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By Sharifa Al Badi
Everyone knows Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Manama but have you heard of Nizwa, Al Ain, Kalba, and Muharraq ? Below is a list of quaint destinations you should keep in your mind to visit when the lockdown period is over. You should experience the charm of these Gulf destinations at least once in your life, and enjoy the fresh air, the authentic eateries and the traditional shops.
An ancient city and the former capital of Oman, Nizwa is known for the historical role it played in trade, religion, politics, and culture. One of its most famous landmarks is the Nizwa Fort. Located in the center of the city, the fort was built in the mid-17th C to defend the city from attacks. Near the fort, you’ll find the famous Nizwa Souq, one of the liveliest and most popular souqs in the country.
Oman is known for its extensive falaj system, showcasing the role Omani engineering played in the development of the country, but the one in Nizwa, Falaj Daris, is one of the most special ones and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list.
From top left: Falaj Daris, Nizwa Fort, Nizwa Souq. Bottom: Nizwa Souq. Click on the images to enlarge them. Images: Shutterstock.
The garden city of the UAE, Al Ain is known for its greenery and oases. It is also becoming one upcoming town in the region with its new developments. Al Ain is home to one of the strongest football teams in the country, hence the grand sport stadiums, the latest being the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, a contemporary masterpiece filled with many restaurants, cafés and shops. Al Ain is also famous for Jabal Hafeet, one of the highest mountain peaks in the UAE, and a popular destination for tourists. If you drive up the mountain, you’ll get a majestic view of the whole city. And let’s not forget Al Ain Zoo, which is the biggest in the UAE.
From left to right: Al Ain Zoo, an aerial view of Al Ain from Jabal Hafeet. Click on the images to enlarge them. Images: Shutterstock.
If you’re passing by Al Ain you can also visit Al Buraimi, located in the Omani side of the Oman-UAE border. Al Buraimi is an old oasis town which held an important strategic role due to its geographical location. It is known for its oases, traditional forts such as Al Khandaq Fort and busy market place, the Buraimi Souq, where you can find a variety of purchases, from antiques to food.
Explore the quiet and natural side of Sharjah in the fishing village of Kalba, which is located approximately 120 kilometres east of Sharjah City. There, you will find the Kalba Fort, a former royal residence that is open for visitors today. The fort was used in the 16th C to protect the area from Portuguese attacks. It is located near Bait Sheikh Saeed bin Hamad Al Qasimi Museum, the 19th C home of the late Sheikh Saeed and his family, and dubbed as one of the most beautiful heritage houses in the UAE, displaying many important collectibles such as weaponry and an old copy of the Holy Quran. Kalba also happens to have one of the oldest mangrove forests in the region and if you are up for adventure you can go kayaking there.
From left to right: Kalba Fort, mangrove lagoon in Kalba. Click on the images to enlarge them. Images: Shutterstock.
Alternatively, you can check out the majestic falcons at the Kalba Bird of Prey Centre. Another gem over there is Fen Restaurant, which serves some yummy sea food dishes to satisfy your taste buds.
Considered the cultural capital of Bahrain and the former capital city, Muharraq is known for its traditional districts, made up of tight alleyways and traditional Bahraini houses. One prominent house you can visit is the house of Sheikh Isa Bin Ali, a former palace with engraved walls and carved doors that highlight the craftsmanship of the local architecture, which made use of natural light through open spaces within the building. Another is the Siyadi house, which is the former home of a famous pearl merchant named Abdulla bin Isa Siyadi.
Make sure to also check out Al Qaisariya Souq, where you can find a variety of purchases, from pearl jewellery to spices to traditional Bahraini halwa. It is host to a number of chic eateries, art galleries and more.
From left to right: Traditional Bahraini houses, Sheikh Isa Bin Ali House. Click on the images to enlarge them. Images: Shutterstock.
Jizan & the Farasan Islands
Saudi is full of surprises and different places that would need an entire book to complete. One is the town of Jizan, which is close to Yemen. It is known for its forests, mountains and agriculture. Some of its produce include coffee beans, grains, grapes, papayas and plums. Within Jizan there is the Al Hazoun District ,which is the forest area, then you have the mountainous region with the most famous being the Fifa Mountains. The lush landscape of the mountains make it great for a hike. Going up you may spot some ancient fortresses that used to protect the mountainsides from invaders.
They say that if you ever go to Jizan, you must also visit the Farasan Islands. The Farasan Islands are a large coral island group located in the Red Sea. They are a protected sanctuary for certain species of animals and birds, and they look like they are somewhere in the Maldives with their rich blue seas and white sands.
From left to right: Farasan Islands, Fifa Mountain. Click on the images to enlarge them. Images: Shutterstock.
From left to right: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Sohar Beach. Click on the images to enlarge them. Images: Shutterstock.
The beach and the bustling fish market is on one side of Sohar , while the other is lined with lush farms owned by locals, producing various crops. Sohar is the largest coastal town in the Al Batinah Region. It is seeped in history. Historically, Sohar was famous for its copper mines, which even brought the ancient Romans to this part of town over 5000 years ago. Today, the up-and-coming beach town boasts one of the largest ports and free zones in the region, putting it on the map for international business. Filled with different shops and cafes (mostly home grown), a number of shopping malls, world-class hotels plus a gorgeous grand mosque that is open for visitors, Sohar enjoys the perfect balance between modernity and culture.
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Sharifa Al Badi is a published writer and author from the magical lands of Oman. She has written for Esquire ME, Khaleejesque and The Culture Trip. She is also the author of “Themis Aella & The Magical Forest” and “50 Things To Know As An Adult.”
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