The last vestiges of the khareef – a seasonal monsoon – are sweeping over Salalah in the southwestern corner of Oman. Where the Arabian Sea’s rain-swollen clouds rush to meet the Dhofar mountains from July to September, the landscape looks almost Scottish – windswept, rugged and dramatic. But here is where the wet ends. Beyond this are Oman’s deserts; vast, dry and endless.
Encircled by a crescent of mountains, trapping the rains to create a unique micro-climate, Salalah feels almost tropical. Squint your eyes and its sweeping beaches fringed by coconut trees could almost pass as Thailand; even humidity makes an appearance. By mid-September, the monsoon’s time is up, abating for another nine months. The rains have halted and the atmospheric mist is lifting. Gleaming sunshine is punching through the clouds, but the waters have left gifts – sweet bananas, juicy papayas and swollen coconuts – a tropical bounty on the edge of the desert. Bursting with flavour, all of these make an appearance at the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara’s main restaurant Sakalan. At breakfast, to go with fresh yoghurt or toast; in the evening, as a sweet end to an overflowing buffet spread. Seated with a glass of wine in hand, Salalah’s latest luxury resort unfolds from this vantage point, anchored in three pools that cascade down in levels towards the beach; lounging is firmly on the itinerary when here.
Opened in late 2016 (just a few weeks after its mountainous sibling, the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar), the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara represents a side of Oman that few know. Salalah remains something of a hidden gem, known mainly to those living in the Arabian Peninsula. During the height of the khareef, Omanis (along with Emiratis, Qataris, Saudi Arabians and other neighbours) flock here in families and groups. Under the constant drizzle, they frolic and prance in the gift of rain, taken for granted by those from regions more blessed with precipitation. Even in the dry season, Salalah’s sun-kissed beaches retain their appeal, shimmering under a crystalline brightness.
Spread over 96 villas (88 of which have a private pool) and 40 rooms in the main building, the resort adopts a white palette. Framed by palms and banana trees, the villas are gorgeous. With tall walls ensuring seclusion, they are private playgrounds where one is free to snack on halwa in a cabana or paddle in a pool accessible by the lounge or shower. Crisp linens beckon when rest is needed, while the interiors are designed to be bright and breezy with deft touches of local motifs and fabrics. A thoughtfully-placed Frisbee and volleyball on the counter encourages guests to head to the beach, which is the perfect excuse to head to the Anantara Spa afterward for a 90-minute Frankincense Ritual, featuring the precious perfumed resin that made Salalah famous.
Frankincense might waft through the resort, but it is a whiff of lemongrass that is recommended for dinner. Mekong, consistently ranked as the best restaurant in Oman on Tripadvisor, is a Thai/Indochinese restaurant overlooking the Al Baleed creek at the edge of the resort. Authentic and appetising, the restaurant deserves its accolades. To offer variety for tastebuds, Sakalan features a serenaded international buffet in the evening with a mouth-watering Omani corner, while Al Mina offers al fresco Mediterranean flavours inches away from the beach. With a menu so extensive and an atmosphere so serene, it is just too easy to fall into the embrace of idleness.
But it would be a shame to stay sedentary. Because Salalah is more than just a seaside paradise; tomes and tomes of history have unfolded here. Right next to the resort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Al Baleed Archaeological Park, the site of the ancient port city of Zafar that dates back to the 12th century when Salalah ruled the global frankincense trade. Beyond the town’s borders, a day trip drive can take you past lush fields, sprawling beaches and caravans of camels to the Al Mughsayl blowholes, the Dhofar mountains, the ruins of Khor Rori, the waters of Wadi Darbat and a curious gravity hill that propels cars forward in neutral gear.
Positioned between the ocean and the mountains, lying at the crossroads of ancient history and modern leisure, it is an educational joy being here. Salalah – and Oman as a whole – is a wonderful revelation of a destination, and the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara is perhaps the best way to experience it.