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Oman 101

the very best of this beautiful country

hOtels culture sights activities restaurants

kanoo world traveller 2013/14


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Let us invite you to a place of unspoilt beauty. Let us immerse you in the sights and sound of shopping in the souk. Let us share our beautiful Omani culture. Let us leave you with memories that yearn for more.

Let us show you Arabian hospitality at its finest, where traditions and leisure blend seamlessly with world-class dining and the award-winning service of The Ritz-Carlton. For reservations, call 968-2479-9666 or visit ritzcarlton.com/albustanpalace.

©2013 The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C.


Beauty abounds While its GCC neighbours are known for their spectacular man-made attractions, Oman is blessed with an abundance of natural wonders. Its spectacular scenery, fascinating history and diverse terrain make it unique in the region and a mustvisit for all with a sense of adventure. Here you can indulge in all manner of al fresco activities, from swimming with dolphins and scaling mountains to cruising along fjords and watching baby turtles hatch in their natural surrounds. And what adds to Oman’s uniqueness in the region is its climate, which sees its Dhofar region delightfully temperate and carpeted in greenery throughout the summer months. Bliss.

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19

Muscat

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OMAN

About this guide There is much to experience in Oman, which means making a list of must-dos is essential. To make that process easier, we’ve selected the 101 best things about the country and placed them into simpleto-reference sections, so you need only enjoy all this special place has to offer.

Contents

The Hotels – heart of the city or a secluded escape? You decide The Restaurants – the very best of the country’s diverse dining options The Sights and Culture– soak up the country’s natural wonders and unmissable attractions The Activities – nowhere in the GCC has more to offer the would-be adventurer than Oman

Production in whole or in part without written permission from HOT Media Publishing is strictly prohibited. HOT Media Publishing does not accept liability for omissions or errors in this publication.

Produced by HOT Media Publishing FZ LLC

Oman 101

1


Welcome to Oman The lowdown on getting to and around the Sultanate

Getting There

Or, if you’re after something with

Oman Air is the national airline of

a bit more leg room, use National

5

Oman and it serves the country

Ferries Company to transport you

The number of kilometres underground

well, with flights available from all

across the ocean. It operates a very

other GCC countries. Depending on

efficient passenger service between

where you live in the GCC you may

Muscat, Khasab, Lima and Shinas.

also have the option of driving to

If you want to hire a car and drive

500

Oman, and passing some fantastic

around the country yourself – and

The number of ancient forts, citadels

scenery as you do so.

we heartily recommend that you do, as you’ll encounter lots of

Transport

natural charm – you’ll find that all

Oman is a vast country but

the big-name car rental brands are

thankfully there are many means

represented in the Sultanate.

of getting around it. You’ll find

that Al Hoota Cave descends

and watchtowers that are dotted around the country

1,966 The miles of coastline that wraps

lots of taxis for hire in the different

Money

regions of the country (particularly

The Omani Rial is the official

in the capital, Muscat), but if you

currency of Oman. Banknotes

want to travel between them, try

are available in denominations

a firm like Allo (+968 2469 7997)

of OMR50, 20, 10, 5 and 1. If you

The number of female turtles that lay

who operate a decent standard

want to withdraw your spending

their eggs at Ras al Hadd each year - a

taxi service and, better still, a fleet

money while there, you’ll find that

of 4x4s designed to take would-be

ATM machines are widely available

explorers into the desert. If you

throughout the Sultanate in built-up

want to get between places in a

areas. 1 Omani Rial is equivalent to

hurry, Oman Air operates internal

2.6 US dollars, to which the currency

flights from Muscat and Salalah.

is pegged.

2

Oman 101

the country

50,000 spectacle not to be missed


31

Annual events of note... April

May

June

July

Russia’s world-renowned Mariinsky Opera performs Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at Muscat’s Royal Opera House from April 19-21

Nature lovers will revel in the sight of hundreds of African migratory birds taking to the sky as they head north for the summer

Celebrate Salalah’s monsoon season at the annual Salalah Festival, an enjoyable mixture of sport, dance and music

Renaissance Day (July 23) marks the anniversary of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’s reign

August

September

October

November

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated throughout the country, so be part of the fantastic festivities wherever you are

This month is the perfect time to head to Ras al Hadd, where you’ll witness the stunning sight of turtle eggs hatching on the beach

The National Bank of Oman Golf Classic sees the game’s European Tour stop in Oman for the first time, at Muscat’s The Wave course

National Day (November 18) is marked this month with festivities throughout the country likely spanning two days

December

January

February

March

Oman’s capital is in full bloom this month, with brightly coloured and brilliantly arranged flowers covering Muscat

Muscat Fashion Week takes place anually this month, with catwalks brought to life with creations from local and international designers

From February 11-16 the world’s top cyclists come to the country to take part in the fourth staging of the Tour of Oman

This month is your last chance to catch one of a number of cultural evenings at the ancient Al Felaij Castle Theatre, organised by the Ministry of Tourism

Oman 101

3


The Hotels From desert resorts to capital retreats, a plethora of properties await you...

If nothing but the best will do for

foot of jagged mountains and aside

they can’t get enough of the hotel’s

your getaway, Six Senses Zighy

a wonderful slice of pristine beach.

standout spa (Muscat’s largest) and

Bay (sixsenses.com) – arguably the

In fact, if you’re feel like channelling

fairytale surrounds: water gardens

Gulf’s finest offering – is a must-stay.

Bond you can even paraglide your

open onto two stellar swimming

Make your way to the mountain-

way into the resort…

pools and a serene atmosphere

flanked waterways of the Musandam

High levels of luxury can also be

pervades throughout the resort.

Peninisula and you’ll find a resort fit

found at the stunning The Chedi

A short drive leads to yet more

for a James Bond movie - its built-

Muscat (ghmluxuryhotels.com).

opulence, this time in the form of

from-stone villas spread out at the

Regular visitors here will tell you how

Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Oman 101

5


Opening page: Six Senses Zighy Bay. This page, top to bottom: The Chedi Muscat; InterContinental Muscat.

Hotel (ritzcarlton.com). Inside, its neck-craning 38-metre-high domed lobby sets the scene for the luxuries to be found elsewhere while, beyond its walls, lush gardens come dotted with sparkling swimming pools (five in total) – the largest of which is punctuated by palm tree islands and bears an infinity edge. Dive straight in and soak up the stirring natural vistas beyond. If you feel as though you could get lost in those Omani panoramas, The InterContinental Muscat (ichotelsgroup.com) will serve you

‘The InterContinental Muscat will serve you well a true oasis in the city that puts you at ease’

well – a true oasis in the city, you can’t help but feel instantly at ease on seeing its groomed gardens (35 acres, no less) – plus, you can leave it all behind for a taste of the city whenever you please, thanks to the hotel’s central address. At the sumptuous Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa (shangri-la. com) you’ll have your pick of not one but three hotels, which collectively form this ocean-hugging resort. Our pick is the high-end Al Husn (meaning ‘the castle’), whose white marble archways, beach-side cuisine and glorious sea vistas offer the most romantic of stays. Soak up the oceanfresh breeze from the comfort of a shady lounger on the hotel’s private beach, which by night harbours nesting turtles (you can spot them with the help of resident turtle ranger Mohammed). Magical. The Crowne Plaza Muscat (ichotelsgroup.com) assumes an

6 Oman 101


eye-catching position, perched

beyond the fountain-flanked

on a cliff-top, presenting you with

driveway of the Radisson Blu Muscat

city-wide views. Set in an exclusive

(radissonblu.com). This hotel is

neighbourhood, it’s little surprise

perfect for those seeking proximity

that the hotel has its own high-end

to the hustle and bustle of Muscat,

features, among them a private

but if you’re feeling the need to

stretch of caramel-coloured beach.

unwind, the sun-drenched pool area

Prefer the pool? Drink-in the sight

is just the ticket.

of the ocean from the resort’s seafacing swimming pool instead. Bliss. Also home to a fantastic pool is

Also centrally based is City Seasons (cityseasonsgroup.com) where in-room iPod docking stations

The Grand Hyatt Muscat (muscat.

cater to music lovers and DVD

grand.hyatt.com), this one coming

players (just ask reception) do for

with a lazy river that snakes its way

movie buffs. Aside from the technical

round the entire beachside pool

perks, you can also be sure of eye-

area. But that’s not all this 280-room

catching rooms, all of which exude a

hotel has to offer – its restaurants

contemporary edge.

afford plenty to whet your appetite

The Platinum (theplatinumoman.

(from Italian fare to Indonesian),

com) is an Islamic hotel (dry) which

while a fitness centre and tennis

cuts a striking dash on the Muscat

courts ensure you can burn off those

skyline - its pink, handcrafted

additional calories.

stone imported from Jodhpur,

And if you need a mix of activity and relaxation, you’ll find both

India, especially for the purpose. The proximity of the government

This page, clockwise from top: Ras Al Jinz; Crowne Plaza Muscat; Masira Island Resort; Grand Hyatt Muscat.

Oman 101

9


ministries and embassies makes The Platinum a hit with high-powered types, although you don’t have to be a diplomat to enjoy the fine dining on offer at rooftop restaurant Samah, which also offers fine panoramas of the surrounding hills. Forty-five minutes outside of Muscat is the design-driven Sifawy Boutique Hotel (sifawyhotel.com). It’s the work of Italian designer Aldredo Freda and stands at the heart of a beautifully built marina. Rooms here boast Omani-influenced European elegance, and each has a balcony from which you can look up to what’s always a star-filled sky. Amenities-wise, you’ll find it caters well to the whole family, packing in a beach, children’s and adult pools and trips to snorkel, fish or dive. It all amounts to the perfect getaway. Another off-the-beaten-track abode is the splendid Masira Island Resort (masiraislandresort.com),

‘Set across the soft, sandy beaches of Mirbat Cove, Salalah Marriott Resort is swimming with marine life. Get up close to it by scuba diving or snorkelling’

a great base to enjoy the pick of Oman’s natural charms. The area hosts all four of Oman’s nesting

pool and you can soak up the sound

resort is swimming with marine life,

species of turtles and is famous

of the waves as you dip.

which you can get up close to with a

for housing the world’s largest

Water babies can’t fail to enjoy

spot of scuba diving or snorkelling.

population of Loggerhead turtles. On

the offerings at The Crowne Plaza

But if that’s a little too daring for

site, just 21 rooms make for attentive

Salalah (ichotelsgroup.com) either.

you, simply lay back by the resort’s

and always first-rate service.

Home to no less than three pools,

sizeable swimming pool. Likewise,

little ones (and big kids) are bound

at the Millennium Resort Mussanah

pea-green environs of Salalah are

to make a beeline for the Splash

(millenniumhotels.com) you cannot

sure to beckon – and all the more

Fountains and whirlpool. For more

only partake in diving and snorkelling

so in summer when it maintains

fun in the sun, but on dry land, take

but sailing, dolphin watching and

the coolest climes around, and

an afternoon stroll around its tropical

even charter a yacht, thanks to a

even experiences rain. Despite its

gardens, or partake in a spot of

private 54-berth marina. After a day

reputation for a quiet getaway, the

tennis or mini golf.

at sea, retire to one of the hotel’s 234

Elsewhere in Oman, the lush,

emerald-hued region shelters some

If watersports are your thing, you’ll

rooms, all of which fuse Arabic and

nice hotels, not least the Hilton

love the dive centre located at the

Asian styles to comforting effect.

Salalah Resort (hilton.com). Make

Salalah Marriott Resort (marriott.

You’ll nod off in no time…

your way past its pillared façade, all

com). Set across the soft, sandy

the way to its standout, ocean-facing

beaches of Mirbat Cove, this beach

10 Oman 101

Alternatively, make for the region’s commercial heart and settle in at the


Previous page: Salalah Marriott Resort. This page, top to bottom: Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa; Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Crowne Plaza Sohar (ichotelsgroup. com). Outside, it looks the picture of tranquillity (groomed gardens, idyllic pond and sky-scraping mountain ranges), yet inside you’ll find plenty to occupy your days. A bowling alley and snooker tables, plus a pool and spa, are but a handful of the hotel’s considerable highlights. Styled to look like an ancient Omani fort, the Sohar Beach Hotel (www.soharbeach.com) looks magical at night, when subtle spotlighting picks out the ramparts, the pool beneath and the sea beyond. There are floodlit tennis courts, a gym and a choice of dining outlets on site. Lastly, two quite unique dwellings can also be found in Oman. First up is Ras AI Jinz (rasaljinz-turtlereserve. com), a turtle reserve which grants you the chance to watch the nesting process of the endangered green turtle – truly a memorable sight. The bargain price of the basic but no-less comfortable accommodation on offer here includes breakfast and that all important turtle viewing. Meanwhile, a stay at Desert Nights Camp (omanhotels.com) will send you deep into the honey-hued Wahiba Sands and beneath a star-lit sky. But, don’t worry, you won’t need to scrimp on style – guests set up camp in one of 30 beautiful Bedouininspired tents with all the creature comforts one could need. And when day breaks you can get to grips with anything from an idle camel ride to a adrenaline-pumping dune bashing. 12 Oman 101


The Restaurants Whether it’s a genuine taste of Omani cuisine you crave, or dishes from far-flung places, the country serves up a melting pot of gastronomic delights… When it comes to food, your biggest problem in Oman may be choosing where to eat: with restaurants inside high-end hotels, cafes dotting coastlines and independent eateries besides, you really will be spoilt for choice during your stay. The trick is deciding what you want… If you’ve already been won over by Oman’s beautiful natural vistas, perhaps a restaurant with a view will tug at your taste buds most. If you want to go upscale, there are few better places to start than Six Senses Zighy Bay’s signature restaurant Sense on the Edge (+968 2673 5555). Take up a pew on its al fresco terrace and you’ll find yourself at one with the rocks, sitting atop a cliff top and admiring far-reaching views of that famous turquoise-tone sea. Happily, the cuisine is as spectacular as the vistas. Fresh fare comes plucked from the resort’s garden, fish hoisted from the surrounding ocean (Omani lobster, anyone?) and extra touches come in the form of local dates and plump figs. Come nightfall, our tip is to go the whole hog and sample the restaurant’s five-course menu. With surrounds like this, you won’t regret it. Even in the capital of Muscat you can continue to make the most of ocean views – just seek out La Mer (+968 2466 2924) along Beach Road. While there’s a healthy smattering of eateries along here, La Mer is surely one of the best seafood restaurants 14 Oman 101


Left: The Beach Restaurant, at The Chedi Muscat. This page: Sense on the Edge, at Six Senses Zighy Bay.

in town (try the ‘surf and turf’ for fat

2321 1234) at the Hilton serves up

pink prawns and tender beef) and

an equally stellar setting on the

provides a trio of seating options too

beach, this time with a menu that

– absorb the view from inside, in the

sees fish flipped, grilled and cooked

garden or on the rooftop, all of which

in all manner of styles – from Asian

have slightly different menus, all

to Arabic – promising something

entailing locally-produced food.

for everyone. Just don’t head here

Another standout option in Muscat

between June and September or

is The Beach Restaurant (+968 2452

you’ll leave empty-bellied: it closes

4343) at The Chedi Muscat resort. If

for the monsoon season.

the weather’s forgiving enough, you

If your sole aim is to sample

can’t beat a seat outside where you’ll

genuine Omani cuisine, seek out

get a taste of the beach in more ways

Kargeen Caffe (+968 2469 9055)

than one: sparkling panoramas can’t

in Muscat. The Omani word for

fail to catch your eye, while first-rate

‘little wooden cottage’, Kargeen is

seafood (from Beluga caviar to juicy

aptly-named, a fact that’s apparent

oysters) will please the palate. And if

when you set foot inside: dark Middle

your appetite always wins the battle

Eastern woods are all around, spice-

with your bank balance, go all out

toned tapestries lay underfoot and

with the lengthier degustation menu

you’re never more than a step away

and prolong that view…

from a shisha pipe. Carnivores need

Over in Salalah, Palm Grove (+968

only have eyes for one dish – ‘shuwa’. Oman 101

15


Order the traditional local dish

made fresh and pizzas come straight

meat just melting in your mouth. If

(usually saved for special occasions)

out of a wood-fired oven. Our tip is

you have cravings for Lebanese food,

and you’ll be brought beef or lamb,

to ask after the dishes from Italy’s

though, take a turn to Fairouz (+968

wrapped up tight in banana leaves,

Piedmont region – Chef Valdetara’s

2477 6565). Set in the same hotel’s Al

sprinkled with a generous helping of

hometown, they’re always

Mazaar souq, you’ll be privy to really

herbs and spices and served straight

particularly tasty.

tasty hot and cold mezze, great grills

out of a smouldering underground

For Moroccan meals, you simply

and authentic entertainment too (in

oven. Eaten by Bedouin and Omani

can’t beat Shahrazad (+968 2477

fact, the eatery earned its name from

villagers (they’re said to cook their

6565), considered Muscat’s ‘only

the legendary Lebanese singer).

meat for up to 48 hours), it doesn’t

authentic Moroccan restaurant’.

get much more authentic than this.

You’ll find it within the three-hotel

pick, you simply must seek out

If Oriental cuisine is your first

complex of the Shangri-La Barr

China Mood (+968 2479 9666) in

them within the walls of Oman’s

Al Jissah, inside the Al Husn hotel.

the majestic Al Bustan Palace, A

luxury hotels too. If Italian tops

On arrival you’ll find that the buzz

Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Once here you’ll

your list, you’d do well to make

surrounding the concept is well-

spend ages ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’

reservations at the award-winning

placed – the aromatic Lamb Tajine

over its inspired décor, which blends

Tuscany (+968 2464 1234).

Tfaya is a triumph, with the tender

Chinese calligraphy, birdcages and,

Foodies will find plenty to tempt

Located within the Grand Hyatt Muscat, its Chef de Cuisine Fabrizio Valdetara not only rustles up seasonal menus but ensures pasta is

16 Oman 101

‘At Kargeen Caffe, dark Middle Eastern woods are all around and spice-toned tapestries lay underfoot’


a culinary journey from southern Europe into North Africa. And for those who just like a good cut of meat, The Radisson Blu’s Al Tajin Grill (+968 2448 7777) will sate the appetite of even the greediest carnivore. Inside it’s themed to look like an Omani fort, all decked out in ruby-red hues, but when it comes to the cuisine steak is undoubtedly a specialty. Don’t despair if you’ve brought a non-meat lover with you, though, their lobster (served on a sizzling dish) is a standout choice too. Finally, if you’re out and about in Muscat, it’s possible to stop off for a quality bite (and a shopping spree) at the Bareeq Al Shatti Mall. Inside you’ll find Wasabi Sushi (+968 2469 9490); perfect for a healthy feed, enjoyed in a cool, space-aged setting. While Ubhar (+968 9599 2710) is also home to great design – in this case it looks like you’re sitting down for lunch in a trendy home store – its modern adaptions of Omani classics will fill up bigger appetites. Elsewhere in Muscat is Mumtaz Mahal (+968 2460 5907); a choice Opposite page: Tuscany, at the Grand Hyatt Muscat. This page: Shahrazad, at Al Husn Hotel, within the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah resort.

outside, pagoda tents – all of which

pick for lovers of Indian cuisine –

just adds to the Asian atmosphere.

huge in size, it constantly buzzes

And when you do get down to the

with customers, showing proof of its

task at hand – ordering – you’ll find

popularity. Regardless of numbers,

both Szechwan and Cantonese-styles

service is usually swift and you’ll

before you. The set menus are a safe

soon be sinking your knife into the

bet if you just can’t decide between

likes of calorific butter chicken or a

them – and make sure to try the tea

spice-infused jalfrezi – to name but

before you leave, too, as it’s poured

two tasty options.

at an impressive height from an impossibly long-spouted teapot. Mediterranean fare is,

Next door, Left Bank (+968 2468 0080) serves up good quality bites (often with inventive twists) and

unsurprisingly, the order of the day

affordable offers, as well as a stellar

at The Mediterranean (+968 2685

view. As you dine you’ll be peering

0850) in Sohar’s Crowne Plaza,

over mountain-tops and across Qurm

where you can be sure to sample

Park - a delicious reminder of your

some a la carte that takes you on

time in Oman… Oman 101

17


The Sights and Culture Historic tales and a rich tapestry of tradition exist within Oman – we round up the cultural highlights not to be missed… Aficionados of the arts simply must

Swan Lake and famed opera singer

interactive Children’s Museum, the

seek out the Royal Opera House

Jose Carrares among them.

aim of which is to make science fun

Muscat (rohmuscat.org.om). Only

The museum-hungry among you

and accessible. Parents will love its

two years old, its young years

will find a smattering of intriguing

location – it takes shape inside the

defy its architectural character:

venues, including Muscat’s Bait Al

Al Qurum’s distinctive domes – while

the spectacular building shelters

Barandah Museum, which charts

kids of all ages will happily soak up

an auditorium and concert theatre

Muscat’s tectonic plate movement

stories of how science plays a part in

as well as landscaped gardens, a

over the past 750 million years (a

their modern-day lives.

cultural market and restaurants. Not

fascinating find for any would-be

only that, but its stage has already

geologists).

played host to some world-class productions and performances –

If you have little ones in tow, spare their yawns with a visit to the

Whatever your age, it’s hard not to be impressed by the Jabal Hareem Fossils. Viewed in Wilayt Khasab, some 1,600m above sea level, the

Oman 101

19


Opening page: Royal Opera House Muscat. Opposite page: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

‘At Misfat Al Abriyeen you’ll encounter ancient buildings and quaint alleys’

marine fossils include fish and

meaning ‘Green Mountain’ – is Al

shells credited with being up to 250

Jabal Al Akhdar. It’s lower than

million years old – a time when this

Sun Mountain but a natural sight to

mountainous region lay underwater.

behold nonetheless. The good news

Mind-boggling stuff.

is your legs needn’t do all the hard

When it comes to natural sites

work this time – accessible by 4x4,

of interest, Oman has plenty more

drive to the top and pause upon its

to offer. For beauty and history

wide plateau. Once there you’ll find

combined, you can’t beat a sun-lit

yourself in a ripe world of trees that

stroll around Misfat Al Abriyeen.

bear everything from apricots and

Set in the A’Dakhiliyah Region, this

figs to apples and pears, while the

traditional and characterful village

other most noticeable difference

teeters some 1,000m above sea level,

is the climate. Bar the summer

popping up from the mountainside.

(when temperatures reach around

Here you’ll encounter ancient

22 degrees Celcius), the air here is

buildings, ageing farms and quaint

altogether cooler – so much so that

alleys, all begging to be explored.

the winter draws a temperature of

Admire the village from a distance,

less than zero Celcius and, believe

meanwhile, and you can decide for

it or not, snow has even been seen

yourself whether the hearsay is true:

dusting the peak.

houses are said to have been built

waters. Oman is home to a unique

from afar.

irrigation system known as the ‘falaj’

Also standing well above the sea is

system – and a collection that have

the Jabal Shams – in fact, at 3,004m

become known as the Five Falajs

above sea level it’s the Arabian

have made it onto the Unesco world

Peninsula’s highest peak. Translating

heritage list. Falaj Daris comprises

to ‘Sun Mountain’, the mighty

two branches and is one of the

landform earned its name because

biggest falajs in Oman, perhaps no

it’s the first – and last – spot at which

surprise given that it springs from

to witness the sun each day. Though,

the magnificent Wadi Al Abyad.

getting to the top is no picnic:

Falaj Al Khatmayn, which has an

summits and slopes make it one heck

overall length of around 2,450m, is

of a climb (though intermittent guest

known for the precision with which

houses mean the less hardcore can

its water flows, and also for the fact

break along the way). But, we think

that its course runs through Bayt

you’ll find the effort worth it to see

Ar Rudayah, one of Oman’s most

Nakhr Balcony, a deep ravine that

famous castles. Falaj Al Malaki is

splits two parts of the mountain. The

fed by a whopping 17 branches and

result? Possibly the most dazzling

is located in Wilayat Izki. Falaj Al

vista Oman can afford (so don’t

Muyassar is considered to be one

forget your camera).

of the most significant in Al Batinah

Another famous peak – this one 20 Oman 101

From rugged mountains to clear

to rise and dip so as to mimic waves

Region, and features a particularly


deep waterway. Finally, there’s Falaj

third millennium BCE and has gained

cannon openings, it’s sure to have

Al Jaylah: a still-functioning piece

world heritage recognition. But there

been a superb stronghold – as its

of Omani history. How’s that for

is more to this fort than meets the

existence today proves.

longevity?

eye: as well as a defence building,

Another window into Oman’s past

it’s home to a souq and ancient

can be seen through Qalhat. The

Oman’s atmospheric forts are well

mosques. A stellar spot from which

country’s first-known capital before

worth a visit for history enthusiasts,

to survey Muscat’s port would be

the advent of Islam, it is a ruined

architecture nuts and the just plain

the two towers of the Al Jalali Fort,

Bronze Age city. While there, picture

curious. The oldest in the country,

which overlook it from a cliff-top and

its former role as a prime trading

Nizwa Fort, is perhaps also its most

can only be reached by a tiny bridge

point between Oman and other

distinctive thanks to its circular

and stairway – though sadly, we’ll

countries – until it was devastated

shape – and the fact that it’s home to

have to leave such a venture to our

by an earthquake in the 14th century.

seven wells. The form you see today

imaginations; it’s closed to visitors. If

What you can still see today, though,

took 12 years to build in the mid-17th

you want to get to grips with Islamic

is the Bibi Mariam’s Shrine, thought

century and was inhabited by the

architecture, Al Hazm Castle in the

to have been erected in honour

imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Y’aribi, who

Al Batinah region is a prime example.

of a woman who reportedly built

drove the Portuguese out of Oman.

With a ceiling supported entirely

a mosque. One relic that can’t fail

As impressive, in terms of its years, is

by grand columns, three-metre

to impress you during this trip is

the Bahla Fort which was built in the

thick walls, huge wooden doors and

the Hasat Bin Salt – a rock citing

On to more concrete structures.

Oman 101

21


This page, top to bottom: Jabal Shams; Nizwa Fort

inscriptions that are thought to be as old as mankind. While it may sound morbid to some, the Bat Tombs have proved an intriguing day trip for many. A collection of graves can be found here dating as far back as the third century BCE, the styles of which hint at the number of bodies buried beneath. Look out for the beehivelooking structure which would have signified up to five tombs. Another trip worth taking is the

‘Jabal Shams is the Arabian Peninsula’s highest peak. Meaning Sun Mountain, it’s the first – and last – spot at which to witness the sun each day’

Frankincense Route, unravelling the background behind the country’s huge and thriving frankincense trade. Here you can not only wander round the Land of Frankincense Museum but see the resin-bearing trees up close, which parade all the way around the Wadi Dukah and the Al Shisur Oases. Last, but not least, on your cultural radar should be the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. In fact, if you have time for just one site, make it this. Some 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone were used to create it, bearing space for some 6,500 worshippers. The pièce de résistance has to be its spectacular central dome, which pierces the skyline at 50m high and is illuminated by a gold chandelier that weighs some eight tonnes. Look beneath your feet to see a 21-tonne carpet that happens to be the second largest in the world.

22 Oman 101


The Activities Whether an avid adventurer, seasoned shopper or beach bod, Oman has something for you…

If an action-packed getaway is your idea of a good time, you’re in luck: Oman’s heady mix of sand and sea serves up pursuits aplenty. Among them is the popular pastime of offroad-driving, which will have you heading out into the desert in a 4x4, action movie-style. Once there, your driver will be surfing sand dunes like a stunt man, whisking you up and down for one crazy ride – don’t eat too much for breakfast. If you prefer to be in control, why not place both feet atop a sandboard and partake in the desert equivalent to snowboarding – though be prepared to trek back to the dune’s summit after the thrill of rushing down its slopes. There’s no lifts here… Another hands-on approach comes in the form of sand cycling. Hold on tight and you can shoot down dunes at breakneck speed. The good news is there’s no need to traipse miles back to a hotel after a day in the dunes – why not spend a night or two camping in the desert? Wahiba Sands is still occupied by Bedouin tribes and is well worth setting up camp for an insight into Omani culture. On leaving the desert, swap your sand cycle for a mountain bike and head out on a trip around Omani terrain, passing boulders, rock formations and wadis as you make your way along raw, rural trails. Climbing proves a fantastic 24 Oman 101


Clockwise, from top: Offroad-driving; Fisherman; Diving with turtles at AlDimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve.

â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Pass by the spellbinding sight of rugged mountains, beneath which a peacock-green sea sparkles in the sunâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;

Oman 101

25


This page: Tents with mountain views. Opposite page: Camel racing. Next page: Dolphin spotting

experience in Oman thanks to the country’s unusual landscape. Hire an experienced guide, start off at Snake Canyon and make your way through the narrow gorge, cutting through the Hajar Mountains. And if your feet ache, why not take a load off by heading across while suspended from a zip wire? It’s great fun. Trekking is a prime pick too, and Oman’s wadis will make the experience all the more pleasurable due to their spectacular panoramas. Wadi Al Hawqayn is one natural phenomenon that’s well worth making your way to – climb up rocks before taking a sun-kissed dip in its natural pools. Pack a picnic and make a day of it. Caving is a great way to explore some of Oman’s atmospheric natural If you’re after an Omani experience

sites, the best of which has to be the

but enthusiastic trekkers will feel like

two-million-year-old Al Hoota Cave.

they’ve struck gold once inside. And

of a more gentle ilk, or have kids in

It’s at the foot of Jabal Shams and

if you still haven’t had enough of

tow, go in search of the surprising

spans some 4.5km, of which 500m

Oman’s rocky terrain, make sure to

array of wildlife that inhabits the

has been fitted with walkways, lights

visit Rocks Park in the Wasta region

country. There are a number of

and settings so that tourists are

– it’s full of weird and wonderful

national parks that will please both

able to fully behold the history that

sculpted rock formations.

parents and offspring alike, and none

surrounds them. On arrival, a train

If you’re more of a spectator

more so than Al Saleel National Park

will transport you to the illuminated

than a do-er, leave the action to

in the Sharqiyah Region. You’ll need

caverns and a guide will accompany

the professionals and watch some

your comfiest walking shoes to get

you on a tour, offering stories and

camel racing – believe it or not, the

around its 220sq km area, and while

facts as you move through the cave.

hump-backed creatures can speed

adults admire the scenery, kids will

along at up to 40mph. Horse-racing

have eyes on stalks for the acacia

authorities to go inside Majlis Al Jinn

is also popular in the region and is

woodland’s residents – gazelles, wild

Cave (this one is a mere 50 million

all the better when viewed at one of

cats and wolves among them.

years old) but it’s one of the largest

the country’s big annual events. The

underground caves to be found

Royal Horse Racing Festival is one

Arabian Oryx, you’ll need to make a

worldwide. Reaching it is no small

such spectacle – so join the throngs

date for the Arabian Oryx Protected

feat (a steep rope descent included),

and cheer on your favourite horse.

Area, in the Al Wasta region. Here,

You’ll need permission from the

26 Oman 101

To see the country’s famous


surface, it’s no surprise that the diving and snorkelling opportunities in Oman are excellent, with sightings a guarantee. Al-Dimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve is one credible dive site – made up of nine islands, it’s home to a 100-hectare nature reserve, including eye-catching coral reefs. Alternatively, why not hire a boat and take it easy? Sail along Musandam’s Strait of Hormuz and you’ll pass by the spellbinding sight of rugged mountains, beneath which a peacock-green sea sparkles in the sun. Best of all, you can jump off when you see fit and paddle along with flippers and snorkels to see the colourful fish flapping their fins by the rocks. Meanwhile, game fishing also makes for a memorable day out. You could catch anything from yellowfin tuna to marlin. If you’re feeling really active, head also to Masirah Island where you can

‘Kids will have eyes on stalks for the woodland’s residents – including gazelles, wild cats and wolves’

flex your arm muscles during some high-octane windsurfing. This area is a surety for wind and ample waves (some measuring up to six-feet high).

fauna erupts between the desert and

whale-spotting expedition makes

mountains thanks to a dewy climate,

for a great day out. Dolphins are

be seen away from the beautiful

creating a feeding ground for these

often seen jumping through the

beaches of Oman, like Tawi Ateer

magical-looking antelopes.

waves – and don’t be bewildered if

Sinkhole: a 975,000 cubic metre

your boat’s captain starts making

sinkhole in Dhofar, the natural

known to take flight here. Indian

clicking noises; it’s all to entice them

wonder boasts spectacular views to

Rollers, Little Green Beaters and

alongside the vessel. On a much

the inky-blue waters below. Equally

Purple Sunbirds can be spied

bigger scale, humpback and even

fascinating is the region’s Khawr

throughout the year, while all manner

killer whales have been documented

Ruri – a World Heritage-listed lagoon

of other species flutter through on

in the waters – so keep your eyes

that’s home to prehistoric ruins.

their migrations to further shores.

peeled for the magnificent creatures.

While you’re there, venture to Khawr

Some 450 species of birds are

Speaking of rarities, the Oman

If you’re making for Oman in July,

Astonishing waters can also

Al Baleed. Close by, it’s also Unesco

Botanic Gardens in Muscat is a

you’ll be there right on time for

world heritage listed and overflowing

hotbed of plants (its 42 hectacres

peak turtle-watching. The month

with historical significance.

showcase over 1,000 of Oman’s

sees over 100 turtles ambling down

species) – 80 of which you won’t find

the sands of Ras Al Jinz, with the

was that belonging to a luxurious

anywhere else in the world.

females heading ashore to lay their

swimming pool, you’ll be pleased to

eggs. A magical sight. With so many

know that Oman is home to some

fascinating finds beneath the sea’s

stunning spas, offering far more

Let’s not forget the creatures of the sea either: a dolphin- or

If the only water you had in mind

Oman 101

27


than just plunge pools and saunas.

the form of bustling, colourful souks

traditional folk remedies. Those

Arguably the best in Muscat is The

that deliver a genuine taste of the

staying in Salalah, meanwhile, should

Spa at The Chedi, which is set on a

country’s culture (as well as plenty

make for Al Hafah Souq. Shaded

beach - thus enabling you to listen

of treasures to take home). If it’s a

under tall coconut trees, it’s certainly

to the sound of the waves as you

traditional experience you crave,

a different environment in which to

indulge in a treatment. CHI, The Spa

save your spending money for Wilayt

shop – as are the scents that waft

at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah will

Badiya’s Al Mintarib Tuesday Market

under your nostrils, a result of the

give you the V.I.P. treatment – you’ll

in the eastern region of A’Sharqiyah.

plentiful Middle Eastern perfumes

be whisked to your own personal spa

With everything from daggers to

found here.

villa for one of its soothing solutions,

native palm leaves, you’re sure to

If you’re in the capital of Muscat

while if it’s an au natural approach

find a souvenir to suit, though be

though, Muttrah Souq is the place

you seek, the sublime Six Senses Spa

sure to get there early; it’s only open

to go with its myriad alleyways and

at Zighy Bay will hit the mark with its

from 6am to 10am. Ar Rustaq Souq

shop-lined side streets. What’s more,

holistic approach.

is also in the area, so head there

the tailoring here is both reasonable

afterwards, not only to trawl its

and professional – so why not bag

malls of the nearby UAE, Oman

endless goodies, but to meet locals

an outfit or suit to take home and

offers up a unique day’s shopping in

who can often be seen distributing

remind you of your time in Oman?

A far cry from the gargantuan

28 Oman 101


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A guide to holidays in Oman

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A guide to holidays in Oman

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