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Misfat-al-Abriyeen oasis in Oman, oasis in the mountains

Misfat al Abriyeen

 

 

Misfat Al Abriyeen is a tiny hill village, high in the Hajar Mountains. It is one of the oldest and prettiest settlements in Oman.  Mountain springs provide water for verdant agricultural terraces growing dates and bananas. This land of shade and greenery is in sharp contrast to the naked scorched mountainsides all around.

Misfat al AbriyeenMisfat is wrapped around a headland and runs along two valleys, clinging to the south side of a steep mountain. The streets are narrow, rough and steep.  

There is so much water in the village that local children (and ours too) use the town cistern for diving and swimming. The fresh water then cascades into the ancient irrigation system of open channels to create and sustain the rich landscape.

Every year, the whole village celebrates Eid Al Fitr with the tradition of Shuwa. Meat is buried in a communal fire pit, slow-cooked for days and exhumed for the feast.

How to get to Misfat al Abriyeen

Misfat Al Abriyeen is located here, surrounded by several of the best-known tourist places in Oman.  However it is not on a route from anywhere to anywhere, so you won’t find it by accident.  

The only feasible way to get there is by motor vehicle.  You could get there in what the Omanis call a “small car” (anything from a mini to a limo) but it really is worth hiring a 4×4.  There are many beautiful places in Oman, in this region especially, that you need one in order to get to.

You arrive in the car park at the highest point of the village and descend on foot through a network of tiny narrow streets.  It becomes  clear immediately why cars don’t go into the streets, they are too narrow, very rough and many of them are stepped.  In this hill town, the cross-fall is so steep that many of the rough stone and adobe houses have an entrance on one side three storeys higher than that on the other.

Then you emerge into the greenery and carry on beyond the town, to the fields. If you are staying overnight, call the hotel from the car park, and they will send someone to help you with your bags, but don’t carry a lot.  This place is about simple experience, not about sophisticated modern conveniences.

The only other way to get there would be on a guided tour from Muscat.  There are lots of companies offering these. Some associated with Muscat hotels. Because we lived there, we didn’t use any of them. Typically the situation would be your family in a 4×4 with a driver –  so the only difference from renting a car would be the driver.  He might be wonderful of course.  Or then again, he might add very little value to the trip.

Google Maps in Oman

When driving yourself, Google Maps takes a little getting used to in Oman.  Some people prefer maps.me for the Middle East. In any case, the Omanis build new roads and housing developments at such a rate that the electronic maps often haven’t caught up.  Your smartphone might tempt you to take a shortcut through some new private development, or on the other hand, it might not be aware of a real shortcut in the form of a six-lane motorway that was only built a year ago.  Also, Google Maps doesn’t have a voice here, you just have to follow the blue line. Since the use of those little clips which hold your phone on the windscreen or dashboard is outlawed in Oman, it’s best to have a human navigator with both a map and a smartphone as well as a bit of common sense.  

Having said all that, Misfat is pretty easy to find, and the roads to it are good. (that means that the roads are clearly differentiated from other tracks)  Omanis are so friendly that if you do get lost, there is every chance that the adventure will enhance your experience of the trip.

Misfat al Abriyeen – Various English Spellings

The village name come from the Al Abri tribe, who came from this area. Misfat is a declined form of Misfah which is a common place-name, originally meaning running water.  

Misfat al Abriyeen Falaj system
Falaj System  – open irrigation channels.  Beautiful ancient hydraulic engineering.

Some Arabic sounds don’t transliterate directly into English, so you will often find different English spellings of the same Arabic place names.  (for example, Muscat itself is often spelt Masqat) As well as Misfat al Abriyeen you will see Misfah al Abriyeen, Misfat al Abriyyin, Misfat Al Abriyen – Keep going, they all refer to the same village.  The Arabic spelling,  مسفاة العبريين doesn’t change.

Eid al Fitr Tradition in Misfat al Abriyeen Village

Palm logs are burnt in a deep communal pit within a small courtyard in the heart of the town until the whole ground is hot.  Marinated meat is buried by each family in the charcoal embers, then covered, and left for two days. The Eid (meaning feast) is celebrated with this delicious slow-cooked meat known as shuwa.  Misfat still has an honorary Fire Master, and we were privileged to be invited to his house as his family’s guests for this celebration. The meat was delicious, the occasion held deep in our fondest memories.

How to Dress When You Visit Misfat al Abriyeen Village

Even though the village has become known to tourists in recent years, it is still inhabited by regular Omani families. As everywhere, rural people tend to be more conservative than metropolitans.  In this village and in any rural area, please dress modestly. Women and men should have covered shoulders, shorts or skirts should be at least knee-length.  Dress codes don’t apply to kids.

Many of the old houses have no piped water, and the residents still use public baths.  There are parts of the village which are reserved for ladies only. They are clearly marked.

Explore the Aflaj

Misfat exists because of the abundance of spring water, and the ancient Omani irrigation system of Aflaj is the way that the agriculture of this village has been made possible.  Falaj (plural: Aflaj) means an open irrigation channel.  They carry the water from mountain springs to terraced fields in these mountain villages.  Their engineering is ancient and tremendously precise, water flows slowly along them,  however vertiginous the topography and however arid the nearby mountains and riverbeds.  No-one knows when they were built, but UNESCO estimates that Oman’s 3,000 Aflaj systems are somewhere between 400 and 2,700 years old.

Running into the town from the east is a long falaj.  As it is a water channel it is (almost) horizontal and takes a contour line wrapping around the north side of the eastern valley.  It makes for a long, beautiful walk.

In the heart of the town is the cistern which holds the water to be distributed into the banana and date terraces.  Whenever we have been there it has always been populated with noisy local boys, jumping and splashing.  After watching them for some time Zoe couldn’t resist joining in  – that’s her in the left picture caught in mid-air.  I am so happy my daughter has adventures like this.

Trekking Around Misfat al Abriyeen Village

Misfat al Abriyeen trekking We have been in Misfat several times.  It was one of our get-aways from Muscat. As our girls got older we explored longer treks around and beyond the village. 

If you l leave the bottom of the village and walk west, there are several paths out into the western valley which is much more complex and rugged than the smooth valley side to the east.  There are several lovely stepped walks here among the tiny irrigated terrace fields.  The paths were built to give access to all the fields and so they form a network rather than a linear arrangement.  You pass beautiful bridges, staircases, and shady fields., catching glimpses of the harsh sun-parched mountains and valleys beyond. 

Eventually, these western walks lead up to the road just before the new town, which is a kilometre or two from the old village.  These treks will leave you breathless, both from climbing and from the impact of the surrounding beauty.

Where to Stay in Misfat al Abriyeen

There is only one lodging in the village, and we have stayed there several times.  Misfah Old House is friendly and very charming. It is basic. Rooms have rough rendered walls and your bed is a mattress lying on a hard floor. Showers wash-basins and toilets are in a separate building.

Misfah Old House - our hotel room
Misfah Old House – our hotel room

What to See Around Misfat al Abriyeen

 

Misfat is located between (but not on any road between – ) Nizwa and Jebel Shams, and it’s also fairly near Bahla Fort.  

Nizwa

Nizwa is the former capital of Oman and is a bustling city surrounded by date palms and with a livestock market held early every Friday.  This is a fascinating place and event, and we would plan our trips in this area to ensure that we made Nizwa souq by 7am on a Friday. There you will see the sale of farm animals (mostly goats, but also cattle and camels as well as chickens rabbits and birds.  It is similar to livestock markets in rural England and Wales except for the mystery of how Omani men manage to keep their robes (dishdasha) sparkling white, even while handling livestock. The market also sells pottery, metalwork, antiques and hardware as well as meat and fish, and it is very close to the Nizwa Fort.

Jebel Shams

Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in Oman at a few metres over 3,000.  It is even more remarkable for the vast chasm cleft into it. There are fairly basic campsite type hotels with chalets and volleyball pitches at the top.  The stars are clear up here if you avoid full moon. The road up to Jebel Shams from Nizwa is awe-inspiring. Winding across wadis and cliffs, some parts of the road feel as if you are on Mars, others make you catch your breath for the harsh beauty of our own planet.

Bahla Fort

Bahla Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a vast castle.  For an entry fee of about 50 US cents you and your kids can explore a rabbit-warren of rooms and ramparts, disturb roosting bats and play at pirates (pirates?  why not? there is a fish stall in the market after all!).  

Exploring Oman as a Round Trip

It’s a great idea to take a 4×4 for a week or two and explore all of these sites, along with nearby Jebel Akhdar which is another one-of-its-kind place of wonder.  Then on the same trip you can drive 3 hours to the south and spend a night out in the sand desert followed by a camel ride in the morning with the Bedouin.

For the really adventurous, drive north from nearby Al Hamra and find the only road which runs north-south over the whole Hajar Mountain range.  There are places on this road where your passengers will have their eyes closed for fear of rolling over a precipice.  The driver’s eyes, however, must never close on this route.

Oman is an inviting country.  Perfectly secure and fun for a family of foreigners to tour unaccompanied.  The only dangers in this wilderness are natural ones – sun, rain and precipitous rocks.

Oman – future read 

10 Things To Do And See In Muscat
Turtles in Oman – Ras al Jinz

Misfat al Abriyeen – Pin it 

 

Misfat Al Abriyeen is a tiny hill village, high in the Hajar Mountains. It is one of the oldest and prettiest settlements in Oman.  Mountain springs provide water for agricultural terraces growing dates and bananas.

Disclaimer:  We have researched facts stated here as far as practicable, but please check anything critical before committing your time and money. We do not claim any special knowledge or expertise, and we are not consultants for our readers.

Ania James

photographer, traveller, mother of twin girls, wife, worldschooler, rulebreaker

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