Magical Musandam

By | Category: Travel destinations

Musandam pennisula, OmanEscape Oman’s capital and revel in the natural wonders of the Musandam Peninsula – famed for its fjords

While there is no denying Muscat’s many charms, there’s so much more to Oman than merely Muscat; to judge a country on its capital is the equivalent of saying that you’re intimately acquainted with the US because you’ve had a Big Mac.

No matter how short your stay is in Oman, the Musandam Peninsula – blessed as it is with some of the Sultanate’s most sublime landscapes – repays a visit. Rooted in history and heritage, life in the Peninsula moves at a more sedate pace than Muscat and Western influences are minimal. The area boasts an embarrassment of riches – think breathtaking fjords, craggy mountains, small fishing villages and crystal clear waters – all of which combine to make Musandam a slice of Arabian paradise.

Yet the region is often overlooked by many visitors to the Sultanate and understandably so. Separated from the rest of the country by the UAE’s east coast, Musandam is closer to bling bedecked Dubai than the Omani capital, and therefore not the easiest destination to reach. But word is getting out about the ‘Norway of Arabia’ and more and more people are making the journey. Our advice therefore is to go now and enjoy this gem of an enclave before over development hits and mass tourism swamps the village like atmosphere.
 

Making the most of Musandam
As a first port of call in the Peninsula, the charming fishing village of Dibba is as good as any. Dibba (or Daba as the Omanis call it) is famous in Islamic history as the site of one of the great battles of the Ridda War. Adventures abound and can include exploring ancient burial grounds (the Queen of Sheba was reportedly buried here), mountain biking, kayaking and trekking into isolated villages. CD Traveller can vouch for Absolute Adventure’s Aqaba Lima trek which departs Dibba and leads up to ancient Bedouin villages – a million miles away from modernity. It’s not easy; in parts it’s a steep, sweaty struggle up steps carved into rocks and slippery paths made of sand and rubble passing abandoned homesteads, graveyards and mosques until you reach the top where the land flattens out. Persevere however; it’s well worth the effort as the views from the top are simply stunning, providing a unique aerial perspective of the rugged, limestone cliffs before you descend down the other side to the town of Lima. Here you can rest for a while with errant, grazing goats over lunch in Lima’s lush date plantation before catching the boat – passing deserted caves, coves and cliff faces – back to the Absolute Adventure centre in Dibba.

A more idle option is to head to Dibba Bayah harbour where you can watch the fishermen’s boats bob up and down. But of course if you prefer a traditional sand, sea and sun holiday, then there’s deserted beaches to laze on, azure Arabian waters to float in and when you’re ready for action, the underwater kingdom to explore; Musandam is believed to offer some of the best diving in the world and anyone wanting to take the plunge will be rewarded with a rainbow of colourful sea life.

From Dibba, make an unforgettable day trip by boat to nearby Zighy village which has the relaxed tempo of another era. Zighy is also home to the luxurious Six Senses Hideaway which is putting Musandam on the map. The resort was conceived by the eco conscious Eva and Sonu Shivdasni who have a philosophy of designing buildings that reflect the cultural heritage of their surroundings. Thus villas are unmistakably Arabic owing to details like white washed walls, stone floors and wooden chess sets – making it a great retreat for travellers who value authenticity.

Khasab, Musandam pennisula, Omanth century (and recently restored in 1990), the fort guarded Bukha town and harbour against attack from the sea for many years. Prisoners used to be pegged to the lower courtyard and drowned by the incoming tide. Nearby lies another old Fort, Al Qala’a, although it’s arguably only for history buffs as with the exception of the remains of one watchtower, there’s very little to see. Suffering from fort fatigue? Beyond Bukha, lies the village of Tawi; the main draw here are prehistoric rock carvings of animals, boats and warriors. If you’re after something more active, head inland by 4×4 to Jebel Harim, Musandam’s highest peak at just under 7,000 ft. Scaling a mountain is an exhilarating experience; another is to watch the sun sink slowly behind the mountains in the evening while planning your return. There’s something slightly magical about Musandam and as Arabian experiences go, this is as authentic as it gets.

Best beds
Up until recently, accommodation options have been few and far between with the Golden Tulip Khasab being the main draw. It’s a fine four-star hotel, but certainly no lap of luxury. Likewise the Tulip’s tariffs are hardly tailored to meet the demands of the budget conscious. Fortunately the arrival of two new properties straddling both ends of the price spectrum has helped redress the balance somewhat, meaning that regardless of whether you’ve run out of rials or have oodles of cash to splash, there are now an accommodation options that match your bank balance but will exceed your expectations.
 

Absolute Adventures
For those who don’t boast the budget of a footballer’s wife, Absolute Adventures’ blissfully affordable beachfront fortress in Dibba is your best bet. British company founder Paul Oliver bought the local stone built bungalow four years ago having seen the site from the road and fallen in love with the property. Accommodation is dormitory style (14 bunk beds although there is one double room), but is clean, comfortable and close to the beach. The grounds boast a number of features including a covered majlis that lends itself well to evening shisha sessions, a waterfall, swaying hammock, cluster of almond, fig and lemon trees, and a towering sea facing barasti hut that makes a sizzling hot sundowner spot. The cosy and welcoming atmosphere is boosted by helpful staff – from the man in charge to the five- star chef who produces freshly prepared, hearty homemade meals.

For more information visit www.adventure.ae.

Six Senses Hideway Zighy Bay
Musandam has never been known for its high thread count offerings, but it’s tout change on the peninsula and when it comes to top notch accommodation, Zighy Bay can’t be beaten. Arriving at this new resort takes some doing and is far from an understated affair. Guests can arrive by a 4X4 following a dramatic drive along rough, cliff hugging roads or in style by speed boat which affords spectacular views across the Strait of Hormuz. If however your idea of adventure involves a serious adrenaline rush, paraglide in with the Hideaway’s professional paraglider.

The property itself oozes elegant sophistication. From the outside the stone villas look like simple mountain dwellings, but inside each abode boasts vast beds and beautiful bathrooms (the power of the rain shower would delight any diva) while you barely have to walk two steps out of the sliding door to your own infinity pool. Those that prefer to be pampered can indulge in a treatment or two at the Six Senses spa. Nightlife revolves around restaurants – there’s an excellent menu in place at the resort’s Dining on the Sands restaurant and the exquisite food is as good as you’ll find in Muscat.

To find out more visit www.sixsenses.com/hideaway-zighybay

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