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Oman is an oasis of Arabian spice and proud of its history and heritage

You could argue that Oman is the perfect antidote to Dubai. Or maybe the perfect accompaniment. Either way, it contrasts so sharply with its neighbour that the comparison is stark.

Where Dubai is racy, high-rise, brash, modern, cosmopolitan and desperate for change; Oman is calm, low-rise and more comfortable with its Arab history and heritage. Where Dubai architecture is tall and shiny with steel and mirrored glass structures, Oman’s is textured stone with sensuous, Arabian curves in its windows and doorways.

Ten storeys in height is the maximum allowed in the lush, green capital of Muscat, leaving the skyline bigger and bluer and the seascape more visible to both visitors and locals. Meanwhile the spectacular mountains provide all the height needed to see the magnificent views of the country. But Oman is not Dubai’s little brother, it is six times as big as the United Arab Emirates!

I visited for a long weekend after attending the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) Congress in Dubai and loved it. I enjoyed two nights in the mountains staying at the luxurious Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort – a natural eyrie atop the mountains with 82 canyon-view rooms and 33 private pool villas – and then two nights at the excellent Kempinski Hotel Muscat on the beach in the modern community of Al Mouj, with six kilometres of stunning coastline.

View the Oman photo gallery

We watched bottle-nosed dolphins and swam with turtles amongst the coral reefs. We visited the Muttrah Fish Market and Souq and tasted some of the hundreds of different types of dates grown in the region.

But don’t get the idea Oman is a backward backwater, Muscat offers plenty for the culture vultures and historians. Its 150-year connections with Portugal ended in 1650 with independence but evidence of the relationship remains with Khasab Castle and Kamadra Fort, for example. But there are older gems that reflect Oman’s history, such as the Lost City of Ubar, now a Unesco ‘Land of Frankinsense’ world heritage site. Fortresses, palaces and castles abound but there are natural attractions, too, in the wadis, springs and canyons of this amazing country.

The local people are charming, warm and friendly. At the date market, I met a group of Omani men sitting together drinking coffee. I asked them if I could take a photograph and they kindly invited me to sit with them and enjoy a coffee. Soon my two colleagues arrived and they, too, were offered hospitality by our chatty, new chums.

Naturally, I wasn’t allowed to escape without a whistle-stop inspection visit to the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre, just 10 minutes from the spanking new airport. With a 3,200 seat tiered theatre and 22,000 square metres of exhibition space, this is a venue for seriously large events – the two exhibition halls combined provide space for plenary sessions of up to 10,000 delegates!

There are also two superb ballrooms for 2,000 and 860 theatre-style as well 20 smaller meeting rooms for 10 to 360 and another tiered auditorium for 456 people. On the precinct there are already a JW Marriott (linked to the convention centre), a Crowne Plaza and Ibis Styles with more hotels planned and the whole precinct abuts the Muscat Hills Golf Course. The project has been undertaken under the experienced eyes of AEG Ogden, the same company that manages the 02 Arena and countless convention centres from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur and they know how to run a venue.

If you, like me, know little of Oman. It is worth taking some time to find out. It is one to watch.

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