Omani Jewel

Writer Stephanie Shiu | September 7, 2018

Have you ever parked yourself on a sun lounger ready for a day of reading in solitude, only to have serenity shattered by kids running rampant? This sort of distraction doesn’t exist at Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa, which now only welcomes guests over the age of 12. Redefining exclusivity, the 180-room hotel caters to travellers after guaranteed peace and quiet, promising couples uninterrupted alone time.

Its majestic location overlooking the Gulf of Oman is undeniably regal, just like its Moorish and Omani design, with the same rich opulence of an Arabian palace.  All guests enjoy a complimentary mini bar, afternoon tea and pre-dinner cocktails each day, and access to a gorgeous private 100m beach and infinity pool. Al Husn guests can also sign at any of the 15 eateries located at the adjacent sister property Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, which is better suited to families seeking kids’ paradise thanks to its Lazy River and Adventure Zone.

Presence of Provence

Back at Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa, its well-equipped fitness centre and new Hareer Spa by L’OCCITANE are also reserved for their exclusive use. The first L’Occitane spa in Oman offers the ultimate adult spa retreat with four treatment rooms and a retail area so that you continue the pampering after the skilled therapists’ touch.

‘Hareer’ means ‘silk’ in Arabic, a reference to how you will feel when emerging post treatment – smooth and luminous much like the fabric. The shades of lavender in the Mediterranean-inspired spa  pay homage to the brand’s roots in Provence. Expect the cult classic ingredients like almond from Provence and shea butter from Burkina Faso to be incorporated in treatments.

After a redeye flight, layover and 13 hours airborne my body needed a bit of attention. The spa’s signature Omani Honey Heaven effectively undid hours spent cramped in a tiny seat, providing a second wind following the morning arrival. The 90 minutes of deliciousness combines a scrub and relaxing massage which envelops you in the fragrance of Omani honey, easing tension so that you feel physically and mentally recentred.

Once in holiday mode however, even a little lobster-like from the intense sun, the Immortelle Secret of Youth facial is a great way to enliven parched skin. Designed for anti-ageing, the hour-long treatment uses immortelle from Corsica to encourage cell renewal and production of collagen. To lessen the appearance of fine lines caused by muscle tension in the face, a massage concentrating on lifting and firming is combined with an acupressure technique to improve circulation.

Sultan Worthy

Your body however may look more rotund than usual given the profusion of gastronomic gems. A typical day is spent rolling from one spread to the next, breakfast being particularly indulgent. So bountiful in fact that a bit of strategy needs to come into play so you can try everything – from the droolworthy array of pastries (there’s a sugar-free section so diabetics and the health-conscious aren’t left out) to the pita bread and selection of dips, before even getting to the main course. Our pick is the Belgian waffle with fresh berries and maple syrup.

A quick dip, some sun worship and what do you know, lunchtime has rolled around. Perched above the private beach, Mahhara Beach Bar provides views of turquoise water while you tuck into fresh caught seafood cooked on the grill and salads comprising vegetable harvested from local farms. Sherry fish with salad and roast potatoes is light enough that you’ll still have room for what’s to come.

Which is – afternoon tea at its finest. From finger sandwiches to mini tarts and scones with jam and cream, it’s the height of hedonism. If you thought you’d have digestive respite before dinner, think again. Six o‘clock is time for aperitifs and canapés in the courtyard so you can take in this particularly pretty time of day before your final feast.

If contemporary Spanish fare appeals, Sultanah is the place for a creative take on Mediterranean flavours. The sous vide mussel, scallop and prawn starter with green peas, walnut oil, eggplant caviar and tomato was transformed into a piece of art thanks to edible flowers. The grilled cod loin fillet with coconut, cucumber, red curry emulsion, mint chlorophyll olive oil and smoked liquid was cooked to perfection.

The star of the culinary show has to be Shahrazad, a tantalising blend of Moroccan and Omani fare, where you feel as if you are dining under the stars whether al fresco or under a blanket of twinkling lights within. Omani lobsters are mind-bogglingly massive and delicious. Go for the Arabic Harrah style, grilled and served with  mushrooms, spicy pepper sauce and fennel salad. Signature dishes tend to incorporate an element of showmanship here. Even a simple fattoush salad is elevated through its preparation tableside in a theatrically oversized bowl. Similarly the unique Shahrazad Majmar, Bolivian chocolate ganache, pistachio pain de gênes, Omani coffee foam and luban halwa dessert comes to life after chocolate is poured over its elegant dome.

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Natural Treasures

While conceivable to indulge solely in the finery of the resort, it would be a shame to miss out on Oman’s rugged landscapes and fascinating heritage. Bespoke experiences can be arranged through concierge depending on the time of year. As my visit took place in the height of summer, the four-wheel drive through coastal village Quriyat, Wadi Al Arbeieen and waterfall was not recommended due to heat, but looks worthwhile. As does the yacht trip to Bandar Al Khairan Island with its stunning beaches, a prime snorkeling spot brimming with fish, turtles and coral.

There is also plenty of marine life closer to shore. The resort’s turtle ranger can take you on a guided snorkel, who gives talks to raise awareness about the Shangri-La’s Turtle Care Project created to protect the native endangered hawksbill and green turtle species. Just down the road is the Extra Divers Qantab centre, where boats go out twice a day on dolphin watching trips, where you’re 90 per cent guaranteed to see the spinner, bottle nose or common varieties that make the Gulf of Oman home. There’s nothing better than seeing these creatures frolicking in the wild.

Daily shuttles are also run to Muttra Souq every afternoon when the heat subsides slightly. Known for its winding alleys you’ll know you’re in one of Oman’s oldest market when the heady aroma of frankincense hits you. A veritable Aladdin’s cave, you can find everything from silverware to daggers and traditional cloth. When you’ve had your fill of bargain hunting, sit at one of the roadside cafes with a rose water milkshake and people-watch, taking in the contrasts between palm trees and mountains, container ships looming in the distance of the bustling port while music from the mosque blankets the city in calm.

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