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LUXURY FAMILY: Oman
Where do you go on a family holiday when the family in question is spread out across the world - England, Switzerland, and Australia - the three generations of family members range from six to 'antique' and you want to do more than just sit by a pool?
 
We come up with Oman, a more or less halfway point between Europe and Australasia with a perfect climate but less commercialisation than is offered by the glittering towers of Dubai. Oman has mountains, beaches, sun and excellent hotels, plus souks, mosques and splendid museums. You can even drink the water, no small consideration when travelling with children. Best of all, Oman is a peaceful, stable country in a region not always known for its calm. It comes with a fair dose of exotica too; after all, this is the place Sinbad the Sailor called home (a big deal with the two eight-year-olds) and has ancient forts and castles strung like worry beads across the land.
 

chedi exterior
chedi exterior
chedi, private beach
dolphins

 
It has mysterious bazaars, gold, frankincense and myrrh, and a conservationist, benevolent sultan who is doing a wonderful job of easing Oman into the modern world without losing its magic.
Getting there is easy for all of us, with direct flights from Sydney to Dubai for us, and from Zurich and London for the others, with convenient hour-long connecting flights to the capital, Muscat
So it is that the nine of us (two sets of parents - our daughters and their husbands - two grandparents and three grandchildren) converge on our luxury hotel, The Chedi, a long, low-lying white series of buildings surrounded by water gardens on the sandy shores of the Gulf of Oman, proves to be heaven. It has two large swimming pools, one for adults, and the other for families with children.
Both pools are surrounded by so many white cushioned sun lounges that there is never a squabble about' where to lie/read/sit/ or a chance to drip water on Grandma.
The first few days are spent around the Chedi with swimming, snorkelling in the gulf, kayaking and a wonderful morning on a hotel-arranged boat trip where the passengers are treated to a dolphin sighting of more than 100 'Flippers' leaping and dancing in the warm waters A few energetic souls play tennis, too.
The next few days are spent exploring Muscat. Taking a minibus from the hotel we venture down the wide date palm-lined boulevards of this most modem of cities (the locals are mad about roundabouts).We visit Al-Ghubrah whose grand mosque, said to be the biggest us the world, was completed in 2001.
Modest clothing is required here. Before we are allowed in we have to wrap our eight-year-old in a big scarf as she is showing too much leg in her knee-length skirt. (A glimpse of my neck also causes trouble, but then it usually does!)
Next it was on to the souk which proves to be so clean and orderly it is not like your usual eastern scramble at all. Here the children go dotty about piles of mysterious sweetmeats which they are allowed to sample, while their parents try on little lacy caps made of gold, and scooter-tyre-sized golden and silver bracelets at very modest prices. Beads, baubles, black coffee offered in tiny cups, woven baskets, heaps of saffron and myrrh and little bundles of sweet, mysterious herbs...it really is the souk from Central Casting and everyone is very friendly indeed.

  This is the place SINBAD THE SAILOR called home and has ancient forts and CASTLES strung like worry beads across the land.

Next morning our caravan sets off in three four-wheel-drives travelling along the spine of Oman's majestic Hajar Mountains. We are right on the Tropic of Cancer; hot, dry and vast. We are in the middle of absolutely nowhere, surrounded by a landscape empty except for a few goats. From a small rise we see a sink hole with water of such dazzling clarity we all strip off, clamber down the rocky sides and jump in. It is like swimming in emerald: clear, deep and green.
After a picnic lunch we leave the mountains to follow the ribbon road to the sea, where our three driver-guides make camp for us on the sands of a white beach under the stars. After a meal of chicken which is cooked over a fire conjured from blue-flamed driftwood, we settle down on lush rugs under an awning.
Our sleeping arrangements give the phrase 'family get-together' new meaning, but everyone is happy enough when we all pile into the sea next morning.
Good snorkelling at White Beach and the children are greatly excited when they meet a huge moray eel at the mouth of his cave breakfasting on a crab and then are overtaken by a huge turtle as they head for shore.
Later, we head inland across a long plain to Sur, an old Portuguese trading port, where we stop to visit a shipyard building traditional wooden boats. This is a huge success
with the children, as is the fort looming over the harbour.
At the Wadi Bani Khalid we all scramble over baking rocks (it's 100 degrees fahrenheit/38 degrees celcius) to swim in the deep pools beneath the waterfalls.
Our shining driver-guides are endlessly patient with the children. They answer questions, include them in setting up camp and gathering firewood so there is no time for boredom or quarrels in these well spaced diversions.
Finally in the late afternoon, we arrive at the Wahiba Sands where we have a slippery swerving drive deep into the desert. Bands of wild camels wander silhouetted against the rose and saffron sands of giant dunes. Here we stay for the night in little adobe huts with the hardest beds in the world, with the wind whistling through the open barred window spaces.
We spend the evening expecting the arrival of the cast of Beau Geste and eat and sleep Arab-style in a tented pavilion in the clear cold air of the desert which turns to furnace heat in the following dawn when everyone takes off into the desert on camels. Next it was dune-bashing time, in the four-wheelers and on foot The Swiss kids say they regret leaving their skis at home as the sand was 'like powder'.
None of us want to leave the desert, and it is in a reluctant mood we leave, driving towards the mountains where we make camp at  over 6500 feet (2000 metres), the weather so chilly after the baking heat of the desert, we take to sleeping bags and tents. We are surrounded by rock fossils and falling stars, and our driver-guides stack up a huge bonfire and puff on their hubble-bubble pipes while we all sleep like the proverbial logs.
The next day we literally find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. The road back down the mountains to the coast is the worst ever; we have to build it as we drive, at one stage taking an hour to drive a half a mile (one kilometre). A small shower the previous week has caused huge washaways.
It is all hands to; the children feeling very important as they carry stones to help the boys fill in the gaps. Eventually we make it back to the calm delights of the Chedi. The six-year-old says it for all of us when he proclaims: "I love Oman, someone cleans up after you, someone else ties a napkin round your neck when you eat, they put smiley faces on your hot chocolate and the souk has everything you need.
 
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Jill Mullens updated 4/4/10
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