When in search of a guaranteed-sunshine break in the Middle East, most people think of the beaches, brunch bars and shimmering sky scrapers of flashy, in-your-face Dubai.
But, just an hour's flight away from Dubai, tucked away in the south east corner of the Arabian Peninsula, lies the Sultanate of Oman - offering a wonderful contrast to its brash UAE neighbour with its deserted sand dunes, wonderful wadis and chic, authentically-Arabian capital city Muscat.
The desert and the vast expanse of the Jebel Mountains, which loom large on the skyline behind Muscat, dominate the majority of this charming country's incredible landscape. There's plenty to explore – and there's loads of history too, since it has one of the oldest civilisations in the region. It's been visited by celebrities including newsreader Kate Silverton, and tourist numbers have been steadily increasing in recent years.
The Royal Cavalry of the Sultanate of Oman are performing at the Queen's 90th birthday this summer, too.
Excursions to visit the jaw-dropping wadis can be arranged via Arabia Orient Tours arabicaorient.com
It's a seven hour flight from London, and with some good planning you can cover much of the tourist trail's tick list in one exotic, dreamy long weekend. Here, HELLO! Online shows you how...
Camp out in the desert
A mere two and a half hour drive from Muscat, the A'Sharqiyah Sands are considered among the most beautiful camping areas in the Sultanate and extend over an area of up to 10 thousand square kilometres. That's a lot of desert! Waking up to watch the sun rise across the majestic, rolling sand dunes feels like a once in a lifetime experience and is not to be missed. HELLO! Online stayed at 1000 Nights Camp (1000nightscamp.com).
Go dune bashing
There's nothing quite as exhilarating as powering up a steep sand dune in a 4X4 only to come bouncing back down, heart racing, the powerful vehicle sending specks of golden sand flying every which way. But it's not for the faint hearted! A local tour operator such as Arabica Orient Tours (arabicaorient.com) can organise dune bashing excursions.
Visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat
This beautiful mosque – a fantastic example of modern Islamic architecture – is truly spectacular. It can hold 20,000 worshippers, and in the main prayer hall the Persian carpet measures 70m by 60m. It took 600 women four years to make it and is the second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world. It’s well worth a visit but the mosque is only open to visitors from 8am to 11am Saturday to Thursday. Visitors are required to dress modestly, covering arms and legs and avoiding tight clothing. Women and girls (aged seven and above) must cover their hair, wrists and ankles. Tickets can be bought at the entrance
Grab a bargain at the Mutrah Souq
The Mutrah Souq dates back around 200 years and is one of the oldest markets in Oman, selling everything from frankincense, incense, Arabian perfumes and handicrafts like silverware, daggers, traditional cloth, new apparel and shoes. You can also pick up gorgeous souvenirs – HELLO! Online bought cushion covers, pashminas and a cuddly toy camel. Unlike other souqs you may have visited, there is no hassle here. The shopkeepers are friendly and don’t pressurise you into buying; you're free to browse without being pestered. This Souq goes by another name among the Omanis: the Market of Darkness, due to its myriad of alleys and roads lined by shops that block the sun during the day. Just don't get lost!
Have a romantic dinner at The Chedi
The Chedi – the home of Muscat's largest spa - is one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. But if you don't have the budget for a stay there, why not go for dinner in the chic, marble courtyard followed by a cocktail by the Long Pool instead? Bag a day bed underneath the palms and relax. After all that sight-seeing, you've earned it!
For more information about Oman visit Oman Tourism omantourism.gov.om