If you're anything like me, you'll have found that the five star resort hotels of the Middle East do a wonderful job of creating oases in a desert. They create pantomimes of refreshing colour in an environment that just can't be found outside the resort walls.
This is what living in the Middle East is meant to be like: Enjoying Turkish baths, fresh juices by the pool and taking Arabic coffee in cool, dark halls on velvet cushions. Swanning through beautiful old-wood interiors, thoughtful decor reflecting the ancient patterns of the land, beautifully manicured gardens and immaculately presented smiling staff.
I wish! The closest we come to actually living like this is looking out the window at the gorgeous pool while working the treadmill of the hotel's gym, knowing the reason there's no-one lounging around it is that it's 46 degrees in the shade out there. Outside the resort grounds in the city I'm resident of, for instance, being Doha, Qatar, is a dusty city buzzing with construction and incomprehensible traffic.
But an hour and ten minutes flight from here, a town every bit as picturesque and interesting as some of the most famous cities in the world rests... a place where The Chedi didn't offer the sole refreshing sight for dust-weary eyes. It's still the Middle East, and it's still 46 degrees in the shade. But it's an oasis bigger than a resort hotel. It's Muscat, capital of Oman.
There is something about an ancient port that entices and holds magic long after the sea-faring traders have ceased to exchange gold pieces. You feel the excitement, promise and hope of days gone by- there's soul here. A ring of rock-mountains surrounds Muscat, and forts watch over the pale, low city.
Did they just start planting their trees earlier, or are there more here than in Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai? It's not just palm trees that dot a dry landscape- many shrubs, bushes and lawns greenify small neighborhoods with familiar shopping names sitting next to Arabic ones, and chairs and tables outdoors invite customers to dine al fresco overlooking running fountains. People are swimming in the ocean, and, high on a hill, mansions clamber for the most expansive view over the Gulf of Oman. Somehow the whole city's more understandable. These people enjoy quality living.
They call themselves the "poor people" of the GCC, as they don't mine oil or gas. But the Omanis rest comfortable in the fact that their country and Bahrain are the best regarded and most-highly sought after destinations in the region by tourists and expats alike. They are incredibly proud of their ruler and his vision for his citizens (I had heard this before, but to listen to an Omani talk loyally about HM and his appreciation for the environment is truly touching). Touching, too, is their genuine warmth towards visitors and enthusiasm for sharing their beautiful country.
Muscat- especially the old town- can offer any visitor or resident lovely feng shui, and I predict will remain a prosperous, healthy, ever-more inviting city for many years to come.
FENG SHUI BY THE SEA IN THE GULF RECOMMENDS :)
- The Dive Centre, for lunch and a glass of crisp wine in the shade of frangipani trees, and swim at the white sand beach (view pic below)
- Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, an oasis seemingly carved into the rocky cliffs, a "final outpost" of luxury living.
- Businesses promoting Ayurveda, Complementary & Natural herbal remedies in Muscat. Soon to come to Qatar, too, we hope.
- Omani hospitality. Beautiful spoken English, teasing humour, they're a gracious & open people. Especially to Royal Omani Police, of whom we were guest. Big Hugs!!!