Last night I took a ride out to what is regularly voted the best hotel in the Middle East. Walking through the main front doors of the Al Bustan Palace hotel, on the edge of Muscat, you can quickly see why it wins people over. The lobby, standing at 38-metres high, resembles that of a large cathedral. At the centre of this impressive large room is a crystal chandelier and fountain.
The hotel features some 800,000 tonnes of marble from across Europe and towering white pillars hand crafted in India. It was built between 1983 and 1985 for a regional Gulf summit and has just benefited from a complete refurbishment.
It was out of my price range to stay the night, but I couldn’t stop myself from testing out one of the restaurants. Not fancying the seafood buffet, I opted for a Caprese salad and the chef’s beef burger. Perhaps it was because I was dining early, but the service was excellent and I had very close attention. And I can honestly say, it was one of the best burgers I have ever had – the succulent mince melted beautifully in my mouth. Including a small still water and service the bill came to £24 – money well spent, I say.
After eating I went for a walk around the resort’s grounds. It was by now dark, but the main features of the vast network of pools were lit up. Staff were going round lighting hundreds of candles. The mountains, where guests enjoy short escorted walks during the day, behind me also had a glow to them from the flood lights.
I settled for a cool pint of beer in the bar and restaurant on the hotel’s private beach. By candle light I read in my guidebook about the history of Oman. And that included the story of the Al Bustan Palace Hotel; a hill had to be blasted away and the village of Al Bustan (once a leper colony) was re-located nearby. The villagers enjoy improved facilities and hotel guests get to relax in a wonderful location. A win: win situation.
There’s so much that could be written about hotels in Muscat. Designers of new resorts compete with each other to offer the guests the wow factor. But there’s also a lot that could be said about the expats who hang out in them. At the Al Bustan there was a lavish birthday party for a group of expats. Most of the international hotels have a British themed pub. As there are no independent bars in Oman, this is the place where expats go out in the evenings. I’m sure someone must have designed a pub crawl that links all the hotels together.
Having checked out a couple of the big hotels, I think the Al Bustan has the biggest appeal – its got the facilities that westerners like but at the same time boasts beautiful Islamic architecture. I’m going to start saving up for my next trip to Oman!