My journey to Oman last year was a memorable one. Not only for the country’s breathtaking mountain and desert scenery, and her warm and civilised people, but because I was stranded there for a few extra days due to the Icelandic ash cloud. Oman Air, who I was flying with, couldn’t have been more helpful and our excellent treatment was the envy of BA passengers also marooned in Muscat. Eventually I arrived home and filed my copy, which was was first due to be published last summer – but owing a revamp of the Telegraph’s travel pages was delayed for a few months. It was then slated to run this January, but the tsunami of uprisings known as the Arab Spring put paid to that … So here, finally, is my story of a journey into the heart of Oman.
My travel to the Middle East being somewhat curtailed by recent events (this is the first year in the past few that I’ve not visited Syria), I’ve had to travel a little nearer to home this year. But not too near – in October I went to Malta and Gozo, two islands which, though in Europe, sit pretty close to the North African coast. Gozo was beautiful and tranquil – and I’ll be writing about that island next year – and Malta was fascinating for its history and melange of culture and languages (a dialect of Arabic written in the Latin script, with a generous smattering of Italian thrown in). Two great events shaped Malta’s history – the Great Siege by the Ottomans in 1565 and the Siege of Malta during World War II (1940-1942). The Baroque architecture of its capital, Valletta, and the silent, ancient streets of its former capital, Mdina, enchanted me and I wrote about the cities in a piece just published by the Sunday Telegraph.
Amman is the first Middle Eastern capital I visited, and always enjoy going back. It’s not an obvious destination – in fact, it’s not really a ‘destination’ all, and is usually only visited as a springboard for trips to some of Jordan’s other, better-known glories such as Petra (of course) or the Dead Sea. But I find it a congenial, easy city to be in, with a thriving arts scene, good bookshops (with lots of English language books) and nice coffee bars. And it has one amazing ruin, the citadel, towering over the city centre. My cultural guide to Amman, published in the Sunday Telegraph after a long delay due to the Arab Spring, is here.