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An oasis of opulence in Oman

On a wild and wonderful Arabian peninsula, Peter Hardy finds a haven of hospitality, charm and beauty

We're heading by taxi at midnight from the bright lights of Dubai airport to our seaside hotel in Oman. Suddenly, the driver turns off the main road and starts up a dusty mountain track.

The car slows at the entrance to a compound. A white-robed guard speaks softly to the driver before waving us through.

'Please check your seat belts are fastened,' says the driver. The reason is immediately apparent. The unmade track veers upwards at an alarming angle. The 4x4 transmission screams as he throws the vehicle around zig-zag bends.


An oasis in the desert: The main pool at Zighy Bay


Suddenly, we are at the top of the pass and bouncing down the far side. The moon has risen and we can make out the mile-long shoreline of private beach below and the muted lights of our destination, the Six Senses Zighy Bay resort on Oman's Musandam peninsula.

What an introduction. And in daylight you can arrive by taxi paraglider, landing on the beach just in front of the hotel.

This isolated and tranquil corner of Oman seems a million miles away from its neighbour, Dubai. The resort is laid out in a series of villas along the lines of an Omani village with narrow lanes.


Six Senses Spa claims to be 'a sanctuary of ultimate wellbeing'


To reach the Six Senses Spa or one of the restaurants, simply hop on a bike or golf buggy. And the spa itself, incidentally, is a haven of calm and a refuge for mind and body - it really lives up to its claim of being 'a sanctuary of ultimate well-being'.

It has an impressive integrated wellness programme, aimed at promoting tranquility, fitness and health. It combines innovative and ancient holistic treatments from expert in-house as well as visiting wellness consultants. The passion for the local environment, customs and traditions is even evident here. Indigenous plants, herbs and fruits are blended and used in treatments that refresh, revitalise and nourish, including a basil and mint scrub and Arabic facial - although I have to admit, I didn't try that.

The hotel's 82 villas vary in size from one to four bedrooms, and each has its own infinity pool and traditional Arab summerhouse. There's a lot of natural stone and warm woods, with high ceilings in indigenous style. Sun loungers and shaded living and dining areas surround the pool, all within the privacy of high cobblestone walls.


Zighy Bay Private Retreat balcony


Musandam is a wild and wonderful strip of land that stretches into the Strait of Hormuz opposite Iran with the Gulf of Oman on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other. The mountains rise 6,500ft, sweeping dramatically down to the sea with a series of fjords that have earned the peninsula the nickname of the Norway of the Middle East.

However, topography and security makes travel tricky. The fjords are a four-hour boat ride from Zighy Bay. There is a winding single track mountain road and, apart from a few fishing villages and the local capital of Khasab, much of the peninsula is devoid of people. The hotel has its own marina and the area is popular with divers. We settled for a 45-minute trip up the coast to picnic and snorkel in the clear turquoise water in a remote bay beneath limestone cliffs.

In a three-hour, 4x4 safari high up in the mountains, we encounter just one other vehicle. Our guide is from Nepal and the terrain attracts climbers from all over the world.

We explore a half-abandoned village of 15 houses tucked away in a cleft in the rocks.

In a country that forms part of the Empty Quarter – one of the least populated places on earth – the Musandam is the hors d'oeuvre.

Back at the resort, the Omanis have a relaxed attitude towards alcohol consumption on private premises and the emphasis on local cuisine is well rewarded.


The romantic hill-top setting of the Sense Of The Edge restaurant


Our breakfast favourite is manakish, a delicious cheese and honey pancake, while in the evening we dine on succulent lamb cooked in a traditional underground oven.

Zighy Bay has a de-salination plant and has created an oasis with hundreds of palms, fig trees and pomegranate as well as growing its own vegetables.

One of the three main restaurants is at the top of the pass. A 4x4 takes you up to Sense Of The Edge, which specialises in fusion cuisine.

The approach is lit by flaming torches and dining outside on the triple-tiered terrace with moonlit views of the bay far below is about as romantic as it gets.


First published in the Daily Mail -  October 2016

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