After a week driving ourselves around Oman, the thing I was craving most was a pedestrian-friendly town that I could explore at my own pace. As soon as we arrived in Misfat and had to abandon the rental car to continue down narrow, cobbled laneways by foot, I knew I was in the right place for just that. Misfat Al Abriyeen is an authentic, ‘living’ Omani mud village build into a mountainside in the Al Hamra region. Made up of houses, a maze of shaded passageways, beautiful gardens and open terraces, it’s a well-known spot among both local and international visitors. But aside from a discrete visitor’s centre, Misfat is yet to be touched by the heavy hand of tourism.
The village is characterised by its unique style of architecture. Houses use huge rock slabs as their foundations, and are themselves built up into towering, multi-level dwellings using smaller rocks and stones excavated from the mountainside. Everything is fixed together with mud and finished with an adobe-like plaster. As a result, each building blends perfectly into the next – and into the landscape – giving the impression that Misfat is a wholly unified village and part of the mountain itself.
After days of nothing but gaudy architecture and houses painted in psychedelic colours, Misfat was a very nice change of scenery. These are humble homes, many of them abandoned and in a state of erosion. Made from 100% natural materials, I suppose that’s the way it’s supposed to be: built, lived in, then returned to the earth. The decaying houses are perhaps the most interesting to look at, as they reveal the inner anatomy of sticks, grass and stones that lies beneath every building’s veneer. They may appear makeshift, but the fact that these houses are still standing at all despite the harsh elements is a testament to their hardiness.
Other houses are better maintained and still lived in today. As if we needed further proof of life, we ran into many villagers on Misfat’s narrow paths, most carrying bundles of greens or pots of water with them. Misfat is a traditional village, and although many of the mud houses have AC units and satellite dishes fixed to their rough exterior, life here is cut off from the rest of Oman. There are strict rules about photographing locals – women especially (i.e. don’t do it) – which is why I don’t have any photographs of people to share.
Most of those who still live in the village work the land for a living. The verdant greenery in Misfat is striking; as are the towering date palms and small fields of vegetables you happen upon every now and then. The terraced gardens and fields are all fed by an irrigation system that funnels fresh water down from a nearby wadi through spiraling channels made of stone and concrete. You can see water tumbling down one of the channels in the bottom right of the next photo.
Another joy are the painted gates and doorways that differentiate one house from another. Evidently, each family has chosen a style which they replicate for all their home’s doorways. The colours and designs are gorgeous.
It’s easy to find your way around the village by yourself – or you can choose from one of the walking trails marked out with small numbered flags. The trail map is available to view at the visitors centre. Nowhere is really off limits, apart from the women’s-only bathing area which is clearly marked.
I got a kick out of seeing fresh dates growing on the trees around our accommodation – where else do you see that!? (Note: Don’t be tempted to pick the dates – as mentioned above, many people make a living cultivating and selling fresh produce.)
Stay: Misfah Old House
Misfah Old House (spelt with an ‘h’) is the closest you’ll come to an Omani homestay. The Old House itself, built in the traditional Al Hamra style, features a gorgeous breakfast room that overlooks a sea of date palms, and a set of shared and private terraces. We met the House’s owner over dinner. He told us that the building has been in his family for three generations, having been built by his grandfather. Some years ago, the family decided to share their home with visitors and opened up some of the rooms for short-term stays. They later added another house and more rooms to the complex, which continues to grow in both popularity and size. Not surprising, as it’s the only place where you can stay overnight in Misfat.
The price of a room includes half board (breakfast and dinner), with all meals prepared using locally grown ingredients by women who live in the village. The accommodation is fairly basic and most people only stay for one night, but I could imagine spending a few days here, exploring the village at a leisurely pace and taking some of the longer trails out to the wadi and beyond.