When the Gulf Cooperation Council first selected Muscat as the host city for its summit back in 1985 the Sultanate of Oman knew it needed to do something to celebrate. Something people would remember. Something iconic.
They built the “Jewel of the Sultanate” and 27 years later tourists and residents are still reaping the rewards.
“The Jewel of the Sultanate”, or Al Bustan Palace to give the property its real name, is a coastal resort that has played home to the heads of state and royalty ever since.
Now managed by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, the established great now benefits from the expertise of an organisation with 85 years of luxury expertise.
To bring its world renowned philosophy to life in Oman, Ritz-Carlton turned to General Manager Bernard Viola to lead the rebranding process. Following stints with Ritz-Carlton properties in Japan, Jamaica and Bahrain he jumped at the opportunity to work with such an iconic hotel.
“I was dazzled going into this hotel for the first time,” admits Viola. “It is the same for friends who visit the Al Bustan Palace for the first time. When you see it nestled between the mountains and the sea all you can say is ‘Wow’. It really is an impressive site”.
Although numerous multi-million dollar refurbishments have kept the Al Bustan Palace at the forefront of Oman’s tourist scene the atmosphere and style of the hotel are very much centred on tradition.
“Oman is very different to the rest of the Middle East,” says Viola. “Omani coffee tastes different to Arabic coffee, the culture here is different and the people are different to anywhere in the Gulf. Omani hospitality is well known around the world”. It is a fact not lost on visitors to the Al Bustan Palace, where 60 per cent of the staff are Omani with a genuine interest and passion for their home nation.
“We see it as part of our job to preserve the culture of the country. The Ritz-Carlton has not come to Oman to change things. Our philosophy is not about how to carry a bag or to flip a burger. It is about how to treat guests with respect and make them feel special. Our ladies and gentlemen do that for all the visitors to his hotel,” adds Viola.
Stride into the 38 metre-high domed atrium for the first time and you’re likely to be greeted by the smell of local frankincense wafting through the lobby. It is a scent that has welcomed travellers and traders to the same stretch of coastline for centuries although few could have ever stayed in such comfort.
The Al Bustan Palace is a hotel proud of its heritage. Arched doorways, traditional Arabian art, wide open spaces and low seating are features of public areas and the feeling is very much that of a Middle Eastern palace. The building’s octagonal shape provides all guest rooms and suites with inspiring views of the Sea of Oman, the Hajar Mountains or both.
Few properties in the region boast a setting quite like it. Directly in front of the hotel is the longest stretch of private beach anywhere in Oman. In fact, the nearly 1km-long strip of golden sands overlooking the azure waters are a feature that brings sun-seekers from around the world. Superb watersport provision extends to Scuba-diving, windsurfing and sailing. All visitors, even those without a particular passion for the sea, are encouraged to take a dolphin watching trip across the waters. Dolphin shoals visit the shores of Oman in large numbers. Muscat and Musandam are famous for dolphin watching, Take the ride from Marina Bandar Al Rawdha which is 10 minutes away from Al Bustan Palace for an early morning glimpse of the elegant mammal.
Alternatively hike the imposing mountains and wadihs to the rear of the hotel, make use of the tennis court and health club or simply stroll the 200 acres of lush landscaped gardens. Of the five outdoor swimming pools the 50m long infinity pool that appears to blend directly into the sea is the most impressive.
Less dynamic travellers are advised to take a sea view room or suite and simply take in the view from the balcony. Chances are you will spot fishermen hauling in the days catch from traditional boats up and down the still active coast.
A 3,000 square metre Six Senses spa is in the pipeline and due to open in Q4 of this year. It is part of the renovation strategy that keeps the Al Bustan Palace evolving. Recent modernisation has transformed the accommodation and modern conveniences such as flat screen TVs and high-speed internet access are featured as standard.
Stand-out dining options include the authentic Asian cuisine of China Mood, the freshest local seafood of Beach Pavillion and local delicacies in the Al Khiran all-day dining restaurant.
With Muscat just 8km away the Al Bustan Palace is close enough to visit the many attractions Oman’s holiday hot spot has to offer. With more than 500 forts, a variety of festivals and popular souqs it is unsurprising that Lonely Planet selected Oman as the second most desirable city to visit for 2012 (behind Olympic host London). For first-time visitors and old fans alike the Al Bustan Palace, Ritz-Carlton hotel is an excellent choice to sample Oman.
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