VIP Trip: Oman
Oscar-winning Hollywood stars Susan Sarandon and Forest Whitaker were the Hollywood headliners at this year’s MIFF (the 7th Muscat International Film Festival). It took place at the mammoth five-star Al Bustan Palace Hotel and it put Oman on our celeb radar. We flew in to get the low-down on this up-and-coming hotspot on our doorstep.
WHERE TO... SHOP
Omani residents regularly visit the UAE on shopping trips as Oman isn’t overly burdened with stores, but there are a few places to pick up souvenirs and essentials…
This quintessentially Arabian shopping ‘centre’ is a sprawling maze of alleys in front of a pretty port, and is worth a visit for the photo opps alone. Some stores look like Aladdin’s Cave and the trinkets on offer include frankincense and burners, decorative silver teapots, handmade jewellery with an ‘excavated’ look and the ubiquitous khanjar (curved daggers) in all forms from the actual knife to fridge magnets.
INFO: Just off Al Asimah Street, Muttrah.
Lovers of the pungent, pricey, oud-infused perfumes from the Oman-born Amouage fragrance house can buy direct from the factory, which offers tours. There’s also a dedicated boutique in the airport. The latest release, Amouage’s Interlude, set us back OR85 (around Dhs850). If you’re looking for the scent of Arabia, this is bang on the nose. INFO: Rusayl, +968 24 534 800, www.amouage.com.
Muscat City Centre
Best for basics and essentials, Muscat City Centre mall, near the airport, has some high street faves, including an H&M and an M&S. INFO: Seeb, +968 24 558 888, www.citycentremuscat.com/mucc.
WHERE TO... HANG OUT
Several visitors to Oman never actually leave their resorts — given the facilities in Muscat’s best hotels, we’re not surprised, but should you venture out, here’s where to go…
Bait Al-Zubair When the UK’s Prince Charles visited Oman, he made a beeline for Bait Al-Zubair, the local museum celebrating Omani past. Get your culture on amid Bedouin weapons and costumes. If it’s good enough for royalty…
INFO: Entrance costs QR1, As-Saidiyah Street, +968 24 736 688.
Stroll in slacks, power-walk in pink velour or jog on in Stella McCartney — however you like to walk the walk, this is the best place to do it in Muscat, complete with mountain backdrop and port views. Semi-circling Mutrah (see Where to Shop), you can do a pit-stop at the souk and try the local street food staple, a meat-filled pitta known as shawarma. It tastes better outdoors.
INFO: Mutrah. For more info on this and other local attractions visit The National Travel & Tourism office, Ar-Rumaylah Street, +968 24 566 046,www.nttoman.com.
Al Ghazal Pub
Claiming to be the best pub in Muscat, this comfy sports bar with big screens, pool tables and a quiz night every Monday also offers live music.
INFO: Intercontinental Muscat, +968 24 680 000,www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental.
The Omani cuisine specialists offer a taste of the country with tradition or a twist, as preferred. We loved the Corniche calamari salad with special Ubhar dressing.
INFO: Al Sarooj Road, +968 24 699 826, www.ubharoman.com/ubhar.
Fancy a shisha? This classic Omani coffee shop has hubbly-bubblies on the go all day on the al fresco terrace, plus local tea and some cheap and tasty falafels on the snack menu. INFO: Medinat Qaboos Complex, +968 24 692 269, www.kargeencaffe.com/en.
WHERE TO… STAY
If you want traditional Arabia, Al-Bustan and Shangri-La are what you’re looking for. For bang-on-trend boutique-chic, the only option is The Chedi. Read on to find out more...
It was already gorgeous before this year’s renovations, but now it’s off the hook. Spa vacationers, look no further. We recommend the Sea Wave full-body massage with deep swooshing strokes that even sound like waves – you’ll feel like you’re walking on water afterwards. The treatment rooms in the newly built spa wing have private tubs, showers and hammams! The fitness centre, which is decked out like a luxury lounge, is equipped with a Pilates studio complete with stretch machines. The new pool signals a hatrick for The Chedi – first there was the Serai Pool for families and the adults-only Infinity Pool; now there’s a 103m stretch of glittering azure water (also child-free) that’s the longest in the country.
Fine dining is another pull at The Chedi. The Restaurant and The Beach Restaurant are two must-dos. Mad for macaroons? You’ll be blown away by the patisserie counter in The Restaurant – from crazy concoctions like The Smoky Lapsang Souchong tea variety to the classic pistachio, this place is totes maca-licious, while the Beach Restaurant is all about romance. Roaring fire torches dot the sea view and a menu of premium bubble aperitifs kick off an evening of gourmet cuisine. You can experience the restaurants and spa as a non-guest, but staying here affords the extra privilege of being in the suites. We’re loving the sunken baths and complimentary decanters of Scotland, Russia and England’s favourite spirits.
INFO: From OR210 per night; +968 24 52 44 00, www.ghmhotels.com/en/chedi-muscat-oman/home.
Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa
The 124-acre resort complex built on a dramatic mountain side features a cluster of hotels (including a child-free option) and homes (one of which is occupied by a local royal resident), and people come here from all over Oman for the food. This year two new venues joined the throng, Lebanese Fairouz and Asia. Other cuisines on offer include Arabic, Moroccan, Italian, Mediterranean, South American and international. We love the International restaurant Sultanah done out like a cruise liner, which serves menus from different countries each night, and Morroccon Shahrazad is as authentic as it gets.
INFO: From OR111 per night; +968 2477 6666, email@example.com, www.shangri-la.com/muscat/barraljissahresort.
Al-Bustan Palace Hotel
You can fulfil your ‘princess in the palace’ fantasies at this uber-luxe five-star hotel, one of Oman’s most famous, and host to the Muscat International Film Festival opening and closing nights. The MIFF takes place around late-March. If you’re planning to visit Oman then, this is the place to stay for star-spotting.
INFO: From OR221 per night; +968 24 799 666, www.ritzcarlton.com. See www.m-iff.com for details on the film festival in 2013.
Currency: 1 Omani Rial (OR) = Dhs9
Getting there: You can drive to Muscat from the UAE in around six hours, assuming you don’t get lost. A flight takes around one hour and costs from approximately Dhs750. Getting around: Not taking your own car? Hotel limos or local taxis are the main modes of transport. The latter is cheaper and can be hired by the hour at around OR10.