Georgina Blaskey takes her husband and children on a trip to Oman that turns out to be a life-changing experience for the whole family
Following the dark, grey days of winter, we were very excited to be travelling to Oman – and from touchdown, it didn’t disappoint. It’s a country which delights in revealing the unexpected for a first-time visitor, bringing joy to adults and children alike. A jaw-dropping landscape that demands your attention, from moonscape to sand dunes, canyons to coral reefs, it’s a land of contrast and culture, with an old soul and new outlook. For heat seekers like us who wanted sunshine and a reasonable flight time, Oman ticked every box – sun, sea, sand, scenery and sights – but would it deliver?
What I hadn’t put on my list was ‘surprises’, but within days I could have added it as my children unknowingly pushed their mental and physical limits. Seeing my eight-year-old son suspended perilously over a 1,000m canyon edge, 2,000m above sea level, with a harness and hard hat his only protection, was a heart-stopping moment so exhilarating I could barely look up to admire the scenery. Or my at-times-hesitant 10-year-old daughter confidently leading our camel caravan up sand dunes to watch the sunset beyond. What started as a luxe yet typical family holiday quickly morphed into a journey of self-discovery for us all.
First stop was Muscat and the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort, nestled beneath the golden Hajar mountains. With 198 sea-facing rooms, Al Bandar is the middle of three hotels, five minutes’ walk from all the restaurants, the kids’ club, water sports and splash park. The numerous pools interconnect so you can actually swim through the resort, but if that feels too much like hard work, jump on an inflatable ring and let the lazy river escort you between facilities. Having built the property on a secluded bay which is also a protected turtle-nesting site, the hotel has a dedicated turtle ranger. One night after dinner at the Bait Al Bahr seafood restaurant, our phone rang and 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 make her nest – a deeply moving sight to have witnessed.
Our first excursion with our Abercrombie & Kent guide and driver, Quais, was to Nizwa and the old fort. The oldest part was built in the ninth century to protect Oman from the Portuguese; it resembles a giant sandcastle and boasts all kinds of gruesome defence mechanisms which the children loved hearing about, 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 36km winding road to Jabal Al 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 hotel, where dramatic gorges, peaks, terraced land and wadis pepper the view. Contemporary Arabian rooms, some with private infinity pools, emphasise the splendour of Omani design and floor-to-ceiling windows maximise the vista. Activities include climbing and abseiling along the Via Ferrata route, where we could experience the thrill of dangling off the canyon’s sheer drop, a first for my son and the start of a new passion. With sunrise yoga on a suspended platform, guided hikes through ancient villages, mountain biking, archery, and cookery school including a spice-buying trip to Nizwa souk, this is a resort of endless experiences authentic to its unique location.
Following a comfortable night in the cool mountain climate, we set off to Wahiba Sands. More thrills and spills awaited as Quais let the tyres down and took us dune bashing. Skidding and sliding up and down, the children delighted as we tumbled around. After a revitalising lunch at the Desert Nights Camp, a collection of semi-permanent tented suites, we mounted our camels (daughter at the helm!) and made the half-hour trek to our secluded tent in time to watch the sunset, a truly magical moment for my mental memory bank. Canvas Club offers bespoke, luxury camping in solitary locations, and our tent was a spacious haven, decked with ornate rugs and bedlinen, with a separate bathroom tent housing a hot-water shower, basin and toilet. Our hosts, Sam and Jan, prepared a Middle Eastern feast which we ate in the three-sided dining tent, the stars our backdrop and wild, wandering camels our entertainment.
Just when we thought there was nothing in our stay that could top everything we’d seen and done, a boat trip revealed yet another side to this Middle-Eastern gem. A catamaran with Oman Sail to Dimaniyat Island revealed an underwater world of vibrant coral reefs, technicolour fish and more turtles. Jumping off paddleboards to swim and snorkel, it felt a far cry from climbing the canyon days earlier.
Mountains to coast, desert to canyons, nothing could have prepared us for the sights of Oman. For a family holiday that combines luxury hotels in jaw-dropping destinations with warm people and captivating history, Oman delivers with grace and style.
British Airways and Oman Air both fly direct from London to Muscat International Airport. Abercrombie & Kent’s seven-night Classic Oman itinerary starts from £2,220 per person, including flights.