In a travel guide about the United Arab Emirates, two travel bloggers posted that “If we knew what we know now” they “would have spent more time in neighboring Oman.”
It’s taken me seven years to realize that.
Seven years ago (after a year and a half of living in Dubai) Scotch and I took our first trip to Oman. I knew nothing about the country at the time and what spurred us to visit Muscat was that some friends of ours from London wanted to check out this hotel called The Chedi. We didn’t have children at the time, and being a hotelier, my husband was also very keen on seeing this property.
We were completely wowed by the beauty and serenity of the The Chedi and could have spent our entire trip in Muscat lazy-abouting on their beach. But on our last full day in Muscat, we begrudgingly left the hotel to embark on an obligatory tour of Muscat.
We followed the usual tourist trail to visit the Sultan’s Palace, the Grand Mosque, the waterfront promenade known as Al Mutrah Corniche and snaked our way through Al Mutrah souk with vendors selling…what seemed like very similar items to those in the Dubai souks.
I remember thinking that Muscat was like a smaller and calmer Dubai. One thing that did stand out for me was the difference in headgear – Omani men wore a different headdress than Emirati men.
I’ve since earned the unique fez-shape headdress worn is called kuma. It originated in Zanzibar ( a former colony of Oman) and is tailor-made (as opposed to one size fits all). Each kuma is hand-embroidered and has small holes throughout the embroidery which help keep the head cool in the hot Omani sun. Some of the older generation Omani men wear a massar which is an embroidered, wool turban made in Kashmir, India. The massar can be tied on the head with or without a kuma beneath it.
Some of our old photos from Muscat in 2009:
What finally opened my eyes about all that Oman had to offer was a recent trip to Jabal Akhdar (known as the “Green Mountain” and a two-hour drive from Muscat) and a purchase of the recently published The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia by Felicia Campbell.
Food is my gateway to understanding a country’s culture and their people (which is why I started my Emirati cooking project) so I don’t think I was able to truly understand Oman until The Food of Oman was released. Wikipedia describes Omani food in a few sentences. Felicia Campbell beautifully describes her love affair with Omani cuisine in 200+ pages. I’ll be posting a full review and photos of recipes from the cookbook within the next few weeks.
Jabal Akhdar, in the city of Nizwa, impressed me with its natural rugged beauty, fascinated me with its ancient farming methods, and enveloped me with the intoxicating fragrance of their prized Damask roses.
Nizwa is also considered the birthplace of Islam in Oman, was once the capital city of Oman, is home to centuries-old Juniper trees, has the oldest fort in Arabia, and the only “show-cave” in Oman. There is great beauty and history here.
There’s still so much to see, taste, and discover in Oman and I look forward to my next trip. In the meantime, I will continue cooking through The Food of Oman and gleaning aspects of Omani culture through its cuisine.
I hope that it won’t take you seven years to discover all that Oman has to offer in history, cuisine, and outdoor pursuits. Start with the capital city of Muscat and also venture out into other places – take a local cooking class, camp in the desert, scuba dive in the Musandam peninsula and overnight on a dhow (a traditional Arabic sailing vessel). Visit the Oman Tourism website for more ideas.
Where to Stay in Muscat
We loved the Chedi for it’s minimalist interior design and luxury villas. We stayed here many years ago in one of the spacious Club Suites.
Funny, the only memory I have of the suite was that the not-so-mini bar was stocked with three rather large decanters of vodka, gin, and whiskey. Maybe those decanters were the reason why I don’t remember much of the place…
A great place to stay if you do not have children (or if you do, leave them at home).
Now that we have kids, we would recommend…
2. Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa
The first thing you must know about this resort is that it has a lazy river. And the resort is massive because it is three hotels in one (like Madinat Jumeirah).
Besides the lazy river, kids will also enjoy the beach-side Splash Pad, outdoor min-golf, kids club and and indoor softplay area inside Al Mazaar Souk which is adjacent to the hotel.
The Al Bustan Palace has that old world charm – like being transported back in time to an era where men and women dressed to the nines to travel.
You walk into the lobby and will immediately notice how cavernous it is with it’s domed atrium, gilded gold, dark wood, crystal chandeliers, and the smell of frankincense that permeates the air. Classical music fills the lobby via the skilled fingers of a pianist dressed in an elegant navy blue evening gown.
We enjoyed dining at the Chinese restaurant that served Cantonese cuisine and were entertained by one of the staff performing a traditional Chinese tea dance which involved a tea pot with what seemed like a three-foot spout.
It is a very family-friendly resort with lots of activities for the kids and a shallow kids pool. The kids even had their own mock check-in process where they received a stuffed turtle toy. After spending a few active days in the Jabal Akhdar mountains, we were all happy to spend most of our time by the pool or walking along the beach with the ever-constant view of the Hajar mountains.
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