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Travel: Oman is full of Eastern promise

© iStockMuttrah Corniche, Muscat, Oman.
Muttrah Corniche, Muscat, Oman.

Don’tleave the Dunes without visiting the open-air Fleur restaurant and trying the Shuwa. This is a stunning Omani culinary speciality.

The chef marinates a leg of lamb in oils and spices for 24 hours. Then he wraps it in palm leaves and lowers it into an outdoor fire for 12 hours before serving it with roast potatoes. The meat falls off the bone. It’s divine, and has be tasted to be believed.

Could it get any more Lawrence of Arabia than this?

I am sitting on an imperious camel called Abdul. He is so huge he could step nonchalantly over any racehorse.

From my position, 15 feet off the ground on top of this splendid animal, I’m surveying the magnificent scene around me.

As far as the eye can see, I’m surrounded by dunes the size of mini Munros. I am a very small grain of sand in a mighty desert. It is a humbling, awe-inspiring experience.

This is one of many terrific experiences I had during my trip to Oman.

As British visitors tire of the relentlessly glitzy concrete jungles in other parts of the Middle East, they are searching for a more authentic, less ersatz experience. They are looking for more culture, less “Vegas in the desert”.

Boasting impressive deserts, gorgeous coastline, epic mountains and history that pours out of every nook and cranny, Oman provides all the authenticity you could ever wish for.

That’s why it’s proving an increasingly attractive destination for discerning travellers – it is the undiscovered treasure of the Middle East.

Our two-centre trip begins at the Sahab Resort & Spa in the Jabal Al Akthar mountains, three hours’ drive inland from the Omani capital, Muscat.

The four-star hotel enjoys a stunning location. The first guests to stay here, we step on to the hotel’s immense terrace to be faced by a breathtaking vista that has changed little since dinosaurs walked the earth.

The boutique, 25-room Sahab overlooks a timeless, craggy mountainscape that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Grand Canyon.

Eons ago, this region was under the sea. Many of the stones in the walls of the Sahab are studded with fossils, which date back 270 million years.

There is, for instance, an eye-catching ammonite which looks like a black Catherine wheel embedded in the wall opposite the reception desk.

Meanwhile, the terrace is strewn with tea tray-sized fossils where you can still make out the shapes of ancient dolphins and turtles. The history of the world is right there, beneath your feet.

Sitting on the very spacious terrace by the pool, eating the delicious food prepared by a chef who won the Omani version of MasterChef last year and gazing up at the stars, it is hard to not to feel you have found your own slice of heaven.

That sensation continues at Dunes by Al Nahda, another beautiful hotel in the same group. A two-hour drive from the Sahab, this is an immaculate property for which five stars seem too few.

At Dunes, you are accommodated in a tented village.

But never fear, this is not a desert replica of the muddy squalor of camping at T in the Park. Rather, you stay in an impeccably appointed tent, complete with air conditioning, wi-fi and a splendiferous bathroom.

Dunes offers a variety of wonderful activities, including a spa, where you can be buried at your neck in sand (much more relaxing than it sounds!), a nine-hole golf course, kite flying, sand surfing, cycling and volleyball.

I channelled my inner Mad Max by taking a scary – but absolutely thrilling – quad bike ride up and down the vertiginous dunes surrounding the hotel.

I could never imagine trying out these exhilarating pastimes in the local park on a wet Sunday afternoon.

That fits with my impression of Oman – it offers experiences and landscapes that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world.

It also offers sublime luxury.

One evening, as I was sitting by the infinity pool at Dunes, sipping champagne while the sun set gently behind the majestic Al Hajar mountains, I couldn’t help thinking, “Does it get any better than this?”

So, did I like Oman?

Oh man . . . yes!