The Middle East is looking to become the next superyacht holiday hub, but which city is worth the stop off? With Oman appearing to slowly reopen borders, Olivia Michel recommends Muscat – if you’re ready for an adventure.
A trip to Oman’s Wadi Tiwi is not easy, but it’s worth it. The invigorating hike there, led by Husaak Adventures guides, involves climbing over boulders, scaling natural rock faces and wild swimming in refreshing ravines. But then, quite suddenly, explorers are met with a paradisal vision of the oasis. Jurassic-looking cliffs interspersed with palms and pampas grass encompass an idyllic pool of crystal-clear water. Quiet and shaded from the Arabian sun, this natural attraction has a surreal feel to it.
A hike through Wadi Tiwi is one of the best day trips from Muscat.
Reached via an astonishingly scenic, two-hour drive from Muscat, Wadi Tiwi is just one of many possible day trips that make the city worth adding into any superyacht itinerary through the waters of the Middle East. As a gateway to Oman’s natural wonders, Muscat’s impressive landscape is a unique assett to the region. As our Husaak guide Nikki Andrew describes: “the scenery and architecture here is unlike any other GCC country”.
Compared to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, this skyline is pierced by mountain peaks instead of glinting high-rise spires. And while the rugged terrain of Muscat’s outskirts may lend itself to expeditions in the wilderness, the city still offers plenty of opportunities to indulge in luxury.
The impressive lobby at the Kempinski Hotel Muscat.
One institution where comfort and elegance are easily found is the Kempinski Hotel, which encompasses six coveted kilometres of Omani seafront. The assistant director of marketing at the time of my stay, Sara Haji, described the property’s appearance as a mix of “modern, European, contemporary design with touches of traditional Omani heritage”.
White-washed walls and glass-fronted galleries give this cubic hotel a slick feel, but as Haji pointed out, the mismatched roofline and lobby-lining pillars pay tribute to Muscat’s unique architecture. Arabic touches are also found in the décor of 310 spacious bedrooms, which feature private balconies and enormous bathrooms finished in marble and misted glass.
A Kempinski Hotel Muscat suite.
The expansive outdoor infinity pool is perhaps the Kempinski’s most attractive facility. Reached via pathways shaded by date palms and frangipani trees, swimmers are offered an impressive view of both the white sand beach and the dusty-rose coloured mountains beyond.
This same view is enjoyed by diners at the hotel’s beach club restaurant, the Zale Lounge. Omani Gulf Lobster is the specialty here, appearing on the menu in a citrus and pomegranate salad or inside an avocado and tangy mayo Uramaki roll. Thanks to live music and an accompanying shisha bar, Zale is buzzing late into the evenings, filled with both hotel guests and Muscat residents.
The infinity pool at the Kempinski Hotel Muscat.
Zale is just one of the resort’s numerous fine cuisine eateries. From Thai street food to Omani-style high tea, options are so wide ranging that guests can sample a variety of cuisines all within the premises.
These delectable dining options combined with the hotel’s refined accommodation make the Kempinski the perfect place for unwinding after an outdoors expedition. Returning from my exhilarating hike, I’m replenished with a lunch of creamy mezze dips and buttery Omani bread, followed by a relaxing massage at the hotel spa to ease my muscles after the morning’s exertions.
The Kempinski's Soi Soi restaurant serves delectable Thai street food.
The conveniently located resort also serves as an ideal base for those who want to see the city in a slightly more sedate manner. It’s just 15 minutes from the airport and a 10-minute walk from Al Mouj marina, which can host yachts up 40 metres in 132 berths.
A half hour drive past crenelated rooftops and lofty palms will bring culture vultures to the Sultan’s Royal Palace and the hub of Mutrah Souk, where native products including silver and aromatic frankincense are sold. Visitors walking along the nearby Mutrah corniche will also spot the vessels of the Oman Royal Yacht Squadron anchored in Muscat harbour. This fleet includes the Sultan’s 155 metre Lürssen yacht Al Said and her 164 metre Mariotti support vessel Fulk Al Salamah, as well as the 60 metre, Omani-built wooden sailing yacht Zinat al Bihaar.
the Sultan’s 155 metre Lürssen yacht Al Said can be spotted in Muscat harbour.
An hour’s drive away from the Kempinski, wanderers can furthermore find the other-worldly network of canyons known as Bandar Khayran. A gentle kayak through these flooded valleys will give an up-close perspective of Oman’s mountainous beauty, with somewhat less effort required than a Wadi hike. If the excursion is auspiciously timed, expect to witness vibrant-hued sandstone at sunset or a display of bioluminescent plankton under dark.
Plankton is of course not the only marine creature that resides in Muscat’s Gulf waters. “There’s a lot of marine life which is really incredible, such as Arabian humpback whales”, stresses Andrew as we paddle through the fjords.
Bandar Khayran's magical waterways are best experienced by kayak.
With populations of Hawksbill turtles, manta rays and dolphins living within a 22 nautical mile range of Muscat, superyachts hosting diving enthusiasts on board will find plenty to explore below the surface.
Muscat’s alluring attractions are also fringed by what Haji refers to as “the riviera of Oman”. The city benefits from a romantic coastal location, a natural advantage which Haji says helps make Oman “the coolest GCC country in summer and the warmest in winter – it has a breeze unlike Dubai or other places”. This also means that there is a palpable yachting culture in this region: “a lot of people in Oman have boats and take day trips from Dubai and Abu Dhabi”, adds Haji.
The Anwaj lounge at the Kempinski Hotel Muscat.
Kempinski general manager Carsten Wiegandt seconds that “GCC countries have untapped coasts and beaches” that make the area ideal for cruising superyachts. A testament to this is that sizeable superyachts, including 65 metre Sea Rhapsody, 78 metre Titan and 110 metre Al Raya, have all been spotted along this stretch of coastline within the last year.
Before leaving, I stroll along the Kempinski’s beach to admire the Al-Hajar peaks one last time. I’m pleased to discover during my stay that laws have prevented the building of any skyscrapers that might interrupt views of these awe-inspiring mountains. This information contributes to my lasting impression of Muscat as a city that reveres its natural beauty – a destination for yachties who want to trade cityscapes for an encounter with the great outdoors.
Muscat's low-level skyline offers uninterrupted views of the mountains.
Nightly rates at Kempinski Hotel Muscat start from £170. Oman Air operates two flights per day from London Heathrow and Daily flights from Manchester to Muscat, with prices starting from £425 per person. Plaza Premium Lounge entry at London Heathrow Terminal 4 starts from £40.
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