Coming quietly into focus as a fascinating and rewarding Middle East holiday alternative to the altogether more commercial, thrusting destination of Dubai is Oman. It’s not a long drive from its more highly-promoted neighbour in the bordering Emirates, but a quite different, authentic holiday experience.
In the upcoming November World Travel Market 2009, the Oman Ministry of Tourism is set to launch a higher profile for the country for UK tourist visitors who might be considering a Middle East holiday. In particular, tourism chiefs are looking forward to the 2010 Asia Beach Games, but they are also showcasing a myriad of attractions offered by this desert Sultanate. A holiday in Oman offers a country of contrasts. Instead of using the occasionally disconcerting border crossings from the Emirates, travellers can of course arrive by air to the capital Muscat. Here they will find an increasingly cosmopolitan city on Oman’s north-western coast. Here there are fabulous beaches with calm waters – ideal beach holiday territory to complement the array of museums, souks and forts which give Muscat its unique character. A highlight is the Grand Mosque with its 600,000 crystal chandelier and a fine example of Omani architecture.
International-standard hotels proliferate including the Chedi, the Al Bustan Palace and Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah resort, all of which have international cuisine to complement local delicacies.
For those basing themselves on Muscat, there are day and – preferably – overnight excursions to some of the quite breathtaking geography only a couple of hours from the city. Excursions include to the impressive forts, especially the one at the city of Nizwa, with its arts and crafts market where bargains can be negotiated.
But further afield for their Oman holiday, visitors can enjoy longer trips into the Jebel Akhdar Mountains including the extraordinary “Grand Canyon” of the Middle East, and its villages unchanged for centuries. Also not to be missed are the vast deserts landscapes of the Wahiba Sands, where groupings of Bedouins can be seen with their 4 x 4s and their camels, leading lives of inscrutable interest.
A quite different microclimate can be found in the south of Oman in the Dhofar region, known as the Lake District of the Middle East. Here after the July monsoons known as the Khareef, the landscape changes into lush greenery, will hills and valleys to explore for natural wildlife, Here also are pristine white sandy beaches and an ideal environment for diving and water-borne activities.
Meantime in the north of Oman, another change of landscape can be found in the Musandam Peninsula, with its fjords and mountains offering walking country, diving and overnight lake trips by traditional dhow. This area is earning a reputation as the Norway of the Middle East.
Oman is not a country for a fleeting visit, such as often touted by operators who see Dubai, for example, simply as a stopover destination before travelling on to the Far East. The best tour operators to Oman see this is more a country to savor, to spend time and enjoy life at an altogether more peaceful pace in scenes untouched by time – always with the busy Muscat on hand for those who need to keep a foothold on modern living, and with developing activity hotspots for those looking for diving, golf, walking and water sports.