This tour takes in the best sights of the interior of the country: the town of Nizwa, the fort of Jabreen, the mountain villages of Misfah and Al Hamra and the spectacular Wadi Nakheer cutting deep into Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman.
Visiting Nizwa, you can sense the strong independent streak in the town. Much of the civil war of the 1950s took place near Nizwa and the imams of Nizwa have never been afraid to assert themselves in the face of unpopular policies from the coastal rulers. This history of tension, conflict and strategic importance is expressed perfectly in Nizwa Fort. It is a vast circular tower that completely dominates the town. Standing 30 metres high and with a diameter of 36 metres, it exudes impregnability. Standing on the ramparts you have a fantastic view over the town and surrounding date plantations, a view that equates nicely with the field of fire of the cannons still found bristling through gun ports.
Looking between the wall of the tower and an adjoining building, you glimpse one of the classic images of Nizwa, the tall minaret and turquoise dome of Nizwa Mosque. Located near the mosque is Nizwa souq. Although now in a new, purpose built complex, this is undoubtedly a traditional souq. The style of the buildings is entirely in keeping with the historic architecture, and the dates, pots, jewellery, guns and local produce sold here haven't changed much in the last 150 years.
Jabreen Fort is one of the best to visit in Oman. To call it a fort is a bit of a misnomer, as it was originally built by a peaceful Imam of the Ya'aruba dynasty in 1670 as a home, and subsequently functioned as a retreat for similarly scholastic Imams. However there was a defensive wall and gun towers added to the original construction and military action very occasionally washed up against these.
Al Hamra nestles against the base of Jebel Shams and is one of the few old towns in Oman not to boast a fort or defensive wall. The town today is a mixture of old and new, with the old section being the real attraction. Here you'll find traditional two and three storey mud houses that are very reminiscent of Yemeni architecture, yet boast satellite dishes — this is a historic quarter still very much inhabited.
As you drive up Jebel Shams behind Al Hamra, there are some great views over the town and surrounding valley. Winding higher into the mountains, you come to the precariously perched village of Misfah. Impossibly terraced into a sheer cliff face, the village hangs over the canyon below with dense palm trees crowding up the lower slopes.
The drive to the top of the highest point in Oman begins at the village of Wadi Ghul. On a rocky outcrop above a normally dry river bed, the village is deserted and the mud brick walls blend so well with the surrounding rock that you are almost upon the village before you can discern its outline.
As you continue past the village, the road begins an extremely steep climb and when you reach the top, in front of you is one of the most remarkable sights in the whole region, Wadi Nakheer, or the Grand Canyon of Oman. Wadi Nakheer drops a sheer kilometre away from the lip of the canyon, a village seeming impossibly small and distant on the valley floor. The scale is overwhelming and sometimes your eyes really struggle to convey the size and steepness of the canyon walls to your brain. Even more dizzying is the village visible away to your left. About two thirds of the way from the floor to the canyon rim, it sits on a series of vertiginous terraces and when inhabited was virtually impregnable. Wadi Nakheer is easily Oman's premier natural attraction.