By now, you’re well versed on how wretched the weather is – the mercury is hovering around 43°C, we’ve had a weekend of rising sand, and the “light to moderate winds” don’t actually feel as pleasant as they sound. Wouldn’t you much rather board a two-hour flight to a city currently enjoying its annual “khareef” monsoon season?
The city in question is, of course, Salalah. Residents of the region are currently flocking to the Omani city on the hunt for temperatures that never rise above 27°C, light summer rains, lush greenery, breathtaking natural beauty, and delicious tropical fruit – all of which can be taken up a notch when paired with the creature comforts of Oman’s most luxurious resort. Enter: Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara.
Located between a beach and a freshwater lagoon, the ultra-refined Anantara is the first luxury pool-villa resort in the south of Oman, boasting a whopping 88 villas with living rooms, private temperature-controlled pools, and dedicated hosts. I can personally vouch for the fact that, between the platter of miniature desserts, massive standalone tub with Amouage bath products, and traditional majlis-style living room, you’ll have a tough time prying yourself away from your villa. You will, however, be glad once you do, because outside awaits a 44-meter beachfront infinity pool that overlooks the sea.
Walk around and you’ll encounter countless palm trees shading the property, impeccably manicured gardens, and black-stone water features that add a real sense of tranquility. I’m one to soak up the little details in my surroundings and noticed plenty of décor elements that reflect Dhofar’s rich heritage – think: intricately carved wooden doors, arches reminiscent of tradition Islamic architecture, bright kilim fabrics, and lanterns aplenty. To say the hotel makes it challenging to step out and explore the historical and cultural gems of Salalah is an understatement – but you must.
To help you discover these gems, you’ll be assigned your very own “Salalah Guru”, a creative term used for the resort’s renowned experts on all things Salalah. I had the pleasure of touring the city with the witty Hussain Balhaf, a Dhofar local who offered me everything from insights into Omani culture and insider tips on where to buy traditional souvenirs to cold towels and soft drinks after visits to heritage sites in his SUV.
Each of Anantara’s “Area Excursions” comes with a Salalah Guru in tow, covering everything from beach trips and souk tours to mountain explorations and other indigenous experiences. But if you’re anything like me, just the mere mention of Oman – once the perfume capital of the world – evokes heady scents and exotic fragrances above all else. This is largely attributed to the aromatic, sticky resin that seeps out of frankincense trees, which have been harvested in Salalah for centuries. The best spot in which to get acquainted with the city’s star attraction is easily Wadi Dawkah, a vast field with over 8,000 trees that are estimated to be over 200 years old.
The hotel happens to be located next to Al Baleed Archaeological Park, a 60-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site that still holds iconic ruins of the citadel, grand mosque, and boundary walls belonging to an ancient port city known for its prosperity in exporting frankincense, gold, and Arabian horses in the Middle Ages. It’s also in this vicinity that you’ll find the Land of the Frankincense Museum, a showcase of Salalah’s incredible maritime heritage and historical frankincense legacy alongside artifacts excavated from ancient archaeological sites. If you’re looking to pick up frankincense products, the old and wonderfully chaotic Haffa Souk is your best bet.
If nature and wildlife are more up your alley, head to Wadi Darbat, a picturesque valley where you can ride a power or paddle boat in Salalah’s biggest lake, take in magnificent waterfalls, and enjoy a dip in the naturally occuring rock pools. In retrospect, it’s the “traffic” of the area that I recall most fondly: a rather jaded-looking mix of cows, camels, goats, and donkeys meandering around, oblivious to the tourists excitedly photographing them.
History buffs will love exploring the ancient city of Sumhuram – another UNESCO World Heritage Site – to see ruins of what was once a key export center of frankincense. The city was re-founded at the end of the 1st century to control its movement in Dhofar, making it a central hub of trade. To end a day of sightseeing with a mesmerizing sunset, head to the 19th century Taqah Fort, just one of the many forts intrinsically connected to Oman’s rich trading history.
Admittedly, you or your travel companion may prefer a spot of adventure to offset the luxuriously understated vibes of the Anantara. And, if that’s the case, activities such as wadi bashing, hiking, overnight camping, and 4×4 expeditions to discover ancient villages and encounter nomadic tribespeople are all on the agenda. Those looking to follow in the footsteps of legendary explorer Wilfred Thesiger can take a trip into the awe-inspiring Empty Quarter, one of the largest deserts in the world.
Steering away from land, the hotel’s water-sports center offers diving and snorkelling for beginners and experts alike. You can also spend the day fishing, kayaking, or paddle boarding. For a more laid-back approach to enjoying the Arabian Sea, book a dolphin-watching tour or sunset dhow cruise of the beautiful bays around Mirbat.
Dolce Far Niente
Once you’re back at the hotel, there are plenty of ways to “decompress” from all that southern Oman has to offer. You’ll want to start with a treatment at the Anantara Spa Salalah, where the native ingredients of the Middle East and the ancient healing traditions of Asia are seamlessly combined to make for an unforgettable pampering experience. There are five spacious suites alongside plush relaxation areas, a range of Ayurvedic treatments, and a full-fledged salon.
A first glance at the spa menu will have you feeling overwhelmed – but in the best way possible. My advice would be to bypass the traditional scrubs and wraps and opt for the ‘Frankincense Ritual’ to get a true taste of Salalah’s finest. This 90-minute treatment entails two highly trained therapists transporting you to an unparalleled state of relaxation with four-hand synchronized massage techniques using frankincense, which has been proven to rejuvenate skin.
Spice Makes Nice
You’ll be ravenous for a good meal post-treatment, and the dining options at Anantara won’t disappoint. There’s Sakalan for all-day dining and dishes from across the world, and Al Mina for light Medittaranean fare, relaxed vibes, and shisha under the stars. For a more exclusive feel, you can book in for a private, bespoke Dining by Design experience, during which a personal chef and butler will cater to your every culinary whim as you dine on the property’s private beach.
The star attraction, however, is easily Mekong. Here, the rich and distinctive spices and flavors of Thailand, China, and Vietnam converge to pay tribute to the mighty Mekong River. With its dim lighting and gorgeous serveware, the dining room feels intimate yet opulent, but you’re better off enjoying lagoon views on the al fresco terrace as the current weather is expected to remain the same until mid-September.
With this much to look forward to, both on and off the property, the Salalah Tourism Festival offerings simply make for the proverbial cherry on top. This annual celebration features concerts, traditional dance performances, cultural exhibitions, sporting events, and the sale of handicrafts from Oman and beyond – all of which cluster around Ittin Road, the primary location for such festivities.
Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara is currently offering a special rate for GCC residents. For more information or to book a stay, click here.