Over the past ten years, the realm of the short-break in the UK has started its own kind of urban sprawl. What was once limited to France, Spain or Portugal, then spread further east to Greece and Turkey.
But lately, with the more adventurous traveller looking for something more impressive to woo their listeners at cocktail parties, the Middle East has become, pardon the pun, a veritable hot-spot for a few days away from it all.
With long weekends now being advertised from Cairo to Dubai, it was only a matter of time before the best kept secret in the region was found: Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman.
Muscat is situated on the eastern side of the Middle East and is Oman's capital city. Reputed to be the safest city in the Middle East, it is the perfect destination for a few days in the sun. November through to April is the best time to visit as after that the desert temperatures climb over fifty degrees celcius!
There is something for everyone in Muscat but for starters we recommend that you try the following day trip.
6.00am - Muttrah Fish Market
With most locals rising for prayers at 4.30am, Muscat is already thriving by the time the sun comes up and while you may imagine a fish market to be a somewhat smelly affair, we can assure you that a fresh catch is not half as bad as you think.
Traders shout and plead for the goodness of God as they let fish go out of their stalls for a discount price, with large fillets of hammour and king-fish being squirreled away by both restauranteurs and housewives alike.
8.00am - Traditional Omani Breakfast
Head away from the fish market and make your way along the sea-front at Muttrah Corniche until you find one of the local bakeries, where you can order a very filling breakfast of Omani bread with honey, dates and yoghurt. It is guaranteed to have you begging for second helpings and at about 200 baisa (50 cents) a portion, it's great value for money.
9.00am - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Given by Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos to his people, this mosque has to be seen to be appreciated. Both inside and outside will enthrall you with it's hypnotic carvings, intricately hand-woven carpets, amazing arabesque lighting and wall-hangings.
11.00am - Qurum Natural Park
Going straight from the mosque, head back to the beautiful green respite that is Qurum Natural Park. Immaculately manicured gardens and grass-lands will allow you to relax and take in a tranquil morning amongst azaleas, roses and a host of other colourful flora and fauna.
1.00pm - Lunch At Bin Ateeq Restaurant
With an abundance of fast-food chains available in Muscat, it is easy to forget where you are and just grab a burger on the move, but to really get into the local passions you have to eat like a local. Head over to the Bin Ateeq Restaurant in the Al Khuwair district for some marinated meats with spicy rice, regulated by sips of traditional Omani laban (a thin yogurt type drink). You will not be disappointed.
3.00pm - Bait Al Zubair Museum
This is one of my favourite places in Muscat. Walk through the gates of the museum and it is like stepping back in time. You will be greeted by a wizen Omani sheik, who will serve you delicious Omani coffee and dates while you make yourself comfortable on a firm 'majlis' cushion listening you his stories about the old ways, then take a tour of this wonderful museum which gives a concise view of life throughout the centuries in Oman. You can even sample some Frankincense before you leave.
5.00pm - Muttrah Souk
It's back to Muscat village at the end of the afternoon to Oman's most bustling and vibrant souks, where you can literally buy anything from a dish-mop to a solid gold necklace. Traders will holler and cajole you into entering their shops with promises of astronomical discounts and offers if you would only just take a look!
My personal favorites are the silver shops where you can find wonderful hand-made bracelets and rings, interspersed with precious stones and threads. Really traditional and a great conversation piece.
7.00pm - Walk along the Corniche
To come down from the highs of the rather energetic souk, you can take a relaxing stroll for an hour, along the sea-front at Muttrah where you can see the Royal Yacht, the Muscat coastline and a very colorfully lit fountain: all while engaging in general chit-chat with local Omanis who are always keen to know where you have come from. They feel that a visitor to Oman is an honor and a privilege for them, and they are always welcoming.
8.00pm - A stunning performance at the Royal Opera House.
Recently opened, this is truly an amazing venue for the discerning tourist. Take time to walk around the high-end shopping mall, treat yourself to a luxury coffee and then enter into one of the world's most beautiful auditoriums for a word-class performance of opera or ballet.
Tickets are very reasonably priced but you may have to book in advance.
11.oo pm - Cocktails at Zouk Nightclub
Opened in 2010, Zouk at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Qurum is where you will find Muscat's movers and shakers, especially on Wednesdays and Thursday nights. Top DJs from around the world are a regular feature on the billboards and you can wear a hole in the dance-floor well into the early hours of the morning.
Remember to keep enough money in your pocket for the taxi home!
After all of that, you'll be hard pushed to do anything other than go to bed!
Destination: Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. Simply....awesome!