Oman was only opened up to Westerners in 1993 and now around 2.1 million tourists visit the Sultanate each year. And luxury travellers make up a large proportion of those numbers, with around 30 per cent of visitors to Oman in 2013 staying in four- and five-star hotels. While there are a limited number of luxury properties on offer, those that are there are world class and there are plans for a number of high-end international brands to open in the country in coming years.
Although approximately half of Oman’s population lives in the pulsating city of Muscat and the coastal plain northwest of it, the superstar of Oman is the natural environment. Oman offers up majestic mountains, vast desert, misty green valleys and a ridiculously turquoise ocean along 3,200 kilometres of coastline.
A visit to the Royal Opera House is a must. Beautifully designed with every detail crafted by expert hands, the building itself is a phenomenon. Seeing a performance, whether an opera, a play or instrumental piece elevates the experience. Locals gather pre-performance dressed in extravagant gowns and simply standing among Muscat’s who’s who is a fascinating experience. Take a four wheel drive safari through the desert (with an experienced driver at the wheel) and race through dry river beds, over sand dunes and past fishing villages or bedouin camps. Oman’s reasonably compact size means that a huge variety of topography is within a day trip of the capital.
There are no skyscrapers in the capital city of Muscat, and the principal minaret of the majestic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, standing at 90 meters high, is one of the tallest structural peaks in the city. The mosque itself is one of the city’s main attractions; its aesthetic properties are the highlights. It houses the world’s second largest hand-woven carpet and a Swarovski chandelier that’s so big and ornate it had to be moved in segments and constructed onsite.
Although staying in town is convenient, part of the attraction of Oman is the ability to be in close to the action, yet to stay and play in an oasis just outside of town that feels like it’s far away. Oman’s long, hot summers mean that resorts are designed as mini destinations.
Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa
This huge resort is only half an hour or so away from the centre of Muscat, but offers a sanctuary that feels as if it is in another world. Three different hotels make up the world’s largest Shangri-La, and guests are spoilt with choices when it comes to things to do. At Al Husn, the most luxe hotel of the three, guests can eat fish from the morning’s catch at the renowned Bait al Bahr, sip Taittinger Champagne while listening to jazz at Sultanah restaurant on a Thursday night, learn to scuba dive, or patiently wait for baby turtles to make their way into the world (green turtles are native to the area).
At Al Husn, rooms are priced from OMR125 (about A$351) and suites from OMR270 (about A$757) per night plus taxes. shangri-la.com/muscat/barraljissahresort
Alila Jabal Akhdar
The new Alila Jabal Akhdar destination resort opened to high praise in May this year, marking the Alila brand’s first step into the Middle East. Its mountaintop location is one of its best features; the hotel is perched overlooking the dramatic jagged Hajar Mountain peaks. Most of the walls are constructed from hand-chipped stones from the nearby mountains blending the structure into its environment. The region is renowned for the aromatic pink roses that blanket the mountains in spring and the pomegranates that flower in September and October, and these ingredients are included in the restaurant menu and spa treatments. Native elements are incorporated into the design – the Jowz suite is named after the walnut, and there’s a walnut tree at the entrance; the Rummanah suite is named after the pomegranate, and there’s a pomegranate tree at the entrance; the onsite Juniper restaurant is named after the juniper trees that grow in the highlands. The two top suites come with their own car park, pool, butler and meeting room. Guests are encouraged to book package deals that include a local tour, with staff (known as leisure concierges) as guides. These expeditions involve visits to local villages and rose gardens.
Suites are priced from OMR125 (about A$351) per night and villas from OMR695 (about A$1,949) per night plus taxes. alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar
Desert Nights Camp
At Desert Nights Camp, the only five-star luxury desert camp in Oman, the glaringly red sun setting over mountains of sand is a magnificent sight. Guests are driven in groups of four to a high point on the sand dunes to watch the sunset, and left with a cool box of cold drinks and snacks. Then the magic begins. As the sun sets the contrasting colours of the sun, the sand and the white luxury tents below dazzle and as the light fades the winds pick up, swirling the tiny specks of fine sand around. Then there’s a short drive back down to your air-conditioned tent to freshen up, and then a sumptuous feast follows while listening to local musicians.
One-bedroom tents are priced from OMR65 (about A$182) per night and two-bedroom tents from OMR135 (about A$378) per night plus taxes. omanhotels.com/desertnightscamp
Six Senses Zighy Bay
Tucked into a secluded bay in the Musendam Peninsula the far north of Oman, the Six Senses resort is styled to resemble a traditional Omani village and is flanked by towering mountains and turquoise water. All villas have a private walled garden and swimming pool, and the spa villas offer in-room treatment rooms. Don’t miss a meal at the Senses on the Edge restaurant, carved into the top of the mountain.
Villas are priced from OMR276 (about A$774) per night and spa villas from OMR430 (about A$1,204) per night plus taxes. sixsenses.com
The Chedi Muscat
Though it’s in the centre of the city, The Chedi feels like a private retreat, sitting among 21 acres of garden fronting onto a 370-metre private beach on the Gulf of Oman. The resort houses the largest spa in Muscat, offering traditional Omani treatments alongside Balinese and Indian Ayurvedic therapies.
Rooms are priced from OMR135 (about A$379) per night and suites from OMR351 (about A$985) per night. ghmhotels.com/en/muscat