A totally unexpected Middle Eastern gem
Claire Spreadbury finds that her preconceptions about Oman are very wide of the mark and falls in love with its rugged beauty
Inever thought I’d go to Oman, but for anyone in need of some winter sun, it’s a destination that — surprisingly — takes some beating. Sitting at the foot of the Arabian Peninsula, it is a part of the Middle East that I’d always lumped in with Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But Oman, as I discovered, is very different. It’s beautiful, for starters. The terrain encompasses desert, riverbed oases and lengthy coastlines on the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman. Far from being a flat, bland blanket of desert, the country’s Al Hajar mountains rise into the clear blue sky, making almost every vista an appealing one.
The Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa, in Oman’s port capital of Muscat, has noticed travellers are keen for more experiential trips featuring a little bit of luxury and a dollop of wellbeing.
Here are four to blow your mind. 1. Snorkel for turtles with Oman’s only turtle ranger As dream jobs go, being a turtle ranger has got to be up there, and Mohammed Al Hasani is Oman’s only one. He’s worked for Shangri-La since 2005 and has helped more than 70,000 baby turtles start a new life.
I found him at Al Husn’s private gem of a beach. Taking the plunge, we grabbed our snorkels and flippers and Mohammed directed the stronger swimmers straight into the path of a hawksbill turtle — one of five varieties spotted here — gliding through the water.
I swam back to where my feet could just touch the bottom and floated around while fish swam right up to me. Sinking my face into the salty sea, I spotted black butterfly fish, hanging out at the bottom of the rocks, and a shoal of slim wrasse shimmied past. 2. Visit the beautiful Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque I wandered slowly, mouth agog, at the sheer beauty that exudes from Muscat’s Grand Mosque. Completed in 2001, it’s modern Islamic architecture at its finest, gifted to the nation to celebrate Sultan Qaboos’ 30th reigning year. Free to enter, every inch of the 416,000 square metre site is exquisite. Words can barely describe the vibrancy of the pure turquoise green in the intricately detailed tiling, and the stunning stained-glass windows. 3. Eat edible flowers with the hottest new farmers in town Heading over to Yuzu to meet the Al-Said brothers was a real treat. Omar, Adam and Fahar grew up in Oman, but were educated in London, where they became foodies.
But back at home, good restaurants can be hard to find. Around 80-90% of food is imported here, which they believe is a big problem.
Their parents had an almost unused farm, so the boys set about becoming farmers. They’re already supplying around 12 hotels with their ingredients and are a genuinely exciting new start-up. 4. Swim in a fresh water wadi for views you’ll never forget If you go to Oman, the one thing everyone should do is go to a wadi — an oasis. We took a drive up into the mountains, and, deep in the valley, was a clear pool of water just begging to be dipped into.
Beneath a canopy, chefs barbecued meat for our outdoor feast and, after a swim, we sat on cushions on the floor, on a giant traditional rug. We are a variety of mezze — salad, hummus, samosas, rice, flatbreads and meat.
It was the perfect way to spend the day, exploring the real beauty of Oman.
WINTER HAVEN: Shangri-La Al Husn Resort; Mohammed the turtle ranger (top right), and (right) Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque