O(h)MAN! If you haven’t been already, you must!
Tucked away in a corner of the Arabian peninsula, flanked by turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Oman on one side and the Arabian sea on the other, this massively underrated country has more to offer than most travellers are aware of
“It has never mattered to us whether our roots are Shia or Suni” , said Sarhan, our tour guide, over the course of dinner one evening. “We are a nation of peace loving Muslims that all live together in perfect harmony” he continued.
It was later that night, thinking back on our conversation, that I realised the one thing that had been striking me about my time thus far in Oman, other than its surreal vistas, was the peace and happiness reflected in its people. In troubled times such as these, when the world sees the middle east only as a region riddled with strife and as the birth place of fundamentalist terrorism, Oman was proving to be a real diamond in the rough.
If real luxury, serenity and natural beauty are things that tickle your fancy, Oman should be your next choice of destination. Added to this, the most delectable choice of both Omani and international cuisines will leave every foodie begging for more.
Tucked away in one corner of the Arabian peninsula, flanked by turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Oman on one side and the Arabian sea on the other, this massively underrated country has more to offer than most travellers are aware of.
Unlike its decadent neighbours, Oman does not boast of monstrous man made structures or of its overwhelming grandeur so much so that within the capital city of Muscat it is illegal to have a construction higher than six stories. While flying into the city it is interesting to note how the exteriors of almost all the buildings have a colour identical to the natural wadi terrain so as to try and camouflage with the lay of the land.
Golf in Oman was almost unheard of until the National Bank of Oman decided to host the season finale of the European Challenge tour in 2013 at The Wave at Al Mouj. Being the flagship course in Muscat and the best of the three in the city, Al Mouj is a real treat to golfers from anywhere in the world.
Running along six kilometers of white sand beach, flanked by the crystal clear ocean on one side, each vista at Al Mouj is a treat to the eye. With the wind beating off the ocean front, and its large undulating greens, this Greg Norman design perfectly captures the best aspects of this coastal city. The weekend green fee of 60 OMR makes a round of golf on this links style course worth every penny.
Ghala Valley and Muscat Hills are the other two courses that make up the trio. Being slightly cheaper than Al Mouj, with green fees ranging between 30 and 50 OMR these two courses are more accessible to travelling golfers trying to work within a budget. Ghala Valley is the oldest of the three and was opened for play in the late 70’s. It was only less than five years ago though, that it became a fully grassed course. Being the shortest of the three courses, with fairly flat greens to hit into, it makes for an enjoyable outing for golfers of varying abilities.
Laval at Ghala Valley is arguably one of the finest dining experiences in Muscat. It’s no surprise that Chef Omar el Ghoul, the man behind the magic in the kitchen, was the winner of the last edition of Top Chef Arabia. A meal here is something you cannot miss!
Muscat Hills, like most new golf courses, is situated in the midst of a real estate development in the heart of the city. Most fairways are lined either with luxury villas or condominiums. In the center of the project, the Intercontinental Hotels is setting up a seven star property that will complete the integrated township.
For those looking to splurge on some luxury, the Shangri La is the place to be. Complete with its own private beaches, adults only wing, numerous dining options and bars to meet every different kind of fancy, there is not much more you could ask for in a resort. The sea food restaurant is the most popular with various preparations of Omani lobster being the chef’s most common recommendation.
The Chedi, another beach front resort in downtown Muscat is a Mediterranean themed property that provides the perfect respite after a hot day out in the city. Its 103 meter infinity pool, aptly named the “Long Pool” is the biggest attraction, and is something most guest cannot get enough of.
The Al Bustan palace, managed by the Ritz Carlton, is Oman’s most regal resort property. To get a real taste of the royal treatment of the Sultanate, this art deco/Arab influenced resort is a must visit, so much so that Sultan Qaboos still keeps the penthouse for himself, for whenever he wants a quick getaway.
Oman, though primarily known to be a rocky, desert country, also has some towns up in the hills. Some, like Jabal Akhdar or the green mountains, are as high up as 2800 meters above main sea level. Every few years they even experience snow fall in these parts.
Alila has set up the most quaint resort in these hills, tucked away from any kind of civilization and overlooking Oman’s version of the Grand Canyon. Constructed embracing as much of the natural surroundings as possible, hours can be spent lying by the pool looking over the canyon stretching into the horizon and beyond.
For a country with not much of a night life to boast of due to its strict liquor laws, the Grand Hyatt in Muscat is the place to head down to for those looking for something to do in the after hours. With its various themed bars and multiple specialty restaurants, a night out here will not fail to entertain.
So the next time you are looking for a new destination to visit, that has just the right fix of food, luxury, shopping and adventure, head out west to Oman. A few days here will leave you wishing you could stay longer or make you vow to come back for more!
JJ Chakola , a former professional golfer, now writes on his golf and travel experiences from around the world.