At this Oman hideaway you can feel cut off

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Zighy Bay is Oman's latest luxury offering. But, asks Sarah Barrell, will guests get any sense of the country it's in?

Oman: it's the big buzz. This sultanate on the Arabian Peninsula is the current travel hot spot, yet few people really know much about it. A trip to Six Senses Hideaway, Zighy Bay – the latest in a new generation of high-end hotels crowning Oman's pristine northern coast – while blissful, won't do much to enlighten you either.

This self-proclaimed "hideaway", a two-hour dusty drive from Dubai – or five from the Omani capital, Muscat – sells itself on being remote. Sitting on the tip of the Musandam Peninsula, an exclave of Oman, separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates, the hotel is further cut off from civilisation by the near-impenetrable Hajar mountains, from which guests can paraglide 1,600ft down to check in.

Headline-grabbing as this unusual method of entry has been – the resort is also navigable by four-wheel drive transfer for the less adventurous – the mountains cut the resort off from the very thing that put it on the map: Oman. Hideaway hotels suit desert islands, like Six Senses' flagship hotel in the Maldives, where you fly in and flop. Here it makes sense to put your watches forward an hour to the resort's self-appointed time zone, forcing you to rise with the sun and appreciate mother nature's beachy pleasures. But being asked to switch to "Zighy Time" (try saying that without breaking into the MC Hammer dance) somehow feels like further retreating from the country you have come to see.

Since the discovery of oil and the reign of forward-thinking Sultan Qaboos, Oman has developed a reputation as the "most accessible" country in the region. Sandwiched between the get-rich-quick Emirates and Saudi, its distinctive tribal tradition, rich history and outward-looking culture compare favourably for the tourist who wants more than sun and shopping.

Yet for all this eastern promise, Oman is still largely a conservative country where family life dominates and is lived behind closed doors. You have to work hard and cover long distances for your traveller's rewards, but it is worth it: from medieval forts, to souks selling locally tapped frankincense, to the vast Empty Quarter desert captured in Thesiger's classic Arabian Sands. Oman seems a tease of a place to put a "Hideaway".

A nod to Oman's heritage is seen in Zighy Bay's design, after a traditional Omani village, albeit one suited to a superhuman breed of resident. Everything, from the giant raffia gates enclosing each private stone villa to the wooden furniture, is of such oversized rusticity that the family staying next door to me named its villa Jurassic Park.

Once the gates have been shouldered open (with the aid of my personal butler, no less), the white sand and turquoise Gulf of Oman make for a spectacular view, though one that not all rooms are privy to. Why have 79 villas stacked cheek by jowl on such a generous stretch of beach? If you're one of the expat Brits who regularly comes here on a break from Dubai, I suspect this will seem spacious by comparison, but I struggled to retain the exclusive "hideaway" vibe with the sound of next door's pool being dive-bombed by two bored kids. That said, each villa does luxuriate in its own private pool.

Zighy Bay welcomes children but doesn't appear to know quite what to do with them yet. Efforts are made to ensure adults are entertained, from Arabic cooking classes to an impressive spa menu. The food is certainly enough to distract you for a few days – refined Indian curries, sushi, superb Arabic meze – course after decadent course. As in many international franchises, a multi-national staff administers all this. Between my dextrous Jordanian masseur, two friendly Nepali mountain -bike guides, a French female sommelier, Lebanese chef, and Indian waiters, it was hard to find the 10 per cent local staff.

A glimpse of Oman can be found via the hotel's (pricey) excursions. A trip along the deep wadi (dry river bed) that slices through the Hajar offers a crash course in Oman's incredible geology and breaks the monotony of the dusty brown landscape that lends the resort an unfortunate quarry-like setting. A bike trip around the local fishing village, Dibba, revealed a goat to person ratio of 10:1 – and that one person was inside with the doors firmly shut. A less strenuous option is to board a traditional dhow boat and cruise the coast. From the ship, the world seems empty: empty mountains soar out of an empty sea into a vast empty sky. The phrase "round the bend" was coined here by the 19th-century Brits who spent years laying a telegraph cable, living on a rocky islet known as Telegraph Island. The phrase has its origins in the expats' isolation – or in the path of the cable around the peninsula; either way, this place induces a rare, soul-silencing stillness.

On scorched cliff tops, through a heat-haze wobble, a tiny stone village appears as if a mirage, where inhabitants speak a rare dialect that combines Arabic, Farsi, and Portuguese. Further north lies Musandam's fjord country: jagged coastal mountains perforated with vast fjord-like inlets, populated with playful bottlenose dolphins. But from the remoteness of the "hideaway" these exotic villages, like the fjords and, indeed, Oman itself, remain just hidden out of reach.


How to get there

Wellbeing Escapes (0845 602 6202; offers seven nights at the Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay in Oman from £1,420 per person – including two complimentary nights, a saving of £640. The price is based on two sharing a pool villa and includes return flights on Emirates, transfers, breakfasts and spa treatments. Valid until 31 August.

Further information

Oman Tourism Office (020-8877 4524;

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice