Oman is extra Arabia than Armani, extra Lawrence of Arabia than Levi denims, extra Sultanate than Starbucks: a dreamy vacation spot more and more on discerning travellers’ wish-lists. South of brash and glitzy Dubai, Oman is the quiet good-living neighbour.
Sultan Qaboos, the Mr Good Man of the world’s absolute rulers, who deposed his father in a coup in 1970, has benevolently dragged his nation from medieval to fashionable. Oman might be the Arab world’s most secure and most tolerant nation. You’ll be able to’t argue with a zero% rating on the Worldwide Terrorism Index.
In Dubai, a up to date Tower of Babel, nearly everybody (round 93%) is from some place else: speeding to make a fast Dirham. In stark distinction Oman is peopled by patriotic and proud Omanis.
Take a non-public tour of Oman, in a spotless four x four, and Abdullah your driver-cum-guide will introduce you to his cousin tending palm timber and an old style pal slicing tuna. Omanis have a practice of hospitality. Linger in a store and they’re going to give you a mint-tea.
Omanis have the best luxurious of all. Time for one another, time for his or her friends.
With over 1,000 miles of shoreline operating from the Straits of Hormuz within the North, by way of the Sea of Oman and the Arabian Sea, Oman has no have to create synthetic islands
It’s blessed with cobalt-blue seas lapping on to a various shoreline: generally craggy rocks, generally prolonged golden sand seashores and generally fjords. It’s a dwelling to turtles and dolphins whereas scuba divers take pleasure in unspoilt coral reefs.
Overlook Dubai’s seashore golf equipment with pumping techno-beat and seashore butlers serving a blingy bronzed clientale. Oman’s seashores are sometimes distant and abandoned: magical for a romantic night or an impromptu BBQ.
Should you like your seashores with padded sun-loungers and discrete waiter-service, then the seashore on the regal Albustan Lodge on Muscat’s southern fringes, backed by enjoying fountains could possibly be your elegant base.
Wanting inland in the direction of Muscat from the standard dhows bobbing on the Sea of Oman, previous the low rise white buildings dotted with mosques’ golden minarets, the backdrop is the crescent of the red-tinged Hajar mountains.
With the stays of monsoon season blowing in from Northern India, Oman’s mountains are well-watered. Aromatic roses are grown for rose-water and when the pickers are hungry they munch on a handful of petals.
Qaboos ain’t no Sultan of Swing, apologies to Dire Straits, he’s an Opera buff. The palatial Royal Opera Home, constructed to The Sultan’s regal necessities in Muscat, makes Covent Backyard appear like a funds funds pre-fab.
Not solely does the Opera Home pull-in among the world’s prime ballet and opera firms – tickets are closely subsidised by the federal government too. E book on the web site earlier than you journey and bear in mind to pack suitably formal apparel.
The open highway
With Oman nearly closed to the world within the 1960s and only a handful of visas issued to guests within the 1970s Oman has by no means been a mass tourism vacation spot. Keep in mind too, that till the late 1970s, the port of Muscat shut its hefty wood doorways at sunset. And it was solely in 1929 that British troops dynamited a highway by way of the mountains to Muscat.
Wanting over its shoulder at Dubai’s boom-and-bust rollercoaster, actually and maybe metaphorically constructed on sand, Oman has learnt. It intentionally targets the posh market phase. These high-spending guests savour Oman’s refined resorts and in addition benefit from the open highway. Past Muscat, site visitors hold-ups are merely a theoretical idea.
“Who lives there?” I ask our driver. As we head into the mountains my eyes are drawn to a powerful, spacious pink-walled villa with astounding views over the valleys, anticipating it to be a Authorities Minister’s weekend retreat.
“A goat farmer. He herds his goats and sells somewhat cheese.”
At the moment oil and mineral wealthy Oman has no revenue tax. Sultan-time and the residing is simple. No surprise the individuals smile a lot, are so good natured.
Constructed with the structure of struggle: turrets, large doorways and chunky keys Nizwa is Muscat’s former capital. Thick-walled testimony to Oman’s turbulent previous. When the siege was intense defenders poured boiling date syrup onto the attackers beneath.
Surrounded by 44 completely different kinds of palm timber there’s one thing biblical concerning the Nizwa panorama.
Overlook Tunisian hawkers’ in-yer-face techniques and Moroccans’ ceaseless pestering. Oman’s souks are a extra laid-back civilised expertise. Stalls are piled excessive with pashminas, spices, bronze ornaments in addition to home requirements.
The labyrinthine Muttrah souk in Muscat might be one of many few remaining locations on the planet the place you possibly can cross gold, frankincense and myrrh off of your buying record inside a couple of minutes.
Admittedly, generally it’s important to queue for the on-arrival visa issued on the airport, however Muscat is likely one of the world’s most tranquil capitals. It’s an elongated ribbon of a metropolis trapped between sea and mountains.
White, gleaming Muscat takes delight in its pristine look. Legally motorists could also be fined for not washing their automotive.
Within the port there are nonetheless conventional dhows able to commerce with the world, simply as their sea-faring Omani ancestors have for the final millennium or so.