Independent Families: 'Will my daughter and I get the sun without the jet lag in Oman?'


Q. I want to take my teenage daughter for a week's sunshine during the February half-term. We would prefer somewhere that won't give us jet lag, as she will return straight back to college. We'd like to be near a beach, have access to spa treatments, and be able to do some sightseeing. We also like water sports. I hear that Oman is good, but how long is the flight there? Also, we would prefer separate rooms I'm aware that this won't be a cheap holiday!
C Howells, Surrey

A. With a history and culture as exotic as its rugged landscape and pristine coastline, Oman is an excellent choice for your winter-sun holiday. A slew of luxury hotels has opened up on the Indian Ocean shore of this ancient land in the past few years, which means spa treatments and well-supervised water sports will not be hard to find. Oman remains, as yet, free from the overdevelopment found in, say, neighbouring Egypt or Dubai. What's more, there is a time difference of only four hours, meaning jet lag is not too bad (for comparison, Florida is five time zones away, and Thailand is seven).

A new non-stop flight from Gatwick to Oman's capital, Muscat, started in November. Oman Air (0870 7707319; www.oman-air.com) flies daily (apart from Sundays), with a journey time of just over seven hours. Fares start from around 330 return during the February half-term week.

Before this new route started, all the possible approaches to Oman by air required a stop along the way. British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.britishairways.com) still flies daily from Heathrow, but these departures involve a stop in Abu Dhabi, increasing the overall journey time to nearly nine hours.

Other airlines flying between London and Muscat include Qatar Airways (0870 770 4215; www.qatarairways.com), Emirates (0844 800 2777; www.emirates.com); and Gulf Air (0870 777 1717; www.gulf air.com), with connections in their hubs.

Top of most hotel wish-lists is the ultra-cool and sleek Chedi (00 968 2452 4400; www.ghmhotels.com). However, the Chedi's extensive spa, private beach and elegant swimming pools should more than meet your requirements. Rooms start at OMR188 (242) per night (for both singles and doubles), including breakfast.

The Shangri-La group's new Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa (00 968 2477 6666; www. shangri-la.com) is fast becoming another five-star favourite. Sweeping around a cove and surrounded by craggy cliffs, this hotel sits on the talcum powder-white sands that stretch south of Muscat. With three different plush hotels and a wide range of facilities, this resort is most likely to satisfy the varied needs of a holidaying mother and daughter. Rooms start at OMR138 (175) in February, including breakfast.

If you can tear yourselves from your sun-loungers, there is more than enough sightseeing to fill your week. Muscat began life as a port and the old harbour at Muttrah, protected by cliffs and two towering 16th-century forts, is well worth exploring. Another easy and rewarding excursion is to the narrow lanes of Muscat's souk. Here, Omani life is scented with frankincense and sandalwood, and silver and gold is traded in the streets, much as it has been for centuries.

There is plenty to tempt you beyond the capital. The Jebel Shams mountain range offers good hiking and spectacular views of Wadi Ghul (Arabia's Grand Canyon). Nizwa, about 160km from Muscat (an hour-and-a-half's drive), is an ancient oasis and a lively example of a traditional Omani desert town. It would also a pity to leave the country without exploring its desert, as described in Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands.

Rawabi Adventures (00 968 95201107; www.rawabi-adventures.com) organises desert tours, as well as activities and guided excursions. The Oman Tourist Office (020-8877 4524; www.omantourism.gov.om) sends out tourist-information packs, and Bradt travel guide's 2007 edition on Oman (13.99) is the most up to date.

Package tours to Oman are plentiful. British Airways Holidays (0870 243 3406; www.ba.com/holidays) offers seven nights at the Shangri-La Al Bandar (see above), in Muscat for 2,772 per person, based on a departure on 15 February. This includes return BA flights from Heathrow, B&B accommodation in separate rooms and return transfers. The same deal in a twin room costs 1,612 per person.

A variety of spa treatments are available at the resort, costing from OMR44 (56) per person. The hotel's water-sports facilities include a diving centre and marina with snorkelling, windsurfing, kayaking, catamaran trips and dolphin-watching excursions that are all bookable on site, and many of which are free.

The luxury tour operators Western & Oriental (0870 499 0677; www.westernoriental.com) and ITC Classics (01244 355 550; www.itcclassics.co.uk) offer similar holiday packages to Muscat's leading spa hotels.

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email crusoe@independent.co.uk

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