Dylan Jones: If you ask me

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The Independent Online

If you ask me Oman is in something of a quandary. Should it just become the overspill for those who now find Dubai a little downmarket for their tastes (where did all those tattooed Englishmen come from?) or should it try and turn itself into the Palm Springs of the Middle East? It is a question that upmarket resort companies have been asking themselves for the past five years, prompted by the fact that Dubai has become a rather disastrous victim of its own success.

Five years ago, every article on Dubai focused on the extraordinary architectural feats being attempted there – hotels shaped like sails that stretched halfway to the moon and back again, entire cities being built in odd ergonomic forms on either reclaimed or completely artificial land; the building work was so ambitious the raison d'être for most new builds was seemingly their ability to be seen from space. Look at any magazine or newspaper feature on Shanghai today, and that's the treatment Dubai once had.

But the reality is somewhat different, as the capital of the United Arab Emirates is now turning into Torremolinos with an infinity pool. Imagine a Venn diagram involving the best parts of contemporary Blackpool, the worst parts of mid-Nineties Vegas and the more desolate parts of the Middle East, and Dubai would be in the middle. You only have to pass through the airport to see this, as it is largely full of a) builders and potential hotel staff from India sleeping in the aisles, and b) hordes of marauding holidaying Brits who can't believe that they've managed to find somewhere selling duty-free golf clubs.

So people look to Oman as a medium-haul alternative, a desert land as barren as Morocco, with the same sort of rustic charm, empty coastline and a highly marketable history shrouded in legend that has at various periods involved Portugal, Pakistan, Mombasa and Zanzibar. The Sultanate of Oman is the third largest country on the Arabian Peninsula and lies at the crossroads of three continents, four seas and five-star cultural change.

Right now there is no telling which way it might go, so if you want to sample top-end Omani delights before the charter flights arrive, you better pack your dishdasha and your Centurian Amex as soon as you can.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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