Located on the edge of the Wadi Al Abiyad (or White Valley), the luxury Dunes by Al Nahda 5* camp has pitched its tents in the desert closest to Muscat.
We're near the small town of Barka, about an hour's drive from the Omani capital.
Perched on a promontory surrounded by a string of ochre sand dunes, this canvas boutique resort is an ideal place for a gentle approach to the desert or a stopover on a tour of Oman.
Welcomed by attentive staff, we discover the communal living areas, all open onto the surrounding sandy sea: the bar/restaurant, a lounge for informal gatherings and the thirty or so pyramid-shaped tents that crown an imposing dune.
The temptation of the desert
The sun is at its zenith and the sky is an azure blue. An impression of gentleness and harmony emanates from the setting, designed with respect for the surrounding nature. After quenching our thirst with a lemon/mint juice, a buggy takes us to our beautifully decorated tent.
Oriental decoration is expressed in the graphic fabric of the headboard, the openwork bedside lamps, and the pleated hangings that are meant to recall those on the khaimas of the sheiks.
The ensemble is a fine example of the Dunes decorative identity, blending local craftsmanship with comfort. Chic without being flashy.
It's time to head to the Fleur restaurant, which offers a short, balanced menu, a guarantee of fresh produce. Served in crockery with tangy yellow and green colours, the dishes are spicy with aromas that remind us that the Sultanate of Oman is on the maritime spice route.
In the afternoon, most of the residents go to the swimming pool, dug into the horizontal dunes and hills.
Here you can swim with the misty, tiered foothills of the Jabal Akhdar in your sights, where Al Nahda has also opened another establishment, the Sahab resort. The soft November light invites you to sunbathe on the sunbeds or comfortable deckchairs.
We stroll around the site, decorated with beautiful traditional pottery and lit by elaborate lamps. Clumps of plants have been staked out on the sandy knolls surrounding the tents. The gardeners have combined the graphics of cacti, desert roses and wind-blown grasses.
The covered courtyard houses a number of sofas where you can enjoy a drink when the sun goes down. It is surrounded by a canal reminiscent of the traditional falaj (irrigation channels) and planted with yellow water lilies on which dragonflies come to rest.
At dusk, the wrinkles in the sand drawn by the wind become an ephemeral tableau where all traces of life seem to have disappeared. What could be more romantic than dreaming under a starry sky, lulled by the song of the wind in the dunes? To let your imagination conjure up the adventures of Sindbad the sailor, who is said to have lived in Sohar, in the north of the country, in the 10th century. This is the happy Arabia that the Romans called the "felix Arabia".
Psammotherapy at the Uru spa
The burial lasts around fifteen minutes, depending on the heat, experience and state of health of the person. It is followed by a shower and a relaxing massage with yoghurt to soothe and nourish the skin, or with treatment oils concocted by Dr Mary Ann, a specialist in phytotherapy and wellness for the Al Nahda group. You can choose between 'Arabian Nights' and 'Liquid Gold' depending on the effect you are looking for: the former has detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties, while the latter has regenerating, toning and anti-oxidant properties.
The two therapists, from Buthan and India, are both excellent and were trained in India. Whether you're looking for a relaxing massage (Thai Royal, Mindful, Ayurvedic) or an invigorating one (reflexology or shiatsu), their fairy fingers will delight even the most demanding clients.
For the more sporty, there are a number of outdoor activities available in the surrounding dunes, including quad biking, sandboarding and more, or you can opt for a short ride on the back of the local camel, which seems delighted to stretch its legs.
Whatever the case, after the effort, the comfort! There's nothing to stop you stopping off at the spa for a 'Uru Signature' essential oil massage, which combines different techniques to relax the body.
Dinner under the stars
On our last evening, we will be treated to a festive dinner featuring the traditional Omani dish: shuwa. This consists of a leg of lamb (or goat) brushed with a paste containing numerous spices (coriander, garlic, onions, tomato paste, chilli pepper, etc.) and cooked in a banana leaf for around ten hours in a pit over a low fire. This stewing method produces extremely tender, flavoursome meat. It is served with biryani rice, according to custom.
All rooms are air-conditioned and equipped with mini-bar, free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV, tea/coffee making facilities and bathroom with bath, shower, bathrobe and slippers. They are divided into 3 categories: Luxury Tent (39 m²) with king-size bed; Suite Tent (84 m²) comprising 2 Luxury Tents linked by a common hall; Royal Tent (138 m²) with living room, 2 separate bedrooms and private patio.
The level of service at Dunes is beyond reproach. Only the 4 X 4s of the locals having fun in the dunes on certain evenings sometimes disturb the peace and quiet of the place.
Oman, the second safest destination in the world.
According to the World Economic Forum report, the Sultanate of Oman is the 2nd safest destination for travel, behind Finland and on a par with Iceland. An ancient trading post on the route to India, Oman is a little jewel tucked between the sandy sea and the Indian Ocean, one of those mythical lands where sailors and adventurers have stopped off. Oman demonstrates its legendary hospitality and its spirit of openness to all its visitors. Here, the traveller is always welcomed as a guest, not just another tourist.
Things to see and do
The world's smallest capital, Muscat, stretches further and further along the 60km coastline every day. The coastal road is dotted with perfectly manicured lawns planted with flowers by thousands of gardeners, and roundabouts adorned with stunning monuments. The museums of old Muscat and the souk of Muttrah, as well as its corniche, the opera house and the great mosque, are the highlights of your stay.
The flagship airline of the Sultanate of Oman, Oman Air operates a daily flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle Outbound: night flight and Return: day flight. It operates international flights from the capital Muscat to over 40 destinations around the world, including Asia.
Economy class offers excellent in-flight service (individual screens, quality catering, progressive lighting and air humidifiers). There is plenty of legroom and elbow room. Seat pitch: 79 cm between each row. 30 kg baggage allowance (in 1 or 2 baggage items). A choice of 3 menus.
The on-board staff are smiling and attentive to passengers' needs.
Flights are operated by Dreamliner from the Paris stopover or by Boeing 787-9.
Voted "Best Business Class Airline in the Middle East" at the 2018 World Travel Awards, Oman Air also offers its passengers a very high standard Business Class.
For more information
Text and Photos: Brigitte Postel