Precious Oman

In the last forty years, Oman has both redefined and rebirthed itself. This unique gem of the Arabian Peninsula has become a premier tourist destination that embodies sophistication and class, while maintaining authenticity and sustainability.

Historically and geographically, Oman was a tough terrain to tame. A mere six kilometers of paved road and a single hospital against the backdrop of tribal infighting only attracted expeditioners relying on camels and Bedouin guides. The pursuit of oil exploration began in the 1950s, and oil was finally struck in 1962 and is credited for the Sultanate’s dramatic development. Omanis who left the homeland decades ago in search of better opportunities have now returned to cultivate the nation.

Moving towards a more sustainable non-oil economy, the Ministry of Tourism is poised to establish a luxury travel destination by 2040 and attract more high net worth travelers while creating more than a half million job opportunities. A steadily increasing number of visitors have already become enchanted with Oman’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, geological discoveries, and welcoming hospitality. A stable and peaceful country, Oman was crowned the Capital of Arab Tourism in 2012 and its reign continues to flourish.

The expanse of land between the Hajar Mountains and the Arabian Sea is dotted by architectural landmarks and commercial hubs like constellations to navigate your way around the city. From arrival at the city’s airport in Seeb, the landscape is primarily flat until you approach the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. The massive complex of tall arched gateways, manicured gardens and sheltered pathways is punctuated by tiled mosaic enclaves. Morning tours take visitors into the heart of the sanctuary with its handmade Persian carpets, ornate chandeliers, and striped Andalusian arches.

Continuing eastward on the Sultan Qaboos Highway, most travelers do a double take at the sight of Sultan Said bin Taimur Mosque in Khuwair. In an obviously Ottoman style from exterior to interior, the structure and design mimics Turkish architecture. Pressing into Qurm, the dramatic Royal Opera House stands proud and regal, adorned in a sand-kissed white cloak like an Omani man in his dishdasha robe. Return to see how the palatial monument transforms at night with dramatic lighting details and sit for an eclectic array of performances that include classical operas, contemporary musicians, as well as traditional Arabic songs of praise and poetry.

Onward to Mutrah Port, a new commercial fish market and the historical Mutrah Souq are highlights of the corniche where shoppers bargain and only cyclers peddle. This important shopping hub is a traditional market where handcraft, jewelry, and textile sellers draw you in with the aroma of smoldering frankincense and a warm welcome in several languages. Further along the coast where the Al-Said luxury yacht is docked alongside naval fleets and traditional dhow boats in the harbor, we reach the icon of the city—a grand incense burner seated atop Al Riyam Park.

Hugging the curvy edges of the coastline, we find Oman’s flagship cultural institution: the National Museum. Being both the newest and most comprehensive gallery in the city, it has several floors that illustrate the nation’s two-million-year journey from past to present with artifacts and multimedia displays that immerse you in a world not yet forgotten. For the largest private museum collection, Bait al Zubair provides a more lived-in experience such as a model of a traditional indoor and outdoor home, as well as contemporary art exhibits.

As summer temperatures rise to more than 40oC, October through to April is the best time to visit Oman. Guests can retreat in world-class resorts that deliver excellent hospitality indoors and host evening activities. In Muscat, The Ritz Carlon manages Al Bustan Palace, a staple in luxury hospitality for more than 30 years and a favorite with both nationals and foreigners. From the imposing 38-meter-high atrium lobby to the 1-kilometer expanse of a pristine and private beach, business travelers and families alike find respite at Al Bustan.

For outdoor activities such as hiking and caving, take to the hills of Jabal Akhdar in Nizwa, located 180 km from Muscat. The Green Mountain known as Oman’s fruit bowl is where everything from pomegranates to rose petals are still handpicked and harvested. The nation’s first LEED-certified eco-hotel is Alila Jabal Akhdar and welcomes guests at 2,000 meters above sea level for world-class service supported by an environmental and social sustainability model.

To experience the unique khareef, or monsoon season, take a short flight to Salalah where you’ll be greeted by misty dawns, cool temperatures, and rolling green hills that look more befitting of Ireland than they do Arabian Peninsula. Salalah’s most recently added luxury resort is Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara. Nestled between Dhofar’s coastline and a freshwater lagoon, relaxing villas and suites offer regal comfort just a stone’s throw from UNESCO heritage sites, grand mosque ruins, and the famed Museum of Frankincense. As the world’s purest source of the fragrant frankincense tree sap, Oman has been producing this prized gift for centuries.

Regardless of where you choose to rest your head, Oman’s culinary pride is evident in the menus of five-star hotels, as well as Bedouin desert camps. Most notable is Omani kahwa, or coffee, which is ceremonially roasted over an open flame, rhythmically hand-pounded as the percussion for poetry, and flavored with cardamom and saffron. Generally, the unsweetened coffee is served with dates and halwa, a gelatinous sugar-based desert, and fresh fruit. An Eid holiday staple is shuwa, a whole marinated goat that is slow-cooked in an underground oven for up to several days. But a more common meal is an entrée of fried fish or roasted chicken served on a bed of rice seasoned with fried onions, whole spices, and saffron akin to Indian biryani.  These dishes will leave a lasting taste of Oman on your palate!

This article was originally published in Skylife Magazine.

Image credit:  Anfal Shamsudeen

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