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Muscat magic

Oman has one of the Middle East’s most dynamic and forward-thinking, yet traditional capitals. Francesca Jackson finds it ripe for culinary, cultural and multi-sensory exploration

Muscat is one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East – almost 900 years old with none of the towering chrome edifices you might have come to expect from similar regional capitals. Take time to visit some of the local heritage sites, such as: the Mirani and Jalali Forts, both built in the 16th century by the Portuguese and then captured by the Ottomans some 20 years later. Now they sit proudly above the marina, towering down as a reminder of the city’s multicultural history. A visit to the Muttrah Souq is a must: labyrinthine streets with overpowering heat, aromas and a kaleidoscope of colours that sum up the city perfectly. Buy a souvenir or two, perhaps some authentic frankincense in time for Christmas, or silver charm bands for a loved one. As you’d expect, haggling is par for the course. In our experience, kicking the negotiation off with a joke and a smile rather than playing hardball will keep them on side. The Sultan’s Al Alam Palace isn’t to be missed; over 200 years old, built by a direct grandfather of the current Sultan. Even though you’re not allowed in – it’s worth strolling by for the gilded photograph opportunities.

Like the rest of the Middle East, Muscat has myriad five-star hotels of equal quality. The Chedi is a favourite, with genuine idiosyncratic quality (so often lost among chain five stars).

The Chedi
The picturesque Chedi Resort in Muscat is located amongst the lush manicured splendour of its own 21 acres of gardens, pools and private golden beaches lapped by the balmy waters of the Arabian Sea, set against the backdrop of the Hajar mountains. The plush décor based upon a palette of natural colours and artisan-designs reminds you that the Chedi is a truly indulgent destination that reflects the heritage of Oman’s souks and gentle pace.

The three pools – the pinnacle of which is the 103m aptly named Long Pool, overlooking the azure waters of the Arabian Sea (also brilliant for swimming, by the way) – are enough to make you want to spend a week coddled within the resort walls, splayed under the cloak of a golden sun. But the prospect of an indulgent dip is not the only thing that’s trumps at the plush Chedi. The rooms do a very good job of making you want to stay put: mostly dark woods and crisp white linens, some are flourished with deft Omani touches like burnished metalwork.  Cool, quiet retreats from the relentless Muscat heat, they boast complimentary minibars (in the club suites this equals carafes of grape and spirits), because the Chedi really isn’t a ‘done-by-halves’ kind of place.

The hotel has six restaurants and two lounges offering cuisines and grape from across the world, from the Mediterranean and the Middle East to Southeast Asia and India. You will be spoilt for choice with venues by the pool, beach or gardens, according to the season or weather, and for that special fine dining experience visit ‘The Restaurant’ which blends clean Asian décor with traditional Omani flourishes; and don’t let the simple functionality of its name fool you. ‘The Restaurant’ offers a delightful intricacy of cuisine.

“Four open kitchens spill enticing aromas as some of Muscat’s finest culinary talents prepare a selection of international cuisine”

The graceful curves of Omani arches, crystal chandeliers, vaulted ceilings, contemporary dark grey terrazzo floors and bay windows set the mood of the chic dining room. Four open kitchens spill enticing aromas as some of Muscat’s finest culinary talents prepare a selection of international cuisine, complemented with a sip from the Chedi’s award-winning selection of grape. In addition to the elegant dining room, you can dine alfresco on the patio or in one of the eight private dining rooms and lounge areas.

Dinner at ‘The Restaurant’ was a delight. To start I had Beetroot Salad – beetroot prepared three ways – pickled, salt-baked and raw, served with a creamy goat’s cheese, walnuts and thin slices of sweet orange segment, balanced by a peppery rocket garnish; a light and beautifully-balanced dish that would serve as the perfect overture to any meal. For the main event, I opted for the Omani Mixed Grill; a perfectly cooked combination of sweet Omani lobster tail, plump giant prawns, delicate moist hammour and succulent king fish, accompanied by fluffy saffron rice and a home-made chermoula dressing that added a refreshing zing, providing a pleasing medley of flavours and textures on my tongue; a veritable kiss from Neptune. As if I had not eaten enough I still managed to find room for dessert; a mille-feuille vanilla slice, filled with a delicious velvety crème pâtissière accompanied with home-made vanilla ice-cream; a truly heavenly dish that transported me back to my favourite Parisian patisserie on the banks of the Seine. A delightful meal, attentive service, in the perfect setting; enjoyed to the lyrical strains of the talented pianist. www.ghmhotels.com/en/muscat

WORDS: FRANCESCA JACKSON

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