Oman remains one of the few comparative secrets of the Middle East, not because it has actively closed itself off from the rest of the world in the last few decades, but because unlike its neighbouring countries, it has never felt the need to shout about its presence. Unlike Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Oman has resisted becoming just another tourist hub forever aiming to outdo its neighbours. There is an air of calm confidence in all Omani things that younger countries (even the United States) cannot match. Visitors to Muscat will have their jaws unceremoniously dropped by the majesty of the architecture and opulence of the capital. There is the world’s largest crystal chandelier to ogle with a slack jaw, and the heady scents of a busy frankincense market where haggling is the norm to take in. Whether you’re a veteran visitor or a first timer, there are plenty of things vying to take your breath away. With that said, there’s no element of boasting from signage, the residents, or the tour guides met along the way.
The promise of endless relaxation and massages is more than enough to make anyone drool, especially when you take the settings into account. It was with that in mind that I left London behind. Upon landing we were greeted by a perfectly air conditioned, and miraculously, almost silent airport. This shouldn’t have been a great wonder, but compared to the mania of Heathrow it seemed almost surreal. Once acclimated to the bright sun we were whisked away to the sprawling resorts that we would call home few days — two very different resorts by the Al Nahda Group.
The resorts would see us being pampered and scrubbed, plied with rich and vibrant flavours and with freshly squeezed juices on hand throughout the day, which is exactly what I needed. Both resorts prized attention to detail, and particularly at the Dunes by Al Nahda it was possible to forget entirely about the world outside and just marvel at the beauty of the surroundings.
Al Nahda Resort and Spa
The reception of the Al Nahda Resort and Spa is deceptively small when you first emerge upon the property, but any misgivings are quickly put to rest. This is a sprawling thirty acre lagoon which features dedicated spaces for spas, restaurants, a bar, pools and silent meditation.
Our private villas which comprised of soft beds, separated kitchenettes, and bathrooms with deep baths sunk into the floor just in case the spa misses an untended knot in your muscles. Not that this ever seems likely, the spa treatments and staff are so attentive it seems unfathomable that anything could be overlooked.
With so many luxury locations competing for supremacy, it’s the little things that set locations apart. At the Al Nahda Resort and Spa the idea of ‘local’ ingredients is taken to a whole new level. In the myriad of treatments available you’ll find many of the plants you walk past on the paths that stretch through this lagoon. When you book your treatments the staff set out to pick fresh herbs to order, ensuring the fresh aromas and scents never need artificial preservation or enhancement.
As the many spa treatments threatened to overwhelm our bodies, we punctuated our visit to Oman by taking in the unmissable sights of Muscat, including the Grand Mosque and the Souq which sit in the very heart of the capital.
The Grand Mosque
The quiet hush of a holy place is one of the few experiences I think can cross boundaries and world views. It didn’t matter where visitors came from, even the children knew to fall to a respectful hush when in this place. Visiting hours are brief as this is a functioning place of worship which accommodates up to 40,000 worshippers at any one time, so if you get chance to take a tour through the mosque, jump at it! Marvel at the majesty of the eight tonne Austrian crystal chandelier and the spiralling gold detailing on every inch of spare space. Whether you’re there to appreciate the spirituality or the design, you won’t leave disappointed.
The Al Nahda Resort was a world of its own, but it is like other hotels I’ve seen on my travels, the same, however, cannot be said for the Dunes by Al Nahda location. Nestled away on the edge of Muscat’s sand dunes, this felt like something straight from a fairy tale — an Instagrammer’s dream brought to life, without any of the disappointments of everyday reality.
Accommodation here is comprises of a collection of luxury solid walled tents which are perfectly portioned slices of privacy. The fabric draped walls and ceilings recreated the sense of being in a real tent, without any of the drawbacks of actually camping. In place of sleeping bags and communal showers there are beds which cradle your body, and pillows so soft you might contemplate buying one as a souvenir as I almost did. The bathrooms here also make the most of the space with more sunken baths, though these were smaller than the ones we had first stretched out in on this trip. As beautiful as the rooms are, it’s hard to imagine spending much time there, with so much to do in this resort.
One of the biggest challenges at the Dunes was simply figuring out how to plan the day. With so many options of juxtaposed activities, it was hard to cram in every experience on offer. The best we came up with ran something like this: Start the day with dune bashing or quad biking over the limitless sands around the resort, feeling gravity tempt your body towards the ground. Or, take a wander on a camel to really tick off the bucket list. Then, return to the restaurant where the head chef has been playing about with new variations to the already delightful menu. The drinks are equally sublime, and despite loving nothing more than an old fashioned, I barely thought of alcohol on this trip. With that said, the bartenders are always excited to show off their skills whenever they have the chance.
Now that the adrenaline has worn off and the food has settled down, head to the spa for a treatment that can last anywhere between thirty minutes and three hours.
Our favourite treatment at the Dunes open air spa had it’s memorable ups and downs. We were covered in hot sand letting the mid morning sunlight soak into our skin, with a face mask made of only the freshest ingredients (something we had become used to in just a few days) and a masseuse hovering over us whilst we baked. As relaxing and care-filled as this all was, it quickly became obvious why our masseuse kept so close… The desert flies were just as tempted by the fresh face mask as we were, and it was only the continual careful wafting over our faces that stopped them landing.
After twenty minutes of simultaneous warming and wafting it was time to shower off… for the first time. Oh yes, this is a treatment with two showers, and there’s no denying that you spend a lot of time near naked. From here, our hot skin was cooled with a massage of yoghurt, which was far more pleasurable than initially expected. The last knots in our muscles disappeared, but we weren’t done yet. Another brief shower removed the yoghurt from our skin, and we were finally ready for a custom aromatherapy massage.
After all of this excitement, take in the last of those blissful rays with by the pool with a good book in one hand, and an ice cold drink in the other. The infinity pool awaits if you feel like putting in a few laps, but we won’t judge you if you relax on the feather soft sun loungers by the side.
When our visit was finally over, and returning to the cloudy UK became inevitable, there was a sense of longing to do more in the resorts. But, actually, we had taken in every offering and still had time to relax, which seemed impossible, but somehow it was true. The pacing at both Al Nahda resorts was perfect without ever having to think about it. The teams are accommodating and know how to make the most of every second with their guests, but still leave plenty of time to simply smile at the indescribable views.
No worries, no stress, just good food, great views and unique treatments. That is something priceless to me and what I’m pining now as I write this, well, that and another fresh glass of watermelon juice.
Booking information for Al Nahda Resort & Spa and Dunes by Al Nahda:
Al Nahda Resort & Spa
Executive Suite: From OMR 59 BB Nett for 2 adults and 2 kids below 12 years in existing bedding
Executive Suite: From OMR 99 FB for 2 adults and 2 kids below 12 years in existing bedding
For Bookings : please write to [email protected]
Dunes by Al Nahda:
Luxury Tent: From OMR 149 BB Nett for 2 adults and 1 kids below 6 years in existing bedding
Luxury Tent: From OMR 199 FB Nett for 2 adults and 1 kids below 6 years in existing bedding
For Bookings : please write to [email protected]