I’ve been to Dubai many times, and I love its opulence and its excess. Dubai is a serious rival to Las Vegas and Sun City – everything’s bigger and brighter, more stunning and more rich! This time I was invited to visit Dubai’s famous 6 star hotel the Burj Al Arab – and it’s even more amazing inside! Fountains, gold plated lift buttons, and miles of beautiful carpet to sink your toes into! Dubai’s latest shopping mall now has a full size Alpine Ski Slope with real snow – we watched through thickened glass as the snow “fell” on the slopes, settling on real fir trees. There was tobogganing, snowboarding and skiing and chair lifts for the skiers inside – wrapped in full regalia of salopettes, gloves, hats and scarves – well it was minus 1° in there!

Driving a car is easy and petrol is cheap, so we left the bright lights for a night in the desert at the Bab Al Shams resort. This amazing oasis is just an hour from Dubai with three infinity pools, a swim up bar and a spa. It’s a wonderful getaway. It’s built like a traditional Arabic fort, surrounded by dunes and palm trees. There are camel rides at sunset and a falconry display for the guests. After a superb supper, we settled down on the sofas on the roof top smoking Sheesha Pipes under the desert stars!

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Feeling more adventurous we drove 200 miles across the desert to Muscat, capital city of the Sultanate of Oman. No more skyscrapers, no more noise of construction and cranes, no more nightclubs or Hard Rock Cafes! Muscat is nestled between the mountains and the shores of the Gulf of Arabia. Typical Arab white washed low rise buildings, lots of domes and golden minarets and the call to prayers resounding in the open air at dusk every evening.

Oman is so much more traditionally MiddlCopy of muscat and dubai 2006 035e East than Dubai – the men in long white robes and their wives, covered from head to toe in their black abayas. It’s a shopaholic’s paradise here – you can buy anything and any brand, and then take a break at Starbucks!

Muttrah Souk is something else – old and charming with rows of matchbox size shops in tiny winding lanes. Most famous for gold, but you can still haggle for sandalwood, frankincense, pots and clothing – a must on every list.

The Grand Mosque is also a must if you visit Oman – beautiful ceramics, marble and stained glass line covered passageways and prayer halls – but the two most stunning features are the crystal and gold plated chandelier hanging in the dome, and the hand made Persian carpet which weighs 21 tons!

Despite all this tradition, Oman has 5 starCopy of muscat and dubai 2006 039 hotels that rival any in Europe or the Far East. We stayed at The Chedi, understated, quiet and luxurious – but I did get the chance to visit the new and truly stunning Shangri La Resort and the Al Bustan Palace – you will want for nothing at any Omani hotel – from fine dining, sumptuous spa treatments to intimate piano bars and happy hour cocktails

But most surprising of all were the trips I made out to sea – dolphins, all kinds, common, spinner and bottlenose, with a 90% sighting guarantee rate the speedboat ride out on a warm morning was just another bonus. I’ve got the hang of snorkelling now, but I’m still too nervous to dive – the coral reefs are pristine, and the gulf has dramatic wall drop-offs from 6 to 40 metres deep. Kayaking, fishing or just a sunset cruise – all in warm water and no danger at all of goosebumps!

Leaving Oman, I felt completely relaxed and refreshed. It was a fascinating country to learn about and explore. It was safe, the people were extremely friendly and courteous and looked after us with genuine care and respect. Such a shame that all good holidays must come to an end!

If you’d like to know more email me: charmaine@hallmarktravel.com

Meet me in the gallery!