Oman: a scent obsessed Country.


Do you like Perfumes? I do. I thought I was quite obsessed actually, until I visited Oman.

I always have at least 3 or 4 different perfumes in my bathroom shelf, one per each season: a citrons based one for summer, to recall freshness, a spicy one for autumn to recall the change of the season, a moss based one for spring and a wooden one for winter.

I have to admit that I spend quite some good money on perfumes as I do buy had-made rather than “commercial” ones, when possible and budget allows, or those that are not yet at a big industrial level. Here in Italy it is still possible to find some good hand-made perfumes as the technique to create them was born here, (in Florence in the 1500s), then, a member of the Medici family married the king of France and brought the technology there, so the French also became very good at perfumes and still are.

That is why, when I see a local, non-commercial, perfume shop anywhere in the world I can’t refrain from stepping in and enjoy the local scents.

If you feel, like me, to be scent obsessed, you shall definitely visit Oman!!!

Perfumes from Oman. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Oman is a Muslim Sultanate (a kingdom) located in the South East corner of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The Country offers a lot to see, from the medieval forts on the Hajar Mountains to the sand desert of Bidiyah and the beach resorts in Salalah. However Oman also provides an incredible opportunity to dive into a world of perfumes made with dozens of scent you’ve never smelled before and a countless variety of blends and choices.

In fact, when you roam around in the Souqs of the Omani cities, such as Muscat or Nizwa, or even the recently built malls, you do not see many garment shops but dozens of perfume shops, even shaped as little kiosks along the corridors. In fact, as the locals, (both men and women) wear the traditional Muslim “dishdash” (a tunic with long sleeves), one shop out of 5 is a fabric store, neared by a tailor workshop and then by a perfume shop.

A “Tola” of perfum from Oman – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

French or Arabic?

Stepping into a Omani perfume shop is a unique experience: first of all, the locals are very welcoming and are very happy to show you everything they have. The first question they make is whether you prefer “French style scents” or “Arabic scents”. This is due to the fact that the Country recently emerged to the tourism scene and is now a pretty good selling destination, thus some local items have been a bit “compromised” to meet the taste of the westerners.

If you want to try something that is new to you and you may like more than any perfume you’ve used so far, the correct answer is “Arabic”. The Arabic scents are very different from ours. In most of the cases they are stronger, well persistent and emotional. If you ever read the famous book titled “1001 nights” you will recall several scenes described in it just by smelling one scent or two.

Tolas of Omani Oils – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Spray or Perfumed Oil?

The second question you are usually asked is whether you prefer spray perfumes or oils. Although the local spray perfumes are extremely good, the right answer is: Oil. Compared to sprays, oils are a lot stronger because the concentration of the essential ingredients is much higher, thus few drops of oils last for the whole day and are pleasantly felt by those around you even if you sweat a bit during hot summer days. Don’t forget that in Oman the average temperature in summer time is higher than 40 °C, so they managed to create very persistent scents.

What is the most common fragrance?

The most common scent is called OUD. Don’t mistake here, as several big perfume industries do also produce “French style” Oud-based perfumes. Trust me when I say that it is definitely not the same. Oud (aka agarwood) is a resin produced by a specific tree called Aquilaria, when attacked by mould or fungus. The best Oud is considered to be from Cambodia and India. Based on this components, the Omani master created dozens of scents. When you first smell a pure Oud oil, you won’t have an immediate good feeling: the smell is very strong and under certain point of view, unpleasant. Then, when mixed with other ingredients, including incenses or desert roses, the scent changes completely and you start an emotional journey in the land of 1001 nights.

Tolas of Omani Perfumed oils- Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Do not forget that beside body perfumes, Oman is also a good place to find room fragrances. In this case, the locals burn small pieces of Oud in the incense kiln. It’s a bit smokey, but the room gets suddenly filled with a very aromatic atmosphere.

My favourite fragrance

Among the several scents I’ve smelled at dozens of perfume shops in Oman, my favourite is definitely Frankincense. Despite being among the most common ingredients for room perfumes, it is also found as a body perfume.

Don’t be misled by the name as Frankincense is not an incense but a resin, obtained from a tree of the Boswellia genus. The name probably derives from St. Francis, the patron Saint of Italy, who brought it to Europe from the Middle East, after he attended a crusade. The smell of Frankincense reveals a thousand different notes, making it so pleasant that if you simply close your eyes you feel you are in a garden surrounded by roses and jasmine but also by sandal and lime trees. Definitely my favourite.

What’s the price

Price can be a little issue: first of all, the local currency is pretty strong and the exchange rate is often not in our favour. Secondarily Oils are more expensive then spray perfumes due to the higher concentration of ingredients. The other side of the coin is that oils are commonly sold in a very small size, which they call “tola” or “tolah”, a unit mass used in India and adopted by the Brits. It’s a pretty small bottle which is filled up to the top with the oil of your choice.

When you step into a luxury perfume shop be prepared that a tola may cost you a very high price (up to 600 euro) while the majority of the medium-high quality shops have very reasonable and affordable prices. Even if you feel you are spending more on a small bottle of oil rather than your regular spray perfume, remember that a tola lasts for 1 year or more as you really need a couple of drops at a time.

The Packaging

Various packaging are available. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Some oils that are among the best selling in Oman come already packed, and that is another adventure as none of the Omani perfume comes with a simple packaging: the bottles are very well designed as well as refined in a Middle East way that will make you feel you are buying something very very precious.

I bought several oils in Oman both for myself, my family members and friends but unfortunately, on my way back, the airline lost my luggage permanently, thus most of what I bought (and my own clothes) went lost. However, I managed to save some that I put into my cabin bag, which are shown in the pictures embedded in this post. Hope you will enjoy.

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