By Courtney Trenwith
A few hours’ drive from Dubai, we discover an Omani city steeped in history, full of adventure and a quiet retreat all in one
If you are like many a long-time expat living in the UAE, you’re in need of a new weekend escape. You've probably been to Hatta repeatedly and you’ve seen your fair share of the other UAE emirates. Even if you haven’t but you’re looking for something a little more out-of-the-ordinary, then consider Sohar.
Oman’s fifth largest city (about 150,000 residents) is about 2 ½ hours’ drive (plus border control) from Dubai. Do-able for two days, but even better if you can get out of work a little early on a Thursday.
Running along the infamous Omani coastline, Sohar is steeped in history. A thousand years ago, it was the capital of what is now Oman, and it was rumoured to have been called Omana, leading to the naming of the current country.
Legend has it, the city was home to two famous Arab sailors, and its seaside history remains, with Sohar now a leading port city in the region. At least $12 billion has reportedly been invested into Port of Sohar, which was established in 2002 for its strategic location near the Strait of Hormuz.
This investment has seen an influx of expats and businesses, and the city is a hive of development, including a five-star hotel, multiple large malls and park beautification works completed in recent years.
As a leisure visitor, you can approach Sohar in two ways: an opportunity to purely ‘escape’ the hustle and bustle of UAE city life or an adventure through history and, for the even more adventurous, nearby wadis and sand dunes.
The six-year-old Crowne Plaza hotel (below), reminiscent of a giant sandcastle in the rugged Omani landscape, is an ideal spot to simply relax. The business hotel is especially quiet on weekends, a joy compared to the often-crowded resorts in the UAE, and far more affordable.
The large pool has both sails for shade and sun-soaked sunbeds (be aware, the Sohar sun is fierce!), as well as a kiddies pool. While lying around with a book is bliss for some, those that need more activities there are pool tables, tennis tables, a bowling alley, a tennis court and a health club.
There also is a variety of restaurants, from a sports bar through to the Steakhouse, and a patisserie for afternoon tea in between.
The hotel is a few kilometres from the heart of Sohar. While it is one of Oman’s largest cities, it is still subdued compared to Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
A stroll along the Corniche is reminiscent of African fishing villages, particularly in Zanzibar, which used to be ruled by the Omani Sultan and still has close ties. It is far from being developed, but the Dhow Marina Restaurant, next to the fish market, is a great spot to try some local fresh seafood.
For a traditional Omani experience, head to Falaj Al Ouhi Omani Food Restaurant, on the main Al Batinah Highway, shortly before the turnoff to the airport, heading towards Dubai. Here, you will sit on blankets on the floor and, ideally, eat with your hands (they will give you a spoon if you prefer) from huge aluminium trays presented with your main meal of choice (Omani-style mutton, chicken, fish), rice and salad. It is simple but you’ll be full for AED15!
But back to sightseeing.
A few steps back from the Corniche are Sohar Fort and Sohar Castle, built during Portuguese rule in the 13th and 14th centuries. The fort is one of Oman’s most important due to the role it has played in protecting the country over centuries, while the castle is a prominent historical landmark and includes a museum.
Created in 1993, the museum exhibits many archaeological and historical aspects of Sohar and other places in Oman, and provides a fascinating insight to the city’s role in the copper trade 2000 years ago, as well as its trading importance.
Sohar Gate is another historical landmark, and an easy drive-by.
The city also has several vibrant souqs, specialising in handicrafts, fish and general trading, respectively. They’re worth a visit to witness their role in Omani daily life.
Sohar also prides itself on three public parks, which provide pleasant spots for a picnic or retreat from the desert landscape encasing much of the Gulf.
But Sohar does also offer plenty of desert activities, from camel racing to desert safaris and wadi seeking, depending on the time of year.
So next time you’re in need of a different short getaway, you know where to go.