You will never run out of options for bespoke experiences in Oman. From sailing in luxury, whiffing one of the most expensive perfume brands in the world to staying at the highest luxury resort in the Middle East (among the highest anywhere) and swimming in a stunning sinkhole, this sultanate, the richest country in the world, has enough to keep you occupied during your next holiday.
Sailing in the Gulf of Oman
The luxurious speed boats docked at Marina Bandar Al Rowdha in Muscat are a welcome sight but none of them are your sailing vessel. You do things with panache and hire a private yacht to set sail on the Gulf of Oman to spot dolphins. The best time to sight them is early morning and the best months to explore Oman’s diverse marine life are between April and July.
The warm waters of the Gulf attract these mammals who migrate here making it a memorable half-day outing. Even if you don’t sight dolphins, let your personal staff pamper you with a picnic or a beach barbeque. You can dive, snorkel or try your hand at angling. The Gulf is home to lobsters, prawns, squids, tuna and barracudas. Four species of turtles — green, loggerhead, olive ridley and hawksbill — make their nests on Oman’s beaches.
While you are living the good life on your yacht with the Hazar Mountains in the backdrop, you look out and the Al Alam Palace becomes visible. This is the ceremonial palace which stands out with its blue and gold facade in contrast to the other white and off-white structures of Muscat. It derives its name from the flagpole on its roof which is the tallest in Muscat. Al Alam is the venue of official events and is used to welcome VIPs and dignitaries.
Let your gaze shift to the Al Jalali and Al Mirani forts which are located on either side of the Palace. These forts were constructed in the 16th century and during the rule of the Portuguese, this area was the primary harbour from where all trade was carried out.
At the visitor centre of Amouage perfumes in Muscat, you can treat your olfactory senses to unique scents and aromas. You can also learn how one of the most expensive perfumes in the world is curated from exotic high-quality ingredients like frankincense, oak moss, angelica, tonka beans, rosemary, chamomile, bay leaf and red and black peppercorns which are sourced from all over the world.
Amouage was founded in 1983 by the royal family to encourage the traditional art of perfumery. A rare ingredient used is frankincense or olibanum which is grown in the southern Omani region of Dhofar, known as the land of Frankincense. Its oil, used for making signature perfumes for men, is extracted using steam distillation. You get to learn that after steam distillation, German chamomile has a sweet straw-like scent while Roman chamomile has a sweet apple-like fragrance.
While oakmoss, a species of lichen, provides an earthy, forest like aroma, cardamom lends a fresh scent to the composition. The fresh roots of angelica have a terpenic top note while the dried roots have a heavier earthy bouquet. Cumin is extracted from ripe seeds and has a spicy and penetrating aroma. Nutmeg is extracted by steam distillation to give a sharp and musky aroma.
Bukhara and Bait Al Luban restaurants
After a delightful whiff, you can head to Kempinski Hotel in Muscat to relish a lavish special menu at their Bukhara restaurant. It gives a creative twist to North Indian cuisine. Satiate your taste buds with Bukhara signature grilled lobster, roasted leg of lamb, marinated chicken kebabs and dal Bukhara. Vegetarian recommendations include galouti kebabs made from grated beetroot and cashew nuts or lotus root and spinach seekh. Do end your meal with kesar jalebi rabri or homemade malai kulfi.
If Omani cuisine is what’s on your palate, then there is Bait Al Luban which is an Omani restaurant themed around frankincense. Al Luban meaning frankincense serves frankincense water which aids digestion and mental clarity. Its bread basket offers traditional paper thin bread, date bread, fried sweet bread and flat bread. Omani dishes include sambusa which is similar to samosa, paplou which is a fish soup, qabouli laham which is rice cooked in a broth of meat and saloonat dijaj which is chicken curry eaten with rice or bread.
For vegetarians, there is saloonat khudhar which is a vegetable curry, baqel made from fava beans and bamya which is okra stew. Indulge your sweet tooth with sweets of halwa, qashat and mahoo. Other dessert options include luqaimat which are deep fried flour balls topped with date syrup and Omani pancakes.
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort
Start your morning with an interesting outdoor walk to explore the villages of Al Aqr, Al Ayn and Ash Shirayjah. Let a mountain guru take you through their alleys, stone houses and pomegranate orchards. You walk next to falaj which is a traditional water channel breathing in fresh mountain air and the aroma of damask roses when they are in season. This bespoke walk is curated by Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort which is the highest luxury resort in the Middle East.
Afterwards, you can head to Anantara Spa to be pampered at their steam room which comes with an infusion of Himalayan salt, a sauna room, experience showers and indoor and outdoor areas to relax sipping fresh fruit juices or herbal teas and nibbling dried nuts and fresh fruits. We recommend two of their signature therapies of revitalising pomegranate journey and rose rescue ritual. While the antioxidant properties of pomegranates grown here rejuvenate you through a scrub and customised massage, the rose journey takes you through an aromatic hydrating facial and massage done with fragrant rose oil made from damask roses.
You know you have reached Bimmah sinkhole when you see the snazziest cars in Oman neatly parked in the parking area. Walk a little further to know why this natural wonder is the most happening weekend hangout of the Sultanate’s rich crowd. Believed to be one of the world’s most stunning sinkholes, Bimmah is located about an hour’s drive from Muscat in Hawiyat Najm Park which in Arabic translates into Meteor Fall Park. It is a limestone wonder shaped in the form of a bowl.
Omanis and tourists alike love to swim, splash or take a dip in its 20-metre emerald water pool. A favourite picnic spot, Bimmah is a naturally formed sinkhole that is connected underground with the Sea of Oman which is around 700 metres away. Its shallow area is also used for snorkelling.
Since it is such a popular spot, the best time to visit is on weekdays or early morning on the weekend. For viewing the 60x80m sinkhole, there is a walkway constructed on its upper edge while a series of descending steps lead you to the water’s edge.
A short drive from Bimmah will get you to the gorgeous Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi where you can brush up your photography skills by clicking instagram perfect photos. These wadis which are dry riverbeds in the mountains spring to life after a heavy downpour. Resembling an oasis with running rivers and lush greenery, both wadis are near the white sandy beaches around the villages of Fins and Tiwi which are known for their fishing heritage. Don’t leave without taking in the views of the Eastern Al Hazar mountains, the Sea of Oman and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ruins of Bibi Mariam Shrine.
Also read: Best romantic getaways for the long weekend
Royal Opera House
Book your box in Tier1+ zone for the most luxurious seats to watch renowned Omani and internationally well known performers conduct concerts, musical performances and operas at the Royal Opera House. Look up at the design of its ceiling which is inspired from the Jabreen castle in Oman. Teakwood from Myanmar, Swarovski crystals, Italian and Omani marble have been used in designing this culturally-rich building.
The chief designer is Mohammed Jala, a Moroccan artist who toured all over the Sultanate to study its castles, mosques and historical houses to curate Omani elements for the Opera House. Level 1 is for VIP with the royal box reserved for the Sultan in the middle. Each seat has a screen in front to provide subtitles in English, Arabic and the original language the performance is being conducted in. The pipe organ of the Royal Opera House is made in Germany. Since the auditorium is shaped like a horse shoe with curtains inside the wall, the voice of the performers is clear and sharp. Such excellent acoustics ensure that opera singers do not use mikes or microphones while singing. The auditorium layout changes as per the performance with the seats, stage and changing area being customised for each performance.
Oman Air premium lounges
After exploring the luxurious side of Oman, before heading back to India how about indulging in some rest and relaxation at Muscat airport? Their new passenger terminal building which was inaugurated last year has already been awarded the 2018 World Travel Award’s Middle East’s leading new tourism development project. Oman Air which is the national carrier debuted with premium lounges at this terminal. The First Class and Business Class Lounges have been aesthetically designed to replicate the Sultanate’s varied landscape of craggy mountains and a far reaching desert. Extensive use of latticework lends a traditional Arabic touch.
While the First Class Lounge can accommodate 100 people, it comes with a personal chef and the opportunity of being driven to the aircraft from the lounge in a limousine. The Business Class Lounge is spread over 2,313.92 square metres. The lounges offer gourmet food and beverage options, signature cocktails at the bar, a wellness area, a smoking room, a luggage room, entertainment area, kids’ room, nap area and shower facilities.
Oman Air also has an Arrival Lounge at the mezzanine floor catering to 90 premium passengers of short flights to shower, relish breakfast or take a power nap.
Getting there: Oman Air, the national carrier of Oman flies to Muscat from eleven destinations in India
Stay: Kempinski Hotel Muscat (www.kempinski.com/en/muscat/kempinski-hotel-muscat); Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort (www.anantara.com/en/jabal-akhdar)