HISTORY AND CULTURE in abundance in this easy going town, make Nizwa one of the must-see places in Oman. The highest mountains in the country are within reach, along with souqs and mosques and castles and forts. Fascinating little towns and villages abound, with valleys draped in date palm trees, ancient mud houses and hiking trails.
Just a couple of hours from Muscat, the region and town of Nizwa is probably the historical and cultural heart of Oman.
Some of the country's finest 17th century forts, such as Bahla (pictured), Jibreen and Nizwa are here.
The people manage to be both conservative and open, welcoming foreigners as guests. Charming old villages dot the area, where Oman's highest mountain Jebel Shams brings hikers.
The town of Nizwa has old souqs, the fort with views across the date palms, and a laid back, welcoming feel.
The town is dominated by the fort, built on the site of a 12th century structure, in the 1650s by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya'rubi.
Cool interiors show the traditional diwan style rooms of grand Omani houses.
Household and military artifacts from centuries past are on display. Like most forts in Nizwa, the pieces aren't behind glass!
The fort's 40m tower provides 360 degree views of the town and the hills beyond.
The domes and minaret of the mosque against the barren hills on a clear day. This is Oman's most visited monument.
The location, build and design of Nizwa fort made it a daunting place to attack, reinforcing the strength of its rulers, and independence of its residents.
The cool, clear evenings, the old souq and the mountains, the call to prayer from the mosque....
Another historical monument nearby, Jibreen is a castle rather than a fort.
The Sun and Moon Hall was where the Imam held meetings. It was built on the same principles as wind towers which cool homes and buildings throughout the middle east.
With no thought to protection from thiefs, household goods are displayed throughout the castle.
The castle began life as a miltary garrison, reverting to a castle in peace times. Many elements of miltary design can be seen.
The complex contains a madrassa, dining halls and kitchens, as well as guest rooms and stables. Its location made a surprise attack next to impossible.
Another short day trip from Nizwa town is to the tightly built stone and mud village of Misfat Al-Abriyeen.
Don't be put off by the steep walk in. Misfat is a rabbit-warren of mud and stone houses, served by centuries-old irrigation channels, palm fields and rocky valley trails.
Beyond the village, some short trails provide beaut views, and longer hikes are there for the properly equipt.
An old stone watch tower watches out for trouble in Misfat's green fields.
The village has (had?) a homestay, which served Omani meals too, apparently. The very small, traditional community is welcoming of outsiders - as long as they respect boundaries and culture.
Al Hamra is another time-capsule village in the Nizwa region, close to Misfat.
Multi-storey, Yemeni style mud-built houses pack tightly laid streets.
However, most of these beautiful old buildings are abandoned and in varying states of disrepair.
Al Hamra is over 400 years old, and the size of these old houses speak of its once great wealth.
Houses of up to 4 storeys in height are reinforced with beams made from palm trees. Traditional design elements from Islam and Arab cultures are common.
Some houses were not much more than piles of rubble. Others looked like the owners would soon return from the fields.
Doors were hardly ever plain, either patterned or studded or inscribed.
I was surprised by the size of the area, and the size of the houses. Kicking around remains of old cities is fun, and Al Hamra kept me ntertained for hours.
400 years of wear and tear shows on the narrow streets as well.
High walls guarded households not only from outsiders, but also from the desert sun. Multi-generation families shared common courtyards.
Some of the strongest buildings may have still been occupied, and looked like they had another 400 years in them.
Newer houses have been built in the village, away from old Al Hamra. What hasn't changed is the date palms, still watered by traditional stone irrigation channels, still maintained by families.
Bahla Fort, on the main road outside Nizwa town, most still closed for restoration when we visited (in 2013). By all reports, it'll be worth fitting into your daily fort schedule.
To visit Oman and not visit Nizwa would be an injustice to the country and to yourself.