Oman: The Middle East’s Undiscovered Gem

Located on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is a country which is both surprising and spectacular in equal measure. From its craggy mountains to pristine coastlines, it is a fantastic destination for adventurers and sun worshippers alike. Middle East expert, Kate Hall, discovers Oman’s ever changing landscapes on an unforgettable adventure.

Oman seemingly has it all; eye popping blue skies, a brilliantly preserved Arabic culture, beautiful craggy mountains and soft-on-the-foot beaches. For anyone wanting to cram in variety, yet short on time, Oman is your saviour. Only 7 hours from London on a direct flight makes this option a winner with families. It’s also the perfect option for couples squeezing a unique vacation into a busy schedule. Whether you want to unwind in just one location or explore its fascinating history and culture in depth, Oman is there to please.  And boy does it. There are few countries that are so beautiful and so unique in such easy reach from London.

I visited Oman on a personal vacation with my husband, James. Oman has been on our ‘list’ for quite some time and our curiosity finally got the better of us, so an Easter break there suited us perfectly (although a little hot for some!). Starting in Muscat for two nights- we stayed at the insanely sophisticated Chedi Muscat– before heading up into the Hajar Mountains, otherwise known as the Green Mountains. This was an easy journey, traveling via historic Nizwa. Deep in the mountains we stayed at the beautiful Anantara as well as the jaw dropping Alila Jabal Akhdar, a beautifully designed boutique retreat with the most incredible views. We spent our time visiting remote rose growing villages, discovering honey colored forts, exploring cattle and camel markets and just unwinding in some of the Middle East’s finest upscale hotels. There is nothing ostentatious about Oman, the hotels are small, tasteful and incredibly chic and we loved nothing more than relaxing with a glass of wine, poring over the views – be it beach, desert or mountains.

The desert

After three nights in the mountains we headed into Wahiba Sands, Oman’s spectacular desert, visiting turquoise wadis for a cooling dip on the way. Our final route into the desert was over sharp dunes on the back of a camel before moving into our private camp. Run by the super cool Canvas Club, this is how glamping is supposed to be. Tucking into a fine Arabic meal under the stars was one of the most special moments of our trip and we loved nothing more than curling up in bed in our wonderfully embellished cosy canvas tent.

These three locations make the perfect 7 to 10 night vacation. However, we had the privilege of more time so we extended our trip by heading on an hour’s flight to Salalah. Offering such a spectacular change from the rest of Oman, we soon discovered the jewel in the crown of the country we already loved so much; the tropical paradise of Salalah.

Salalah

Salalah is in the Dhofar region of Oman and it feels like a completely different country. It’s Oman’s tropical sweetheart and second city after Muscat. The geography means that Salalah enjoys a healthy spot of rain from the Indian monsoon in July and August and the result is a landscape peppered with frankincense, banana plantations and coconut groves. It felt more like Zanzibar than the rest of Oman – it was a world away from the dusty desert that we had just left. We watched flamingos and egrets feed around the small lakes, something we never had associated with the Middle East. In fact, Oman offers fantastic wildlife viewing with hatching turtles and oryx being among the huge variety of wildlife on offer. Amazing really!

Salalah has a rich history and for many decades the area was the occasional home to ruling sultans. Once the center of the frankincense trade, with major ties to East Africa (Oman once ruled Zanzibar), Salalah is a fascinating place to explore and we can easily arrange excellent guides to take you out on half or full day tours to learn about the region.  UNESCO now protect the ancient cities of Al Baleed and Kor Rori, as these civilizations were fundamental in the trade of frankincense as far back as the 4th century. However, for many, a big appeal are the beaches. Salalah’s beaches are long, untouched and blessed with fine white sand. They are also wide, unspoiled and perfect for active families or for couples simply wanting to read a book under the shade of an umbrella.

Anantara Al Baleed

We were lucky enough to stay at the brand new Anantara Al Baleed which has a prime position on a private stretch of coast. We quickly realised that this area is going to boom, and with a brand new shiny airport I think the government probably agree.

We absolutely loved the Anantara; big enough to have lots of facilities such as a range of restaurants and a cool crisp pool, yet small enough to feel tasteful, upscale and quiet. We had a beautiful pool villa that led straight out onto the beach – it was complete heaven and contemporary in style. There are also more affordable options and larger 2 bedroom suites, depending on your needs. The property as a whole is low rise, and the facilities are spread throughout. At Anantara you’ll find a fantastic spa, a Mediterranean restaurant, Southeast Asian dining and a wonderful pool overlooking the postcard perfect beach. There are also lots of activities to keep kids happy – from wake boarding to beach volleyball, the whole family is bound to be entertained.

Anantara is arguably the first truly luxurious Scott Dunn style property in Salalah, and with a fantastic new airport to boot, we have no doubt this is going to be a perfect addition to any trip to Oman. It really was an unexpected highlight of our trip.

Just an hour from Muscat, it’s a fantastic addition to an Oman itinerary, but I also recommend it as an add-on to India as there are direct flights between Salalah and many major airports in India. My second piece of advice is not to leave it too long, as this region will most inevitably change over the next 10 years. It’s far too pretty and extraordinary to remain unnoticed.

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