The lobby of Muscat’s Al Bustan Palace in Oman is a majestic place. A hazy cloud of Frankencense fills a tall and opulent room, centered on a spectacular crystal chandelier that must hang close to seven meters from a twinkling ceiling. The fragrant smoke permeates our clothes, and the marble columns are adorned with gold panels shaped into artistic motifs redolent to the Islamic world; panels separated by smaller Austrian crystal light fixtures about two meters long, evoking a sense of grand hominess. The front entrance is draped with the green, red, and white colors of Oman, facing the almost life-size photograph of Oman’s founder, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, who looks stoically on those enjoying high tea in the atrium.
The people here reflect a community of different cultures – men in white dishdashas sporting distinct Omani headdress or African prayer caps, women draped in black abayas and niqabs, a few westerners, and others from North Africa and Central Asia. Drinking tea in the palace’s lobby is quintessentially a cultural experience. In this vein, staying at the Al Bustan was the highlight of our long weekend in Muscat.
The intent for traveling to Oman was to reconnect with Anna, after nearly six months of being away for an extended, remote work trip. Therefore, spending time in a magnificent hotel, where the Sultan maintains exclusive rights to the ninth floor, was a once in a lifetime experience.
The few days we were in Oman allowed us an opportunity to experience a Middle East country that is accessible and stable, but not as developed and glitzy as more touristy places like Dubai. Bordered by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, Oman’s attitude is a little more secular, with clean roads, good infrastructure, a low rate of crime, and a place that’s friendly to travelers. It’s the Middle East country that never gets mentioned in the news or luxury travel magazines. In other words, a place off the beaten track.
I would recommend the few things we did to anyone thinking about an Oman visit. On our first day, Anna and I went on an evening dhow cruise along the Muscat coastline where we discovered and admired noteworthy landmarks such as the Sultan’s palace and medieval Portuguese forts. We took a guided day trip to Nizwa where we explored some fabulous souks selling dates, spices, coffee, and halwa which is a traditional Omani sweet. Our guide Younas also took us to the incredible mountain oasis village, Misfat al Abriyeen. We enjoyed the experience of getting lost in the Moutra souk, near old town Muscat. And we toured the magnificent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a gorgeous place with the world’s largest crystal chandelier.
We found Oman a bit mesmerizing, and a refreshing place to spend the weekend. I prioritized the chance to wind back, and enjoy the pleasurable, small details inherent to an old place finding its feet in the modern world. This land of jagged mountains, sandy deserts, refreshing wadis, and palm oases is filled with treasures to see and adventures to be had. As locals say without hesitation, “Alhamdulillah!” God is good.