Oman was my home for 15 years and holds a very special place in my heart. The beautiful wild lands between the mountains and the sea have been my playground and the smell of roses and frankincense have been the olfactory soundtrack of my childhood.
This country holds so much more than the usual tourist spots and it is so different from the other Gulf countries. It doesn't boast many 'biggests' or ‘firsts’ in a region bent on grandstanding but its simplicity and wilderness are what makes it so special.
The natural contrasts ranging from the mesmerizing blue sea to the wind sculpted desert, the rich Bedouin heritage and the embracing society make of it one of the countries most worth travelling for.
The best way to get the real Omani experience is to hire a 4X4 and free camp in the Desert, Wadi’s, and the Jebal’s (Mountains). Spend a night or two camping on the stunning dunes of The ‘Rub al Khali, under the clear sky and the bright stars of Dhofar. The ‘Rub al Khali,’ in English translated as the ‘Empty Quarter’, is one of the largest sand deserts In the world. Here you can find beautiful stone Geodes that, when broken open, are glazed with white calcite crystals sparkling in the desert sun.
After an adventurous stay in the desert, you can relax a few nights in one of the many incredible hotels. Set on a stunning stretch of coastline with a dramatic mountain backdrop, Al Bustan Palace Hotel is the classical original hotel of Oman. This majestic Arabian architecture sits in splendid isolation while the fascinating palaces, mosques and souks of Muscat lie just a ten-minute drive away. We used to go here often as children to hear classical concerts my mother performed for the Sultan of Oman, playing with The Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra.
Another enchanting place is the Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa. I had my 15th birthday party on the wild cove where this beautiful hotel now stands. We had to scramble round the rocky coves and make a huge bonfire for my party and camped over night with all my friends. Now the Shangri-La nestles against the dramatic backdrop of the rugged interior mountains and the spectacular waters of the Gulf. I loved swimming with phosphorescence and snorkelling in the deep water with baby puffer fish.
There are many amazing places to explore in Oman, one of these is the Bimmah Sinkhole, meaning Meteor Fall Park in Arabic. The bimmah is a very beautiful sinkhole about 200 meters inland from the Gulf of Oman where fresh water is mixed with sea water giving it a wonderful colour. Now declared one of the most beautiful sinkholes in the world, this enchanting place used to be my usual stop to refresh and recharge batteries after my adventures in the desert.
Another place you must visit, especially if you are passionate about snorkelling, is the rocky bay of Mermaid Cove in Bandar Kharyan, half an hour east of Muscat. In the crystal clear water you can explore the reef of hard and soft corals bustling with fish life and occasionally spot the elegant marine turtles.
You wouldn’t be able appreciate the beautiful nature of Oman in all its glory without paying a visit to Wadi Shab, an astounding gorge situated between the cliffs. Wadi Shab is a very popular outdoor attraction for the locals that come here for to swim in the fresh water pools or just to have a barbecue. The journey to reaching the destination is as incredible. You have to hike through a less-than-one-hour of undulated mountainous terrain and saunter alongside the meandering of a river to finally reach a cave where a stunning waterfall will greet your eyes.
Lastly, don’t forget to take a stroll through the narrow alleys of the traditional Gold Souk, where the accumulation of treasure in the shop windows is very exciting on the eye. The little alleyways behind the main gold souq are home to shops selling semi-precious stones and silver rings and pendants in designs that are as old as the hands that craft them.