More than any other Middle Eastern state, Oman has achieved equilibrium between its ancient Arabian culture and modernity. Not only is it one of the region’s most peaceful and prosperous countries, but it is also increasingly popular with travelers in search of dramatic scenery, magnificent beaches and insight into the region’s traditional way of life. Occupying the rugged and mountainous southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman for centuries was one of the great trading powers of the Indian Ocean, with a sphere of commercial and naval influence that extended from the Horn of Africa as far south as Zanzibar.
Recently, the country’s good fortune can be attributed partly to the discovery of major oil deposits in 1964, but also to the relatively enlightened rule of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Forty years ago, Oman was still essentially a medieval kingdom. Today, its capital Muscat is a gleaming, contemporary metropolis of 700,000 inhabitants. Based in one of the city’s luxury hotels, you can make easy day trips into the interior, passing through picturesque small towns surrounded by lovingly tended date palm groves to visit landmarks such as the imposing castle at Jabrin and the 17th-century fort and souk (famous for its silver jewelry) at Nizwa.
Built against a breathtaking backdrop of stark mountains rising abruptly from the Arabian Sea, the Six Senses Zighy Bay is set on a mile-long crescent of powdery white sand. First seen from the lip of the two-mile access road that had to be blasted from a wall of rock, the resort is an intimate seaside village comprising 82 villas of rosy stone with reed-cane roofs. Despite the fact that it is in Oman, Zighy Bay is located on the Musandam Peninsula, an enclave separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates. Hence, the nearest airport is Dubai, not Muscat. Arriving late, we missed our opportunity to make a grand entrance. Had we turned up during daylight hours, we would have been given the option of descending to reception by (piloted) paraglider! Subsequently, this proved to be one of the main topics of conversation at the resort, with those who had flown in adopting a slightly patronizing attitude toward those timid souls who had preferred the solid comfort of the black BMW four-wheel-drive otherwise used for airport transfers.
Zighy Bay’s villas come in four categories. All are built of local stone and have butler service, plus two bicycles to pedal around the resort. We were very happy with our basic Pool Villa — a row back from the beach — since we still enjoyed views of the sea from the terrace of our private slate-lined plunge pool. Its freestone floors, traditional Omani beam-and-cane ceilings, whitewashed walls and dark wooden furniture located it unequivocally in the Persian Gulf, while ceiling fans, subdued lighting and a couch piled high with cotton pillows all invited languor. Every villa at Zighy offers a wonderful little private world that you rarely feel tempted to leave.
At Six Senses properties, the decorative style often seems inspired by the tropical improvisations of Robinson Crusoe. Electric cords are concealed with brown jute twine, lamps are made from recycled glass or split bamboo, and biodegradable technology is always preferred to anything industrial or plastic. In the open-plan bath, toiletries come in refillable pump containers to avoid the waste created by miniatures, and a palm-wood dish contains the herbal bath salts supplied for use in the extra-long terrazzo tub.
In such an isolated setting, high-quality restaurants are a necessity, since guests are a captive audience. Zighy Bay succeeds by offering a variety of venues and menus. The resort’s signature restaurant is Sense on the Edge, located on a dramatic mountain perch overlooking the resort. Spice Market offers delicious Arabian-style barbecue buffets, along with an international menu. The Deli provides light meals. Private dinners in your villa can easily be arranged. Overall, the quality of the food is excellent, especially considering the logistics of supplying such a remote location.
Zighy Bay has quickly become popular with American expats from Dubai and Europeans in search of winter sun. Most come to the resort in search of peace and quiet, but a full menu of activities is also available, including diving and snorkeling organized by the PADI dive center, trekking, rock-climbing, dhow trips, Arabian cooking lessons, paragliding and spa treatments.
Indeed, Zighy Bay has the most impressive spa on the Arabian Peninsula. Occupying a spacious building with nine treatment rooms and bordered by a burbling brook in a quiet corner of the village, it has a dreamy Arabian décor. An intriguingly international staff — during our appointments, therapists were Jordanian, Omani, Thai, Moroccan and Indonesian — has been trained to the highest standards by Six Senses, a company renowned for its spa expertise. Zighy Bay is a splendid property and one well worth making the effort to reach.
Zighy Bay 93 Villa, from $1,300. Musandam Peninsula, Oman.