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  • Writer's pictureHilary McCormack

Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman

Updated: Jan 11

The corniche

This quietly sophisticated Arab country is situated on the southernmost coast of the Arabian Peninsula, at the convergence of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

A significant portion of the country's hinterland lies in the Rubʿ al-Khali, a vast region in the Arabian Peninsula characterized by its reddish-orangie sands on a treeless, arid, and dramatic landscape. Despite these harsh conditions, the area is still home to Bedouin nomads while also serving as a transit point for the country's network of oil and gas pipelines.

The coastal regions of Oman offer a far more welcoming atmosphere compared to the stark interior. The country's northern coast is abundant in greenery between the sea and the Al Hajjar mountains. This fertile area is renowned for producing a surprisingly large variety of fruits and nuts, such as pomegranates, apples, peaches, plums, apricots, almonds, walnuts, grapes, pears, cherries, figs, olives, and other locally grown produce. Similarly, the Dhofar Governorate region, specifically Salalah in the south, is known for its bountiful produce and green countryside.

A frankincense tree art installation

Muscat, the capital of Oman, is situated on the northern coast. The city features a blend of modern and traditional low-rise architecture and offers a stunning view of the Gulf of Oman. It also serves as a strategic port and a commercial maritime hub. Visitors find a city that is orderly and manicured.

During the early 19th century, Oman was considered a dominant authority in Arabia. They had control over Zanzibar, a portion of the Gulf Coast, and a part of Pakistan.

The Royal Yacht

Oman was famous in ancient times for its production of Frankincense, Myrrh, and high-quality metalwork. During this period of history (4 - 6 BC), gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh were worth the same as, if not more than, gold.

The country's strategic location also made it a coveted prize for empire builders throughout history. So as you can imagine, Oman, much like its Arab neighbors, has a captivating history that cannot be fully covered in this brief blog.

To summarize, in the 16th century, Portugal took over Muscat, which it held until 1650. In the 18th century, the Āl Bū Saʿīd dynasty ousted a Persian occupation and took control of much of the Persian Gulf. Despite facing political turmoil, the Āl Bū Saʿīd dynasty maintained its power into the 21st century, mainly due to its close ties with the United Kingdom.

However, the dynasty was slow to introduce new ideas and innovations to the country, which frustrated the local communities.

Major modernization in Oman only began in the 1970s, led by Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Sultan Qaboos was greatly admired by his people because he introduced a range of ambitious modernization projects, which included constructing roads, hospitals, schools, communications systems, and industrial and port facilities. While the workforce in all these new projects was largely Omani.

Following these improvements to society, Oman's economy rapidly advanced. The country, which was once isolated, was now actively promoting tourism and has transformed its traditional architecture in a unique and appealing way that attracts both locals and international tourists, making it one of the finest Arab tourist destinations in the region.

Despite the scorching summer temperatures of 50 degrees back in Riyadh, the coastal capital city of Muscat remained relatively cooler, with temperatures an average of ten degrees lower. In August, we took a chance with the humidity and planned a weekend getaway by embarking on a three-day expedition to Muscat.

The Wet Deck

Oman Air provides direct flights to the capital, priced at about SAR 2000. However, if you have the luxury of time and want to save some money on airfare, other airlines like Gulf Air or FlyDubai offer cost-effective but non-direct flights.

The prerequisite for this trip was to be situated on the coast; we wanted to feel that ocean breeze. Muscat has a great selection of hotels on the coast with beach access. Hotel options include the Jumeirah Muscat Bay, the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah, Al Bustan Palace, which is part of the Ritz-Carlton family, and the world-famous Chedi Muscat, to name a few gems off the top of my head. Like most destinations, Oman offers some great Airbnb options as well, all within close proximity to a public beach and shopping.

Oman and the World Exhibition

Our accommodation choice was W Hotel. This 279-room Marriott hotel is situated right on the beach in a central location in Muscat. The hotel decor is colorful and playful, evoking a sense of Ibiza-style vacationing.

Their pool area was the best I have ever enjoyed. It was a football pitch-sized shallow pool with perfectly chilled water, surrounded by shaded private lounging areas for up to six people per pod. Perfect for those of us of the fair-skinned tribe!

And, just suppose you want to be really lazy on your trip. In that case, you can choose a different restaurant each evening to dine in, for example, the rooftop Siddharta Lounge by Buddha - Bar, Ba Ban, an excellent Chinese restaurant, Char the Steak Restaurant, Harvest, or the Wet Deck for something more casual. We enjoyed the lazy option and dined in the hotel all weekend.

Gold Souq, an under cover maze of narrow streets

The main souq is situated on the Cornish and is known as Mutrah Souq. This old part of town has many beautiful examples of traditional architecture.

And while you might imagine we long-time expats would have souq fatigue, we could not resist the urge to visit the Souq. Opening times are 9 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 10 pm. It is well worth a visit and has the cheapest gold I ever found!

If there is to be a grand finale to our trip, it must be our visit to the Royal Opera House Muscat. It is conveniently situated next door to the W Hotel so that we could walk there.

The Opera House is the realization of Sultan Qaboos' vision for a world-class cultural experience in the heart of the capital city. Its goal is to enrich lives through diverse artistic, cultural, and educational programs.

We thoroughly enjoyed the captivating tour of the Opera House Museum. It took us on a fascinating visual and audio experience through the history of music, from its origins in the natural world to the Arabic influences that inspired this remarkable project.

The tours run daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Fridays. As for the upcoming show performances for the 2023 / 24 seasons, they will be announced online shortly.

We are eagerly looking forward to experiencing a live performance of Puccini's Tosca soon.

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