Family travelogue: Adventures for the whole family in Oman
Georgina Blaskey discovers that if you’re looking for a sunny escape with a practical flight time, Oman offers sea, sand, incredible sights – and a whole lot of surprises.
Georgina Blaskey is a freelance journalist who specialises in family travel
Oman delights in springing the unexpected on a first-time visitor. An almost alien landscape that demands your attention, from moonscape to sand dunes, canyons to coral reefs, it’s a land of contrast and culture. It has an old soul and a new outlook. Every half-term, heat-seekers like us search for a break with guaranteed sunshine and a reasonable flight time. Oman promised to tick every box – sun, sea, sand, scenery and sights – but would it deliver?
What I hadn’t put on my list was surprises, but I could have added it. Within days my children were unwittingly pushing their mental and physical limits. Seeing my eight-year-old son suspended perilously over a 1,000m-canyon edge, two kilometres above sea level, with a harness and hard hat his only protection, was a heart-stopping moment. It was so thrilling I couldn't even look up to admire the scenery. And watching my, at times hesitant, 10-year-old daughter confidently leading our camel caravan up sand dunes to view the sunset beyond was lump in the throat pride-inducing. What started as a luxe yet typical family holiday morphed into a journey of self-discovery for us all.
First stop was Muscat and the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, at the foot of the golden Hajar mountains. With 198 sea-facing rooms, Al Bandar is the central of three hotels that make up the resort. It's five minutes’ walk from all the restaurants, the kids’ club, water sports and splash park. The numerous pools interconnect so you can swim through the resort. If that feels too much like hard work, jump on an inflatable ring and let the lazy river waft you between activities.
Sited on a secluded bay that is also a protected turtle nesting site, the hotel has a dedicated turtle ranger. One night after a fabulous meal at the Bait al Bahr seafood restaurant, our phone rang. Mohamed the ranger told us: “There’s a turtle on the beach laying her eggs.” Springing out of bed, we ran, pyjama-clad, down to the sea to watch a majestic female hawksbill laying. It was a moving moment to witness.
The desire among Omanis to preserve their country and culture while embracing tourism and future-proofing their nation’s appeal was evident throughout our trip. Our first excursion with our Abercrombie & Kent guide and driver, Quais, was to Nizwa to see the historic fort. The oldest part was built in the 9th century. However the majority of what you see today was created during renovations in the 1600s. It resembles a giant sandcastle. It boasts all kinds of gruesome defence mechanisms, such as pitfalls, date-oil traps and arrow-slit windows.
From there we drove through lush date plantations, past the pretty hillside village of Birkat Al-Mawz before embarking on the 36-kilometre winding road to Jebel Akhdar, the green jewel of the Al Hajar mountain range.
Perched on the curving rim of a great canyon, Anantara Al Jabal Akhdar Resort is an extraordinary location for a luxury hotel. Dramatic gorges, peaks, terraced fields and wadis pepper the view. Contemporary Arabian rooms, some with private infinity pools, emphasise the splendour of Omani design. Floor to ceiling windows maximise the vista.
Activities include climbing and abseiling along the via ferrata route. We experienced the thrill of dangling over the canyon’s sheer drop, a first for my son and the birth of a new passion. With sunrise yoga on a suspended platform, guided hikes through ancient villages, mountain biking, archery and a cookery school including a spice-buying trip to Nizwa souk, this is a resort of fascinating experiences authentic to a unique location.
Following a comfortable night in the cool mountain climate, we set off to Al Sharqyiah Sands. More thrills awaited as Quais let the tyres down and took us dune bashing. Skidding and sliding up and down, the children shrieked with delight as we tumbled around. After a revitalising lunch at the Desert Nights Camp, a collection of semi-permanent tented suites, we mounted our camels. With my daughter at the helm, we made the half-hour trek to our secluded tent in time to watch the sunset. It was a truly magical family moment for the memory bank.
Canvas Club offers bespoke luxury camping in solitary locations. Our tent was a spacious haven, decked with ornate rugs and high-quality bed linen, with a separate bathroom tent housing a hot water shower, basin and toilet. Our hosts, Sam and Jan, prepared a Middle Eastern feast. We ate in the three-sided dining pavilion, the stars our backdrop and wild camels our visual entertainment.
Just when we thought there was nothing in our stay that could top everything we’d seen and done so far, a boat trip revealed yet another side to this Middle Eastern marvel. A catamaran with Oman Sail to the Daymaniyat Islands opened up an underwater world of vibrant coral reefs, technicolour fish and more turtles. Jumping off paddleboards to swim and snorkel among the sea’s bounty, it felt a far cry from climbing the canyon days earlier.
Mountains to coast, desert to ocean, nothing could have prepared us for the sites and surprises of Oman. As a family holiday that combines luxury hotels in ancient destinations with warm-hearted people and captivating history, Oman delivers with grace and style.
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