A scent of adventure in Arabia
What, I wonder on my first morning in Muscat, would devotees of showy Dubai make of a holiday here in neighbouring Oman?
Might they bemoan the lack of indoor ski resorts and shiny towers competing to be the world’s tallest? Or the absence of footballers’ villas on artificial islands shaped as palm trees?
The Sultanate of Oman, alas, does not much go in for glitz. Instead it serves up sunshine with a dash of old Arabia and exhilarating desert scenery rooted in an astonishingly rich history.
Easy-going Emirate: Oman is not at all like its neighbour Dubai
In Muscat, the mountain-encircled capital overlooking the sea, I make my way along spotless new highways, past the gleaming Royal Opera House and Sultan’s Palace and down to the fortress-guarded dhow harbour at Muttrah.
From there I wander through the shady souk where old men in flowing white robes sit cross-legged in close-packed stalls selling everything from fruit to frankincense.
Back at my hotel – the minimalist chic Chedi – it’s time for a frosted lunchtime beer (although Oman is devoutly Muslim, alcohol is available in most places where tourists stay). Then I’m snorkelling through explosions of yellow grunts and pink-and-blue parrot fish on the offshore reef.
India rests across the Arabian Sea, where the Omani coastline splinters into cobalt bays, sandstone arches and glinting nowhere else in the Middle East – and nothing like the almost dead waters of the Persian Gulf.