When thinking of Oman, most people are reminded of historical Muscat, with its Portuguese forts and shopping malls. However, just south of the port city lies an influential place that not only used to be a center for Islamic learning but also the country’s old capital: Nizwa.

Located in a large oasis, at the meeting point of major trade routes between north and south, Nizwa has always been an important commercial hub. The landscapes of the region are magnificent, with deep canyons sheltering ancient villages and terraced crops. The city is easily accessible from Muscat by bus or car, in a 1,5-hour drive along a highway that passes small villages surrounded by some of Oman’s highest mountains.

Nizwa’s fort, although it has been reformed, is still the city’s most important landmark. It is distinguished by its XVII century construction, with various courtyards, wide towers, and views that extend over the region and the palm groves with a close-up on the blue dome of the mosque. Aside from visiting the fort, do not miss the camel market on Friday mornings, where the locals go to buy animals and fodder; or the Nizwa souq, famous for its fresh dates, Khanjar (curved dagger), gold, and silverware – considered as the best jewelry in the country.

Around Nizwa, it is possible to go for a walk, bike or donkey ride through the mountains of Jebel Akhdar; take a bath in the springs of Tanuf in the Al Hajar mountains; visit the town of Jabrin and its impressive 17th century castle; or explore the fortified town of Bahla and admire some of the region’s clearest skies.