The oldest state in the Arab world, and fictional homeland to Sinbad the Sailor, the 1,001 Nights adventurer, Oman has a vivid complexion of Arabian, Indian and African influences. This rugged country of giant dunes, soaring mountains and bottle-green seas is very family-friendly and enormously welcoming, making it perfect for spring and autumn half term breaks. And unlike neighbours Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Oman lights the imagination as it really feels like ancient Arabia. There are convivial luxury hotels, particularly around coastal Muscat, and bags of activities for the kids to get involved in, as well as golf, diving and fishing for adults.
Great for families in Muscat are the Al Waha and Al Bandar hotels at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort. Occupying a cliff-lined, sandy cove the latter is an oasis of palm-shaded swimming pools, spa treatment centre, kids’ club and tasteful restaurants. From the resort you can take snorkelling trips, a Lazy River water ride and enjoy all manner of water sports from the large beach.
In Muscat itself, take a wander through hassle-free souks where old timers in flowing robes sell frankincense just as they did thousands of years ago; visit the Grand Mosque (with the world’s second largest carpet and extraordinary Swarovski crystal chandelier) then head out on a tour to spot whales and dolphins. With its fish-rich waters, the Gulf of Oman makes an excellent place to snorkel and dive.
Once you’ve had your fill of the cobalt sea hire a 4×4 with chauffeur-guide and head inland through dry wadis (river valleys) bleating with goatherds, climbing 2,980 metres to the spectacular Jabal Al Akhdar (the “Green Mountains”), famous for the Mediterranean climate which produces some of the tastiest pomegranates in the world. Criss-crossed by old shepherd paths (perfect for trekking with a guide) this breath-taking vista of gorges, grand canyons and step terraced mountainsides can only be reached by 4×4. To maximise the drama, stay at the tranquil Hotel Sahab, a boutique gem boasting some of the best views in Oman from its cliff-top swimming pool.
Descending to the foot of the mountains takes us to magical Nizwa, once at the centre of the caravan trade routes. With its restored souq and colossal Great Fort complete with murder holes and secret tunnels, kids’ imaginations can run riot here. A stylish, if quirky place to spend a couple of nights whilst exploring the surrounding mountains on foot or bikes is The View, 1,400 feet up (and more than living up to its name). This eco luxe accommodation is perfectly placed for visiting the nearby fortified settlements of Jabrin and Bahla.
If it’s wildlife your kids are hankering after, from September to November is peak season to see green turtles nesting on the beaches at Ras al-Jinz. Very comfortable stays can be enjoyed to complement this enchanting spectacle.
Finally, head for the golden dunes of Wahiba Sands (4 hours from Muscat) for a night under the stars staying at Desert Nights Camp in extremely comfortable suites which echo the tented traditions of nights in the desert. From here on the back of a camel, you can wander this vast expanse like T.E Lawrence, or take an exhilarating 4×4 desert adventure, climbing giant, near vertical dunes; go quad biking or try sandboarding. And if that all sounds too strenuous, there are more delicate options like taking a picnic on the dunes or swimming in the sweet, miraculous water of a desert wadi. Whatever you choose to do on your holiday to Oman, a visit to this authentic country will be burned in your memory.