Middle East TravelA Good Oman
The race to construct the world’s tallest building is only slightly less heated than the race to the moon and, at the moment, a bit more centralized. First there was Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Next will be Kuwait’s Burj Mubarak Al-Kabir. Then we’ll see Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower (whose official proposed height is still hush-hush). But in the race to the top, it’s nice to see a country that caps their buildings at three stories. Well, three might be an understatement, but Oman has clearly bowed out of the Middle East’s epic heights throwdown. In lieu of soaring glass and steel, Oman opts for tasteful low-rise white marble and sandstone. It’s Middle Eastern opulence meets European elegance – a combination we can really get behind.
Why now: Well, it’s on our 2014 List of Destinations, and savvy American travelers are just starting to catch on to this rugged, naturally beautiful and culturally interesting country that has been on the radar of well-heeled Europeans for the past decade. Oman is a destination for anyone who appreciates luxury hotels. The Chedi, a stunning property in Muscat that fuses Arabic and Asian architecture, and the Six Senses Zighy Bay, on the beach, are reasons enough to travel to Oman.
Good for: Couples, friends and families, looking to experience the exoticism of the Middle East.
- Calling The Chedi home for a few days. It’s a favorite among real estate titans, affluent European travelers and those with very high taste levels. While firmly on the five star level, The Chedi is not at all blinged out – it’s a reflection of the Oman people and their culture. One of the most serenely elegant places in the world, it’s a destination in itself.
- Exploring the country's stunning landscapes by car. If you’re game for adventure, take the scenic, desolate drive from Muscat to Yiti Beach. First you’ll get a taste of the mountainous setting and natural reserves, and views of the Oman version of fjords. Then, out of nowhere, you’ll find yourself at the resort area in Jebel Sifah, a luxury marina, where you can lunch while surrounded by Middle Eastern yachts.
- Taking a boat ride from Muscat’s harbor to check out the dolphins. If you’re limited on time or not interested in driving (big mistake), you can embark on the same dolphin-watching boat from Muscat to Yiti Beach. Or better yet, hire your own.
- Eating Oman lobster, which will forever ruin your changes of fully enjoying any other type around the world. In this region, lobsters don’t have claws, and their meat is distinctly, decadently sweet and flavorful. The Chedi’s picturesque waterfront Beach Restaurant is insanely romantic and serves a grilled version of the lobster that will send you straight into crustacean nirvana.
- Exploring the Wahiba Sands, the large red sand dunes often depicting Oman. The experience inspires immense inner reflection. From this vantage point, you can observe the simple nomadic life, which is a big part of the country’s beauty. Very adventurous travelers can camp (albeit 5 star camp) in the desert to get the full experience.
- Setting up at the Six Senses Zighy Bay in the Musandam Peninsula, which is as luxe as resorts here get. The scene spans the full spectrum, from quiet beach time to trendy DJs spinning at special villas. Equally attractive is the chance to check out Iran from the other side of the Strait of Hormuz – granted, from a safe distance. How’s that for adventure?
Suggested stay: Two days in Muscat at The Chedi, two days in Musandam at the Six Senses Zighy Bay and possibly another day in a 5 star luxury desert camp.
What to know: Muscat, the capital of Oman, is sprawling. It stretches across 35 miles of coastline, where on a good day without traffic, it can take 45 minutes to traverse the city. Oman is generally a safe country to explore by car, but make sure that you have fully charged phones, a number to call in case of a car emergency and a reliable all-terrain vehicle. The roads are good, but you’ll want to be prepared for some aggressive off-roading experiences. The one area of Oman to research thoroughly before you visit is the western region of Salalah. While it’s often described as the Switzerland of Oman because of the similar landscape, it is next to Yemen. Though there is a strong presence of U.S. troops, it’s still recommended to exercise more caution here than in the rest of Oman.
Muscat’s Greatest Hits
The sites in Muscat proper can be tackled in a day and a half. The city offers plenty of exotic allure, from the Grand Mosque to Al Alam Palace to the Royal Opera House Muscat. Be sure to visit the weekly livestock market at Nizwa (don’t be surprised if you end up with a pet goat). And while Oman may eschew most size titles, The Chedi, Muscat’s poshest resort, claims the Middle East honor of longest pool at an impressive 338 feet. Let’s not forget its two other pools, a spa that’s considered Muscat’s largest, a private beach (hard to come by in Oman) and a fitness center that’s a cross between an Equinox and an Ivy League university library.
Sunset at Shangri-La
Sunsets are memorable in Muscat, especially at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa. On the outskirts of the city, the Shangri-La has three resorts within its complex, each more lavish than the last. The restaurants are top-notch and aim to provide you with diverse culinary experiences. The beach restaurant is appropriately known for its fish and a good wine list. In the evening, the white cliffs are lit up, upping the romance factor. For a more casual and communal vibe, the Chinese restaurant is set within an Oman craft market, and features surprisingly authentic Chinese and East Asian food with strong dim sum options.
For an off-the-beaten path experience, the Ras Al Hadd Hotel offers turtle watching and snorkeling. Yes, we were skeptical that watching turtles nest could hold our attention. Then we took a night excursion under a sky lit only by the Milky Way, surrounded by the soothing sound of waves. Turns out, baby turtles can be as majestic as the world’s tallest building… just in a different way.