Escape to Oman

In search of some winter sun, but don’t want to spend the best part of a day on a plane? We have the answer: step forward the Sultanate of Oman which serves up year round sunshine alongside sparkling fjords and spectacular dune studded scenery. Here’s 10 reasons why you should visit


Oman’s glitzy next door neighbour, the United Arab Emirates - home to bling bedecked Dubai and oil rich Abu Dhabi - may dominate the headlines, but if it’s a hefty dose of Vitamin D and an authentic taste of Arabia that you’re after few places can match Oman.

The Sultanate has shaken off the dust gathered through decades of hermit like exile on the world stage, to emerge as one of the world’s most alluring destinations.

Occupying the south east corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is blessed with beautiful beaches, rugged mountains, medieval fortresses, ancient ruins and gossipy, garrulous souks – where you can pick up anything from frankincense and fridge magnets to cushion covers and khanjar daggers and still have change from a fiver.

Oman is also a dream destination for adventure tourists who will find no shortage of activities including climbing (the Al Hajar Mountains, stretching from Musandam in the north of the country to the south-eastern town of Sur are particularly impressive), caving and diving. Add to this a population that is as proud as it is friendly, balmy temperatures and an enviable environmental record and you can’t help but be charmed by Oman.

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Sultan Qaboo's Grand Mosque credit: kk_tt

Oman’s architecture

Muscat - Oman’s low-key capital - has managed to modernise itself without turning the city into a strip of gargantuan shopping malls. All buildings have been designed to reflect the cultural heritage of their surroundings and, subsequently, are unmistakably Arabic owing to details like white washed walls or sand coloured buildings.

Get a culture fix at the Royal Opera House

Detractors may say that a pot of yoghurt has more culture than a Gulf country but Oman’s legion of fans beg to differ. And, in their defence, The Sultanate of Oman does boast a striking Opera House - take a bow the Royal Opera House - that has garnered a reputation in the Gulf as a premier venue for performing arts. Standouts this season include Giselle by the American Ballet Theatre (6-8 April). Alternatively gawk at the gold gilded balconies by joining a 30-minute guided tour, during which you can learn a little more about the design.

www.rohmuscat.org.om

Haggling for gems in Muttrah Souk

This labyrinth like, gossipy market place could keep magpies contented for days. A real Aladdin’s cave, it’s brimming with jewellery stores selling antique silver earrings and necklaces in intricate Arabesque designs for a snip of the price you’d pay back home plus vendors peddling frankincense, spices, sandalwood, sequinned slippers, aromatic oud and whole host of Omani artefacts

  • Muttrah Souk credit: Mlenny

  • Muttrah Souk credit: guppyimages

  • Muttrah Souk credit: chameleonseye

Marvelling at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

As any Omani will tell you, this magnificent mosque boasts an eight tonne Swarovski chandelier making it well worth a visit - especially since it’s the only mosque in Oman that is open to non-Muslims. Set against a backdrop of the Hajar Mountains, the Grand Mosque was inaugurated on 4 May 2001 when His Majesty Sultan Qaboos commenced prayer on the world’s largest hand woven carpet. The mosque is so large it can accommodate unto 20,000 worshippers at once.

www.sultanqaboosgrandmosque.com

Oman’s enviable environmental record

The Gulf countries aren’t exactly known for their enthusiasm for the environment however Oman is the exception to the rule. The Sultanate was singled out by the UN Environment programme as a country with exemplary conservation measures.

Catching a camel race

Omanis are obsessed with the time old Arabian sport of camel racing. Fortunately robot jockeys are now used instead of child jockeys (a practice which garnered international condemnation owing to the harsh conditions and treatments that the jockeys were forced to endure), meaning that visitors can now watch these ships of the desert racing at speeds of up to 60km per hour with a clean conscience.

Omanisation

Unlike the rest of the region, visitors to the Sultanate will actually come into contact with locals thanks to Sultan Qaboos’ policy of Omanisation. In contrast to its Khaleeji brothers Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE, Oman cannot afford costly expatriate labour - meaning that Omanis of both sexes are employed in all sectors of society.

Muscat’s underwater world

Everyone raves about the Red Sea – so much so that it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of world class diving locations off Oman’s coastline. What’s more, while the Red Sea can be as crowded as the London underground during rush hour, it’s easier to get that ‘off the beaten track feeling’ in Muscat – making it ideal for those who don’t want to share the sea with tons of tourists.

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Musandam Peninsula credit: sophie Dauwe

The magical Musandam Peninsula

Rooted in history and heritage, life in the Peninsula moves at a more sedate pace and Western influences are minimal. The area boasts an embarrassment of riches – think breathtaking fjords (not for nothing is the area known as ‘the Norway of Arabia’), craggy mountains, small fishing villages and crystal clear waters – all of which combine to make Musandam a slice of Arabian paradise.

Spotlight on Salalah

Situated in the southern corner of the country, the city of Salalah is known as the “perfume capital of Arabia’ and famed for its Frankincense trees. It’s popular with Omanis owing to its cooler climate and surprisingly verdant, almost tropical landscape.

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Salalah, Oman credit: Alisuliman