When the founder of Original Travel goes to the same resort over and over, we take note. Even if it seems like an unusual choice for a young family to head to the super slick Zighy Bay in Oman.
I’ve been to Six Senses Zighy Bay (in Oman’s remote exclave of Musandam) on a babymoon, and subsequently twice as a parent with little ones and, not to put too fine a point on it, adored it on every occasion.
So what’s all the noise about? Well, for starters Zighy Bay is a very good luxury hotel, period. Outside of school holidays and half terms I’d have no hesitation recommending it to honeymooners, but for me the place comes into its own for families. Most parents have learnt the hard way that the shorter the flights and transfers, the less the likelihood of meltdowns, and getting to Zighy is relatively simple.
A 6.5 hour flight to Dubai and then just a two hour transfer from the glitzy Emirate. It may be just two hours, but the difference between destinations is astonishing. While Dubai and its neighbours in the UAE are pretty much flat (bar the odd mile high skyscraper), crossing the border into Omani owned Musandamsees, the terrain start to soar.
For those arriving by road (which means pretty much everyone), the journey involves heading up and over a pretty serious mountain on a switchback dirt road that may have some parents covering their eyes but is guaranteed to have the kids squealing with delight, particularly when they first see the perfect half moon of Zighy Bay: white sand and turquoise water.
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You can tell the kids that Zighy also offers one of the world’s greatest ways to arrive though it’s for adults only: you can paraglide from the summit down on to the beach. However you arrive, you’ll soon get your bearings.
The hotel is designed like a traditional Omani village (there‘s a real one at the other end of the bay), with stone walls and alleyways down which guests and staff ride on the complimentary bicycles. Every villa and suite is standalone, and has its own pool that’s actually a decent size and depth – far more than a glorified plunge pool.
The style inside is typical Six Senses – there’s an emphasis on simplicity, natural fibres, and environmentally sound products. Outside, besides the pool, there are sun loungers, a sandy space and a raised shaded area with a day bed designed so that the breeze circulates underneath, keeping you cool when it’s afternoon nap time.
The accommodation is laid out in three rows running parallel to the beach so if you fork out a little extra for one on the front row you can open up all the end shutter walls and have uninterrupted views across the beach to the sea.
When you’re suitably ensconced with the family, hit the beach, which is dictionary definition fine white sand leading into extremely clear water with a sandy bottom. Our lot also adore the huge main pool, with its gently sloping gradient that makes it perfect even for little pre-swimmers to splash around in the shallows.
The Chaica Kids Club is right beside the pool and while the room itself is not particularly inspiring, the range of activities on offer most certainly is, with everything from henna tattooing to feeding the Zighy Bay goats (who are to be found pottering around everywhere) and pizza making. Older siblings can slope off to the Al Feetean Teen Club, far removed from where incredibly embarrassing parents might spy on them, which organises everything from kayaking, archery and snorkelling trips to photography courses.
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There are various restaurants to choose from with excellent Middle Eastern cuisine that offers a good introduction to international food for the kids. Since staying a Zighy Bay, my children could live on hummus and pitta bread alone. Of course, a favourite is the Ice Cream Bar. Perfect for a mid-afternoon pitstop. And with Oman three or four hours ahead (depending on time of year) we tend to risk keeping the 7-year old twins up later at night, while the younger two are asleep under the watchful gaze of an invariably charming babysitter.
It’s lovely wandering between the three restaurants at night with children deciding where and what to eat, but if parents want a romantic dinner a deux, the kids club has movie night every night, where the children can all snuggle down together with new friends and you scoop them up later on the way back to your villa.
It’s all pretty idyllic, but there are a couple of set pieces I’d recommend, one of which is taking a traditional dhow boat out for the day (maybe corral a couple of other families to spread the cost) to chug up and down the dramatically mountainous coastline, mooring up in secluded bays where the children can go snorkelling, before lunch on the shaded deck.
If the children aren’t too fussy, then it’s also worth trying the Shua Shack experience (which reopens in October 2015) where families sit Bedouin-style around tables on the beach eating hummus before delicious, succulent lamb that’s been slow roasted in an underground oven. The kids can go and peer in the oven. It’s the sort of subtly cultural experience that they will remember forever.
While Oman is hotter than Hades in the summer, Zighy Bay is a real winner for family holidays during our winter – just make sure you book ahead for the Christmas, and February and October half terms because the cat is firmly out of the bag.Tom Barber is the founder of Original Travel and Travel Editor at Esquire magazine. He has four children. Follow Original Travel on Twitter @originaltravel