I am going to Oman for a few days and a PR tells me that this is now a “mini-moon “destination. I have never heard this phrase before. Is it a truncated honeymoon? It must be said, I am one of the last people in the word to know about honeymoons, weddings or any of these patriarchal shenanigans. I am far nearer to those mad women who marry themselves in fit of public narcissism. Remember when Tracey Emin married a large stone in a secret ceremony in France wearing her father’s funeral shroud? ‘Stone Love’ it was called. “It just means at the moment I am not alone.” She could have had her pick in Oman. There are some mind-blowingly gorgeous rocks there.
It is apparent that this was nothing but rocks and desert until 48 years ago when the Sultan built everything
The Guardian recently ran a feature on people who define themselves as “autosexuals”, and not simply “deluded wankers” as the less woke might call them. Anyway, I decide then I know as much as about honeymoon destinations as the next intelligent woman who doesn’t believe in marriage. Honeymoons are, I presume, somewhere you go to have a lot of sex after a lot of faff of the wedding variety. So why not Oman? Exotic. A seven-hour flight, some sea, some desert, a luxe resort. We stay at the Shangri-La Al Husn Resort and Spa in Muscat (pictured, top) and it is all these things. The infinity pool, a small private beach, spacious rooms with balconies, a lovely free cocktail hour and sweet afternoon teas. But there are also lots of older couples who sit blankly looking at each other – their honeymoons clearly finished some time ago.
My room is enormous, with nice touches of geometric Islamic patterning. We are at the high end of the resort and there are other more family-oriented parts and lots of restaurants to choose from. The dinners are okay, but for me the best food is the fresh fish, the mezze, the simple salads we get at lunch.
I am quickly stir crazy. I love Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon but do not see the point of flying far to sit all day by a pool or a beach all day. As AA Gill once said “all beaches are essentially the same beach”. That is why I couldn’t comprehend going somewhere like the Maldives, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe that is where you have to have sex all the time as there is no culture?
We go out into the desert, to Wadi Al Arbeieen. It is rocky not duney, and we stop at a strange sink hole where people swim and have lunch under a gorgeous canopy. We go into Muscat itself one day and I become more curious about this place and want to wander by myself not be given the official lowdown. It is all governed by the Sultan, a man who deposed his father but is spoken of benignly, though he is a dictator. There are no heirs. He seems … how can I put this? Something of a confirmed bachelor. He also owns EVERYTHING. Omanis all say they love him. He gives everyone a small piece of land and they pay no tax. Oman, everyone tells you, is like Switzerland – neutral. Okay. It borders Saudi on one side and Yemen on the other, so I wonder how this works out.
It is apparent that this was nothing but rocks and desert until 48 years ago when the Sultan built everything. It’s all new and shiny, full of beautiful mosques where we are made to cover up our sinful ankles, several palaces and a museum that really doesn’t have much in it.
We go the market where men hold up huge finned tuna and nasty whiskered cat fish and then to a souk where most of the stuff is from India. Indeed, most of the guest workers in the hotels are from India.
Back at the spa I am scrubbed with honey and salt stuff, decimating my fake tan into patches. Omani Honey Heaven this is called and all products are a mix of local ingredients and L’Occitane. Still, I am looking forward to a tasting dinner cooked by visiting Michelin starred chef Rohit Ghai at Sultanah. It’s a mess to be frank, a mix of north and south Indian cuisine that does not work at all. At one point I am eating, essentially, a lamb stew in a heavy thick dosa. Far better is the seafood at Bait el Bahr at the Shangri-La Al Jissah Resort & Spa – a really fun place to eat. Every dish I have is great.
There is a trip to go snorkelling and see turtles who nest on the beach at the hotel but my inner David Attenborough tells me they won’t swim in so close (plus I don’t want anyone to know that once, when I went to Belize, I accidentally ate one). Turtle karma will get me one of these days. Instead, I stay on the sand and luxuriate. The others go, and come back from the trip having been sick on the boat and having seen no turtles. I feel vindicated.
The south of Oman looks wild and interesting but I want something a bit more real. I never relax enough not to wonder about a place where you can have four wives if they can afford it, where no one knows who the next ruler is going to be, where there are no elections. I wonder about the Bedouins. The Sultan built houses for them but they put their camels in them and slept outside. I am even thinking about this when I am being pummelled during a facial. Is this nice? No, my teeth hurt. I am a spoilt cow who can’t even get on with herself during her own honeymoon. Everyone I meet is lovely but it’s all a bit Disneyfied Gulf State. I feel like something is missing. “It’s not you”, I say to myself in the mirror, “it’s me. I need some space.” C
Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa, Barr Al Jissah, Muscat 100, Oman
+968 2477 6388; Shangri-la.com
Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Barr Al Jissa, Muscat 100, Oman
+968 2477 6666; Shangri-la.com