Muscat is the capital of Oman, and is one of the most attractive cities in the Middle East. The city is known for its excellent beaches, superb hotels, and as a base from which to set out on a tour of Oman. Temperatures are pleasant, offering a perfect winter-sun escape. Overlooking the Gulf of Oman, the city is surrounded by barren mountains on one side and the azure sea on the other. Highlights include the spectacular Al Alam Palace with its blue and gold facade that was built as the Sultan’s summer retreat in 1972. There are a number of superb museums: the Bait Zubair, Oman-French Museum, and Bait Baranda are all traditional Omani whitewashed houses, while the Bait Al Falaj museum is located within an impressive fortress. In the next bay over from the Old City, you find the beating heart of modern Muscat where you find Muttrah, a lively fish-market, harbour-side corniche, and Arabian souk. The marble-clad Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was built in 2001 and is well worth visiting. Guests can also take day trips from Muscat, visiting the Batinah Plain.