Ancient mosques and crystalline waterholes, rolling sand dunes and jagged mountain peaks, Oman is an incredible destination that feels more like the set from a 1930s action film than reality. However, this pocket of Arabian paradise won’t stay this way forever. Oman is the fastest-growing tourism destination in the Middle East (according to the World Travel & Tourism Council) and eventually the crowds will come running.
Now is a great time to visit and experience this charmed country in style. Oman’s connection to the earth and sea stretches back centuries, and this deep resonance with nature is reflected in design. Although more and more luxury resorts are popping up, there is by no means a surplus. And the hotels that already exist, or are under development, are designed to accentuate Oman’s best bits – the people, the land, the sea.
Welcome to a world where luxury accommodation isn’t just about the wow factor. It’s about opening visitors’ eyes to the real Oman. Sure, there’s a turndown service, spa treatments and infinity pools, but these ‘commonplace’ luxury touches are sprinkled with the Omani touch. The turndown service might include sweets made by a village chocolatier who learnt the practice from his mother; spa products might be handcrafted in a nearby village using this season’s rosewater as the base; and that infinity pool you laze in might be built from local materials, like rock chiselled from the neighbouring mountains. From swish seaside megaresorts to luxury desert camps to hotels perched on a mountainous cliffside, here’s where to stay in style.
Women adorned in sparkling jewels wear long abayas that swish as they walk; men donning crisp white dishdashas munch on dates; the sweet smell of frankincense wafts through the streets… Muscat is an Arabian city paradise and it is home to a number of luxury lodgings.
The Chedi Muscat was one of the first luxury hotels to sprout in Oman and still attracts the chic crowd thanks to its central location and timeless design.
Interestingly, many of Muscat’s ‘city hotels’ are located on the outskirts of town – usually beachside – so you feel far away but it’s easy enough to hail a cab into town to watch an opera or wander the souks.
Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa is one of the country’s most legendary properties; a sprawling three-hotel extravaganza. Al Waha is best for families; Al Bandar is popular with the business crowd; and Al Husn is the most sumptuous of the three, fitted out with its own private beach and adults-only infinity pool. A stay here feels a world away from the whirl that comes with city life.
New openings slated for 2017 include the Kempinski Hotel Muscat, located in the fresh seaside community of Al Mouj; and Jumeirah at Saraya Bandar Jissah, a lavish resort comprising two hotels located on the outskirts of Muscat.
For centuries the Al Hajar Mountains were tricky to reach, but now asphalt roads link the majestic range to Muscat – and consequently there are a couple of luxury lodgings to check out.
Alila Jabal Akhdar’s entrance was the most-talked about opening of 2014, and rightly so. Nested high in the ranges overlooking vertical cliffs and plummeting valleys, the hotel overhauls the definition of ‘good view’. The rooms are lush, but the vistas somehow seem even more magical when appreciated from the infinity pool.
There’s a new player in the region too. Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, opened in 2016, is also perched overlooking those same dramatic mountains and gorges, but even higher up (2,000 metres above sea level, making it the highest 5-star resort in the Middle East). The hotel is designed so as to blend in with the surrounds, and days whiled away here are all about unwinding. There’s plenty to see and do, including spa treatments, sunrise yoga and mindful hiking… or you could just sit mindfully in the infinity pool and soak up the surrounds.
There’s something about desert sunsets. The reds are more like crimsons, the oranges are fiery, and the pinks are fluoro. Imagine taking in that scene while riding a camel, or perhaps with a cool drink in hand on top of a sand dune, before signalling to your jeep driver that you are ready to return to your Bedouin-style tent.
Dinner will be a lavish affair filled with local specialities eaten around a dancing campfire. Then, as you slowly sink into a pile of cushions to admire the star-flooded sky, the beat of hand drums and melodies of the oud will fill the night air.
Welcome to Desert Nights Camp, the only luxury desert camp in Oman located in the sprawling Sharqiya (Wahiba) Sands, about two hours’ drive from the capital.
Although the plush accommodation is amazing, it’s these moments that heighten that quintessential desert experience.
The idyllic beachside city of Salalah offers a different take on Oman. Here coconut trees sway in the wind and life is soaked in a beautiful slowness.
So it’s no surprise then that the latest news in accommodation offerings is another Anantara entry – Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, opened in 2016.
The resort design pays homage to the surrounds, with plenty of lush tropical palms making for a garden oasis feel. The location is the star of the show, though. The resort is perfectly positioned between a long beach and a freshwater lagoon, and is just a hop and a skip away from a site of magnificent mosque ruins.
And yes… there’s an infinity pool too.
This article first appeared in Travel ideas Wow List 2017