Destinations: Oman – Sahab and Dunes

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Heights of Arabia


In Oman we sample two exceptional destinations, one a desert outpost, the other a mountain retreat


A trip to Oman offers a rare chance to engage with the Arab world without the trappings of excessive wealth. With scenic natural beauty encompassing jagged mountains, dreamy coasts and wind-blown deserts, Oman feels like a serene old soul with a gorgeous face.

On arrival, I was whisked from the airport into a sleek air-conditioned 4WD Mercedes which smoothed the winding route as we climbed 2,000 feet above sea level to Jabal Al Akhdar near Nizwa. Here, among the remote yet surprisingly verdant Hajar mountains, staff at the low-rise, stone-clad Sahab Resort & Spa welcomed me with sweet Omani dates and fragrant cardamom-laced Arabian coffee.

I stepped out onto the glass-walled terrace, breathing in the cool, pure mountain air taking in dramatic ravines defined by terraced fields carved into the rock and pretty pomegranate trees.

There wasn’t a sound to interrupt my moment – just cloudless blue sky, hot sun and peace. If I ever write a book, this is where I’ll secrete myself for a month or two.

While I was loath to leave ‘my’ view, retreating to my room rewarded me with equally incredible views over the mountains. Largely contemporary, the rooms here reveal touches of traditional Arabian style with stone-tiled floors, intricate filigree lamps and colourfully patterned rugs.

Lunchtime hunger – and a desire to explore more – sent me back to the restaurant’s outside terrace. Between taking my order and the delivery of the courses, the waiter told me all about the attractively landscaped gardens, which include marine fossils; centuries ago, amazingly as it may seem, this area was underwater.

He also expounded poetically about how the mountain earns its local name ‘The Green Mountain’, describing the changing seasons bringing pomegranate, apricot and walnut trees.


With scenic natural beauty encompassing jagged mountains, dreamy coasts and wind-blown deserts, Oman feels like a serene old soul with a gorgeous face


City life had been left far behind me and I was starting now to unwind, fitting in with the local pace of life. Ordering lunch was a relaxed affair and I finally settled on an Arabian lentil soup.

My brief sojourn here slipped into an easy routine, revolving around eating pleasing, simple, regional dishes such as spiced fish or (the showstopper on one memorable night) a traditional Omani shuwa – marinated meat in local herbs and spices which is then buried in a fire pit for 24 hours. All my meals were taken al fresco on the terrace.

After guided hikes through villages where all we passed were the goats who populate the rocky outcrop, I indulged in deep-tissue massages in the bijou Uru Spa. There are only two treatment rooms here but a whole menu of treatments.

On the nearby Saiq plateau grow roses that have been brought to Oman from Persia. Harvested from these is rosewater distilled in the traditional style. On our hike, we had passed through one particular village where the locals grow the flowers, harvest them in the shade of the evenings and then distil the rosewater for the hotel to buy and which is then used in many of the treatments. Never before have I had such an authentic local connection.

I could have stayed here forever, bathed in sweet oils, surrounded by serene scenery. However, the second part of my trip was to be a stay at the resort’s sister property in the desert. Winding back down the mountain, sidestepping Muscat city, it was to be a two-hour drive flanked by centuries-old scarred, multi-hued mountains to the Dunes by Al Nahda.


My ‘room’ here was one of a cluster of 50 sand-coloured bell tents surrounded by the seemingly never-ending, wind-blown dunes of the Wadi Al Abiyad landscape


Built to resemble a traditional Bedouin camp, the five-star resort is set on a plateau on the peak of a dune, surrounded by large mountains of sand. Check-in is like no other in a reception housed in an ornate pavilion framed on all sides by the surprising addition of a lily pond.

The resident grumpy camel serves as an Instagrammable novelty for the young and tech-hungry. He can also be a taxi ride to your room for the brave or else merely entertain you with a short trot around the dunes. My ‘room’ here was one of a cluster of 50 sand-coloured bell tents surrounded by the seemingly never-ending, wind-blown dunes of the Wadi Al Abiyad landscape. Mint tea in hand, I soaked in my luxurious new home, with its silk-pleated roof, hand-made traditional Omani lanterns and sunken bathtub in the circular en-suite.

At Dunes the spa speciality is an unusual one and exclusive to the resort. The outside Egyptian sand bath is taken in the cooling, whitewashed courtyard. This spa, open to the miles and miles of blue sky above, trumps anything I’ve tried before. Naturally, treatments take place in the morning or afternoon, to avoid the searing midday sun. One afternoon I decided to try it, lying in the rectangular ‘bath’ with yoghurt soothing my face and cucumber slices covering my eyes; a timed distribution device gradually covered me in fine particles of sun-warmed sand.

If you don’t like this bit, which is actually more relaxing than it sounds, warming the muscles as the sand embraces you, you’ll enjoy the massage using those delicate rose and frankincense oils from our friends up in the mountains. Lying back, my mind gently drifted to my walk in the villages from whence the rose oil came.


The outside Egyptian sand bath is taken in the cooling, whitewashed courtyard. This spa, open to the miles and miles of blue sky above, trumps anything I’ve tried before


Shielded from the fierce heat, the open-sided restaurant dishes up specialities from Omani, western and Indian cuisines.

Breakfasts are a triumph of choice and flavour. I woke up each morning looking forward to a refreshing tropical fruit platter followed by shakasuka, a simple combination of minced spice lamb with simmering tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic, spices and gently poached eggs.

The local specialities excelled especially Umm Ali (which translates as Ali's mother), a creamy Middle Eastern version of bread pudding, however a delicate seafood bisque is a flavoursome alternative.

As the sun set on my final day I swam a few lengths of the infinity pool (imagine the logistics of building and maintaining this, in the middle of the desert), spotting the Al Hajar mountains hazy in the distance.

I have experienced the peace of the mountains and the lavish life among the dunes, two totally different experiences united by genuine hospitality and indulgence on my part. Old meets new in Oman.

Words: Staff

Fact Box

Cox & Kings (0203 642 0861) offers four nights at Sahab Resort & Spa on a full board basis and three nights at Dunes by Al Nahda on a half-board basis from £2,395 per person (based on two sharing) including all private transfers and return economy international flights with Oman Air.


This article was originally published in Halcyon in 2019


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