Go off the beaten tracks, go to Oman with Al Nahda Hotels (Part one) – World Meanderings (n°78)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
With its impressive desert and mountain landscapes the Sultanate of Oman offers a wide range of destinations. Set between the endless sea of sand of the Arabic Peninsula to the North and the Indian Ocean to the South, Oman has always been at the crossroads of trade between Asia, Africa and even Europe. This might well be the reason why Omani people are so tolerant and welcoming, making it easy for tourists to discover this attractive country, one of the safest countries in the world.
Did you know that Sinbad the Sailor, the Queen of Sheba or the Three Kings were born in Oman? Once aware of this you suddenly realise that you already are familiar with Oman. But beyond the legends the real treasure of Oman is the people who live there. Although tourism is quite a new activity in the country Omani people have developed a great sense of hospitality. Just say hello and everyone you’ll meet will welcome you with a genuine smile. This is “Arabia Happy”, the one that ancient Romans called Felix Arabia! February, March and April are the very best months of the year to visit Oman and it’s about time to think of your coming holidays…
Muscat, capital city and gateway to Oman
Muscat is one of the oldest cities of the Middle East. It used to be a fishermen port and ancient tombs dating back to the 6th millennium BC have been excavated nearby. The small port thrived and in the 18th century Muscat was a maritime power and a major spice market place. Today Muscat is a harmonious mix and match of modernity and tradition, far from the extravagant architecture of its close by neighbours Dubai and Abu Dhabi!
The absolute must see in Muscat is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque built 20 years ago and a perfect example of modern Muslim architecture. It’s a huge mosque able to hold 6,500 worshippers in the main musalla and its tallest minaret is 300 ft high. Its prayer carpet is the second largest one in the world (after the one in Abu Dhabi mosque), and weighs 21 tonnes! The main chandelier was made in Italy and also has amazing figures: it is 46 ft tall, weighs 8,5 tonnes, has 600,000 Swarovski crystals and 1,122 halogen bulbs. It even includes an inner staircase to allow maintenance.
Mutrah is the most touristic yet most charming part of Muscat. Take a walk along the Corniche and discover the busy port where big cruise ships and traditional fishing boats dock side by side in stark contrast. The Corniche road is lined with 19th century houses and is overlooked at its far end by the impressive Mutrah Fort.
A visit to Mutrah souk is inescapable. This typical Arab market is the perfect place to buy souvenirs. You’ll find recent Omani or Indian artefacts as well as real antiques. Bargaining is accepted but don’t expect a big discount. Jewels, perfumes, typical local hats and sandals, spices, valuable goods or cheap silly souvenirs… everything you expect to find in a souk is available. And thanks to Omani comity you will never be hassled by insistent vendors.
To complete your visit of Muscat you can also go to the Sultan’s Palace that has intriguing blue and yellow mushroom like pillars, one of tourists’ favourite places for selfies. The Royal Opera House is also worth a visit. Opera and ballet lovers from the whole world meet in Muscat since the opera inauguration in 2011. This impressive and elegant white marble building host high quality productions and major artists of our time are acclaimed here during the opera season.
Al Nahda Resort and Spa, an oasis of luxury to relax and regenerate
When thinking about Al Nahda Resort one would think of space and lush vegetation. The hotel was built in a former 30-acre mango orchard and the original trees still remain, providing a delicious shade over the bungalows, the crystal clear pools and the alleys of this huge garden lulled by birdsong.
The resort has only 109 rooms but they are very big rooms (they actually are some of the largest hotel bedrooms in Muscat), with large bathrooms and vast balconies. There are two restaurants including an open-air dining venue with a wood stove and charcoal based cooking.
If there were only one good reason to go to Al Nahda resort it would undoubtedly be the URU Spa. This unique spa has 22 treatment rooms and offers no less than 60 different treatments mixing traditional and new therapies. Using exclusive essential oils blends the therapists can truly rejuvenate your mind and body. After a first interview with one of the wellness consultant you will get your personal custom-made programme combining spa treatments, relaxation, yoga, fitness… and finally relax in the large swimming pool and spa baths. Let the kids enjoy themselves at the children’s play area and experience this genuinely holistic approach!
More at www.alnahdaresort.com
Join us again next week to discover Oman desert and mountain for active and inspiring holidays.
How to get around in Muscat and in the Sultanate of Oman?
One of the simplest ways to visit the country is to rent a car. Local drivers are careful and observe the traffic rules, while roads are well signposted.
You also have the possibility to rent a car with a driver and have organised tours of Muscat and Oman. “House of Travel” is a tour guide company that offers a wide selection of tours in the country with English speaking drivers and guides. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at www.khimjistravel.com.
Al Nadha hotels and resorts can also provide assistance and transfers from the Muscat Airport to all its hotels throughout Oman.
How to get to Oman?
Oman Air has daily direct flights from London Heathrow to Muscat Airport, with an average flight duration of 7 to 8 hours. Seats are comfortable enough, food is in the average and the entertainment choice is quite good, helping you pass the time if you can’t get to sleep.
Don’t forget to get your visa when arriving at Muscat airport (OMR 5 per person).