ancient Arabia’s frankincense trade, littleexplored biblical sights such as Nabi Ayoub, and the fabled Empty Quarter desert.

For an enchanting night under a star-spangled Arabian sky, Oman has some of the best desert camps in the Middle East from traditional Bedouin camps to luxury glamping sites.

Pictures clockwise from opposite page: Hikers at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort; monsoon season arrives in Dhofar; Bimmah sinkhole; Jabal Harim in the Musandam Peninsula; Samail Al Dakhliya cattle market; Arabian gazelle in Quriyat; Khasab castle in Musandam

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deserted roads Well-maintained and uncongested roads, highquality hire cars and road signs in English as well as Arabic, self-driving holidays are an ideal way to explore Oman. From Muscat, travellers can build diverse itineraries visiting picturesque fishing villages and heritage sites, wild wadis and desert wonders. A circuit south from Muscat takes in the turquoise waters of Bimmah Sinkhole en route to the ancient ship-building town of Sur and turtlenesting beaches at Ras al Jinz, before heading into the mystical desert of Sharqiya Sands. Turning back north, Nizwa beckons with its timeless cattle market, Arabian castle and traditional souk, while nearby the lofty heights of the Hajar feature mountain-side retreats. Fly-drive trips further afield, visiting Salalah and Musandam, are also easy to arrange.•

Top tip Heading into the Hajar adds another dimension to a holiday in Oman, with the highest five-star resort in the Middle East Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar - and a range of other cool mountain retreats.

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essentials &

events

F

rom cultural festivals to major sporting events, the Sultanate’s calendar of annual celebrations can enhance any trip to the country. Most activities take place during Arabia’s winter season to avoid the high summer heat. Salalah in the south is the only exception, with an annual festival coinciding with monsoon season when the region dramatically transforms to green.

Muscat Marathon – January

THE PERFECT BEACH RESORT DESTINATION Millennium Resort Mussanah is the perfect location from which to explore the Sultanate of Oman. With 308 spacious rooms, suites and apartments, a health and fitness club and spa, the award-winning beach front resort provides the world-class outdoor facilities, including an 18hole mini-golf course, tennis courts, 5 swimming pools, Zipline, floating water park “Aqua Fun”, PADI dive center, and a private 54-berth marina on crystal-blue waters where guests can sail, snorkel or charter a yacht. For those who wish to explore the local area, Rustaq & Nakhal Fort, the Harjar Mountains, Mussanah Fort and Damaniyat Island are all nearby, as well as a local fish market.

MILLENNIUM RESORT MUSSANAH Wudham Al Sahil, Mussanah, P.O.Box: 82 PC 300, Sultanate of Oman T: +968 268 71555 | F: +968 268 71556 | sales.mrmo@Millenniumhotels.com | www.millenniumhotels.com E D Q / MRMMUSSANAH

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Frankincense production, as well as fireworks and funfairs in the city’s parks and corniches.

Tour of Oman – February Now running for more than a decade, the annual Tour of Oman is the country’s premier road cycling race taking place in six stages and covering more than 850km, including Green Mountain and a Muscat time trial.

Salalah festival – July/August

Muscat Marathon has quickly grown in stature. In 2017, the event became known as the Al Mouj Muscat Marathon and now the marathon, marathon relay, half marathon and 10k routes are all certified by world running organisation AIMS.

As the Khareef monsoon reaches Dhofar in southern Oman in July, Salalah hosts an annual festival of arts and culture with sporting events, competitions and shopping, which attracts tourists and locals alike.

Muscat Festival – January/February

Oman became independent from Portuguese rule in 1650 and it still celebrates its liberation with parades, fireworks and camel races on November 18, with more festivities on November 19 to honour Sultan Qaboos’ birthday.

A major annual celebration of the country’s heritage and culture, Muscat’s annual festival includes events showcasing local traditions such as the Al-Ayyala ‘stick’ dance and

National Day – November

In high summer, southern Oman and the mountains are the place to be. Cooled by a monsoon, Salalah celebrates with a festival of local arts and culture Beauty Has An Address | experienceoman.om

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Getting there: Oman is around a seven-and-a-half-hour flight from the UK. Flag carrier Oman Air has direct twice-daily flights from London Heathrow and daily flights from Manchester to Muscat. British Airways runs direct daily flights from Heathrow to Muscat during the winter.

MUSCAT HILLS RESORT

Getting around: Travellers to Salalah and Khasab can connect with regional Salam Air or Oman Air flights from Muscat airport. Cheap petrol and a good road network make getting around by car easy, taxis are inexpensive.

Situated within the idyllic private bay of Al Jissah, just 28 miles from Muscat’s International Airport, Muscat Hills provides guests with everything they need for a relaxing holiday, private event or luxurious day out. Enjoy air-conditioned huts on a private beach and open-air bathrooms and private terraces offering spectacular turquoise sea views to revive the senses. The boutique resort sets a new standard in chilled-out luxury, featuring a stunning Mediterranean restaurant serving Med delights plus authentic Arabic cuisine and fresh seafood; a beach bar with shisha lounge and ambient DJ music; and abundant watersports.

Climate: Oman’s warm mild winters make it the ideal winter sun destination, while in summer temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Currency: The local currency is the Omani Rial. One rial is roughly equivalent to two British pounds. Time: Oman is three hours ahead of UK time in summer and four hours ahead during winter.

Pictures from top: Fireworks at Muscat Festival; traditional Arabian Al-Ayyalah ‘stick’ dance; annual Tour of Oman cycling race

Visas: British nationals need a visa to enter. A 10-day visa is 5 Rials; 30-day visa is 20 Rials. Applications for an e-visa can be made online at: evisa.rop.gov.om. Customs: Visitors can respect local customs by wearing clothing that covers shoulders and knees, though swimwear is fine around private hotel pools and beaches. Language: Arabic is the official language of Oman. English is widely spoken. Alcohol: Drinking alcohol is permitted in licensed areas in Oman. Hotel bars and some restaurants serve alcohol. •

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Explore Oman  

Discover the unique background, history, culture and natural beauty of this authentic Arabian enclave

Explore Oman  

Discover the unique background, history, culture and natural beauty of this authentic Arabian enclave