PREMIER URBAN BEACH RESORT IN OMAN
(Sultanate of Oman, Middle East)
Muscat: the still authentic pearl of the Gulf offers all what Dubai and Doha have lost over a couple of decades. Oman is surely the last place in this developing region where the 1001 charms of the Orient spread over 1001 nights. Historic landmarks like mosques (Sultan Qaboos, Mohammed Al Ameen...), old fortresses (Bait Al Maqham Castle is a must be seen), bazaars (if you'd like to bring to your mother-in-law dorky “made in India” souvenirs from Oman in a chaotic modern version of a Souq, don't miss Mutrah), not to forget a magnificent Opera House, all make it well worth the trip. Five days are enough to enjoy the city, the unspoiled desert, and the nicest beaches in the Middle East.
The downside of Muscat is that, unlike Dubai, it has a very limited number of hotels. 80% of them are not worth the mention. The rest, in the “luxury” category, is globally plain Jane or tacky, usually far from the attractive spots of a capital-city which doesn't have what we could call a “center”... and costly. The Chedi is reputed for being largely overrated, and the Shangri-La Al-Husn & Barr Al-Jissah, a definition of an exclusive resort, is awesome but too secluded. Looking for the ideal hotel we had one unique but perfect choice: the InterContinental Muscat.
We love IHG, and have already experienced a lot of properties from the group. It has a default: some of its hotels could be compared with five star bunkers. This is the case of the InterContinental Muscat, which surprisingly pairs fairly well with the environment. Is it the sand color of its imposing façade? The severe block of concrete incorporates perfectly in the modern, clean and quiet premier residential and diplomatic district, close to the premium bars, restaurants and shopping malls. The first, and therefore oldest international hotel, it has its charm with a white lobby planted with a Bedouin tent, and a unique ceiling in town, made of upturned boat hulls.
This touch of Oriental authenticity extends to the service: unlike in the Emirates or Qatar, we have been pampered by smiling and friendly local staff. Alternating with the subtle and anticipating presence of Asian employees, dealing with guest relation, VIP services, and commercial tasks. The management is principally western, with an experienced French general manager and an F&B director recently imported from Fauchon.
After a super fast check-in, not behind the reception desk but seating in a sofa besides the charming guest relations officer, we have been guided to the glass elevator allowing a lovely perspective over the amazing atrium.
Our “Club Floor” Executive Room was a little bit better appointed compared with the standard Classic Rooms. Too much “InterContinental” 1990s according to a few guests' posts read in the travel forums, we personally found the spacious 32sq.m rooms ideally fitted for our demanding taste and needs. The beds are extra large, and divinely comfortable. The lighting system easy to deal with, and providing a not too sophisticated, yet most intimate, atmosphere in the well-soundproofed room with a mountains and city view. Though there was a construction site nearby, we didn't get disturbed by the noise. Of course, the sea-view is even more pleasant...but permanently in high-demand: all rooms were already fully booked during our stay, booked last minute. We liked the comfortable reading area, next to the large balcony which would certainly have been more welcoming with a small table, a couple of chairs, or a sunbed. WiFi is fast and free of charge for “Club Floor” guests. The bathroom is... nothing but a bathroom: definitely practical, superbly appointed with a kit of Agraria toiletry (the quality is amazing), it lacks some charm, unless you are looking for a traveling back in the 1980s. But...
...The hotel is on its way of beautification. We have visited a sample of a new room, featuring more white colors, grey/brown striped walls. Copying more or less the concept of a boutique hotel.
The bathrooms will be totally revamped: wondrous, with a black marble sink, and a futurist lightning. The young generation of leisure travelers will definitely prefer it to the “grand hotel” aspect of the current rooms. Those booking for decades in IHG hotels mightn't find it InterContinental enough. This is difficult to satisfy everybody, but there is always an imperative moment to bring a wind of change in a premier hotel: which is presently the case with the InterContinental Muscat.
The “Club Floor” associated benefits are one of the reasons why we often prefer to book a IHG property. Few hotels in Muscat have a lounge with dedicated service for highly demanding globe-trotters. The “Club Lounge” differs from the cyclopean ones at InterContinental Bangkok, Pattaya, or Paris for instance. It gains in intimacy and exclusivity what it doesn't offer in term of volume. The best staff has been hired from the Philippines, to pamper the exclusive guests. Allowing the InterContinental Muscat to maintain the highest standard of facilities to the highest category of guests, this is obviously one of its leading keys to prestige.
The lounge provides a British club atmosphere. With mahogany flooring, a library featuring books and a collection of DVDs, ithas been divided in two sections rooms for more tranquility. The Empire-style gilt tables are particularly elegant. There is a large meeting room, which can be used free-of-charge. We loved sitting next to the bay window, observing the breathtaking sea view. If you can't compare the delicious, yet limited, continental breakfast with the full buffet pleasantly served at “Musandam Café & Terrace” (complimentary to Club guests), we never missed the evening cocktail with snacks: plenty of local specialities (Chicken Tandoori Salad, Teriyaki King Fish...) and classics (like the deliciously old-school Mushroom Vol-au-Vent) are available. What did we prefer? The Arabic pastry served with an aromatic "Kawa", which voluptuously made us gain a few pounds during our stay... The selection of wine and liquors, served with the hotel's compliments, is simply great: though we regret that French wine has been forgotten in favour of more than decent “Concha y Toro” Frontera Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The best brands of beer, whiskey and gin are available.
Last but not least, the lounge graciously serves one of the best high-tea in Muscat. The staff is extremely motivated, happy to be here to cater the most discerning guests: CEOs, politicians on their official visit (all the embassies and government offices are located around the hotel), and a lot of famous singers visiting the neighboring Opera House. We must confess that we came principally to experience the “Club Lounge”, and gladly enjoyed a no-fault experience. Just for this, we would rank the InterContinental Muscat as our preferred hotel in Oman.
The lounge offers just a pleasant glimpse of the winsome F&B quality at InterContinental Muscat. Catering banquets, weddings and official parties, this is the reference for a real gourmet experience. Executive Chef Kjell Kollin, from Sweden, is an expert. In cooperation with the French F&B director, he makes all meals coming out of his pans and ovens taste Michelin Star. We knew already “Trader Vic's” from a recent dinner in its Bangkok branch, and preferred to discover the most visited restaurant: “Musandam Café & Terrace”. Because we liked the setting, particularly the al fresco section, close to the smallest of the two swimming pools. We were lucky enough to assist the “Friday Brunch”, attracting the all Muscat: locals and expatriates alike. The atmosphere is somehow reminiscent of the not so remote times of the British protectorate: obviously visited by regular patrons, knowing each other, it has the best buffet in the Sultanate, including free flow of beer (depending on the package, which we all found good value).
Artistically displaying cuisine from around the world, plus a lot of local specialities, it features a good offer of fish (like oven-cooked Sea Bream, grilled King Fish), seafood (Marinated Jumbo Prawns), sushi, palatable stir-fry Singapore Noodle, super fresh vegetarian dishes, and juicy roasted beef. The chef is proud of its pork corner; when the competitors propose a 100% certified halal cuisine, Musandam keeps a 1% for homemade ham, spare ribs, sausages... attracting, of course, plentiful of Westerners established in the capital city. What did we prefer? Besides seafood, we would like to recommend the BBQ: Lamb Kofta and Chop, Shish Kebab, Spicy Chicken, Marinated Shrimps grilled over a charcoal using the best, most natural and aromatic quality of wood. And... no need to describe the desserts. It would take a whole chapter, and one single picture is enough to give you an idea of the fantastic job made by the pastry chef. Don't forget to experience the Mango Lollypop... Yummy! The live Cuban music and the extended children playground participate to the attractiveness of this unforgettable brunch.
“Tomato” is reputed for its trattoria-style cuisine, Focaccia, Bruschetta and Pizza, with a large selection of Pasta (including gourmet “Scialatielli with Lobster”, homemade Napoli style). A heaven for darts and pool player, the all-night crowded “Al Ghazal Pub” is a very masculine venue. There is no special dress code, but one picturesque exception: patrons in Omani traditional costume should wear a hat to be admitted... There is no ban on alcohol; except for “children under 21 years”... This is the way we like Oman! Last but not least, there is once a month a prestigious “Gourmet Night”, celebrating the best of French cuisine. The set menu features a remarkable wine pairing.
A business hotel, with large meeting rooms and ballrooms, the InterContinental Muscat is also the most central beach resort in town. With two swimming pools, including a 25-meter Olympic pool, its “Palm Beach Club” offers much greenery and space for leisure and relaxation. We like the direct access to the beach, through an almost secret door secured by the room key, though the diplomatic and upper-class residential district of Muscat is as safe as Fort Knox! We have been surprised by the permanent cleanness of the long beach, on par with the rest of the immaculate city. Omanis are not swimmers, but their BBQs all along the beachside constitute a pleasant attraction. We felt like a little bit in Venice L.A.; plus the complete safety and the gentleness of the Omanis who only show some unintentional aggressivity driving their brand new Ferrari or Lamborghini in the quiet streets around the unforgettable InterContinental Muscat.
INTERCONTINENTAL MUSCAT: P.O. Box 398 , Al Kharjiya Street, Al Shati Area, Muttrah, Muscat, 114, Sultanate of Oman
PHONE: +968 24 680000