A surprising destination Oman

| October 24, 2011

Cox & Kings’ Owen Walker recently spent a few days in Oman and was impressed with the country’s rich history, interesting sites and local traditions.

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Despite having visited many countries within the Middle East, I was interested to see what Oman had to offer with a short five-night trip. The flight is less than 8 hours, so the country is a great place for a short break or combined with the glamour and glitz of Dubai, or even as an interesting stop-over on the way to the Maldives.

The main part of my stay was in the capital city, Muscat. We began with a morning city tour, before heading off to the surrounding local areas for some relaxation time. The highlight of the city tour was the Grand Mosque, which can hold around 20,000 people and is said to have the world’s second largest hand-woven carpet and chandelier.

Other highlights included the fascinating Bait Al Zubair museum, which had exhibits showing Omani heritage and of course the souq with its interesting smells and bright colours. The nice thing about the souq in Muscat is that you do not get hassled or harassed, unlike many other souqs within the Middle East. Some great gifts can be purchased and haggled for, such as high quality pashminas and frankincense burners.

Despite it hitting 49C during our tour, the heat did not feel unbearable, as it was cool in the shade and most places had a fan or air conditioning. Regardless of this, it still seemed a good idea to spend an afternoon lazing around the beautiful pool at the award-winning Shangri- La Barr Al Jissah resort.

Over the next few days, we explored the areas surrounding Muscat, which was great fun and very interesting. We took 4x4 vehicles up into the mountains, along bumpy and dusty roads, which gave us a great chance to see the varying landscapes and the different shades of brown and orange along the rugged peaks. Several stops were made en route; up in the mountains there were stunning pools of turquoise water waiting to refresh our bodies from the heat. Our guide gave us a real insight into local traditions and another interesting stop was at a little fishing village on the coast.

Nizwa was another interesting place, which again had several parts to it, making it well worth a visit. On Fridays, they have a cattle market, which we were not lucky enough to see, but we did wander through the fish and vegetable market. I am always intrigued to see the array of fruit and vegetables a country has to offer, with all different shapes and colours. Nizwa fort is the most visited national monument in Oman; around every winding staircase there was a different room with a different story.

We stayed one night in the mountains near Nizwa at a place called The View, a great contrast from staying in the 5-star hotels in the capital. As the name suggests, the views were fantastic from here. The large stable tents had showers with hot water and air conditioning units. During the day, it felt as though you were in the middle of nowhere, then, as the sun went down, everything was transformed. The sky had hundreds of twinkling stars and you could see little lights illuminating the towns. In the day, there were no landmarks to spot, but now a sea of light was beneath us.

We headed back to Muscat for the rest of our stay, with a visit to Al Hoota caves on the way back, the largest cave systems in the world. Overall, Oman was a great place to relax, as well as to explore caves, forts and mountains. This has given me the urge to visit other parts of Oman, such as the semi-tropical Salalah in the south and the fjords of Musandam in the north.

Cox & Kings offers a luxury short break to Oman.

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