The resort is sophisticated without being unnecessarily showy, contemporary yet still pleasingly reflective of its Omani heritage.
The Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara occupies an interesting and not altogether easy place in the region’s hotel landscape. When the property opened in November last year it did so as the first properly high-end, out-and-out luxury resort in the area and set out to change perceptions about exclusive hotel stays in Salalah. An easy win for tourists from the GCC and beyond, you might think. But actually, when you position yourself as the best – in an area of life – suddenly the ante is upped and expectations are raised. This is all the more pertinent when you charge premium prices for the experience, as the Anantara does. As a result, the experience of staying there needs to be a practically flawless one.
Just 20-minutes drive from Salalah International Airport, there’s certainly no quibbling about the location of this lavish spot. It’s situated on a long private beach close to an idyllic lagoon and is within walking distance of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a mountain backdrop to boot.
From the moment you enter the sweeping driveway, the feel of the resort – which boasts 88 one and two bedroom pool villas on top of its 30 sea view rooms – is sophisticated without being unnecessarily showy, contemporary yet still pleasingly reflective of its Omani heritage. Pathways lined with banana trees and coconut palms (both indigenous to the region) sit alongside sleek, modern-looking water features and lead the way to the spectacular temperature controlled infinity pool, lush tropical gardens and powdery white sand beyond. Everywhere you look – or indeed venture – there’s a sense of calm tranquillity and an appreciation for the serene natural beauty of the area.
We stayed in one of the spacious and well appointed garden villas, designed with a clear nod to tradition. From the private courtyard entrance you step into a large majlis-style communal lounge area with handcrafted tapestry-covered sofas and Arabic-style decorations. The bedroom itself is similarly well sized and feels luxurious without being ostentatious, while the bathroom features a deep egg-shaped tub, floor to ceiling windows and a doorway that leads straight out into an impressive private pool.
When visiting a five-star resort that places itself at the upper end of even that scale, there’s a certain expectation when it comes to the added extras that make the stay stand out. These aren’t necessarily amenities you knew you needed (or indeed had even thought if before), but they are the little touches that you tend to remember. Here care and attention has clearly been paid to these details: the villas offers not just a pillow menu but a bath salts menu too (a first for me), the yoga mat is already in situ (usually this involves a call to reception), a football, frisbee, beach towel, sarong and hat are all provided and there’s even two different types of dressing gown (the classic fluffy white number and a more lightweight offering). The mini bar meanwhile is a decent size and well stocked with bespoke snacks and the resort doesn’t fall down on one of my personal pet peeves – not providing enough bottled water. When you’re staying in an area where the tap water isn’t drinkable, a daily allocation of one free bottle per person is a miserly one. Happily at the Anantara there is local mineral water aplenty, even for the hydration obsessed.
If you were to visit the resort for just a few days – a week even – you could well be forgiven for decamping, decompressing and not really venturing outside of its pretty perimeters, because there is plenty to do (and much scope for relaxation) on site. Hours disappear in the blink of a sunglasses-clad eye when spent on sun loungers next to the large, glassy infinity pool or on the sandy beach, where the only sound is that of waves lapping and coconut trees swaying. There’s lots to keep the active occupied too: push bikes for exploring the resort by land and kayaks for taking in its stunning vistas by sea, as well as yoga sessions, beach volleyball and tennis courts. You can opt to spend a morning scuba diving, enjoy a spot of deep-sea fishing or, for an ocean trip with a more calming but no less memorable vibe, take a sunset dhow cruise. Cooking fans can sign up to one of the onsite Spice Spoon classes (focusing on Middle Eastern and Thai food) and hone their culinary skills under expert tutelage, before tucking in to their creations.
“The Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara really does deliver on its promises and is something of a destination spot in itself”
Should you wish to venture further afield – and given the magnificent landscape and sheer diversity of the region – you really should, it’s well worth consulting the hotel. Staff are more than happy to arrange day tours taking in everything from the rugged mountain ranges to the vast desert, as well as frankincense fields and museums, dramatic sinkholes and heritage sights. A wander around the city accompanied by the resort’s highly knowledgeable and very affable local expert (known as the Salalah guru) is also very enjoyable.
After all that you may well be in need of yet more relaxation. A visit to the hotel’s elegant spa and wellness sanctuary will soon deliver on those needs – and more. The therapists are knowledgeable and well trained, the treatment rooms sumptuous and welcoming and the treatments themselves are something really special, with many of them utilising local ingredients – think frankincense, bananas leaves and coconut oil.
The food here is also something of a highlight, from prompt in-villa dining (we enjoyed a delicious and rather lazy al fresco breakfast by our pool on the first morning) to light filled, all day dining spot Sakalan (the destination for breakfast on the second day). Beachside restaurant Al Mina offers a Mediterranean-style menu filled with people pleasers that are perfect for daytime eating, as well as an array of more substantial meals for the evening. It also delivers fantastic sunset views, best enjoyed with a mocktail in hand. Mekong meanwhile is the most upmarket of the dining options, but the atmosphere here is by no means stiff and the staff are excellent. The food meanwhile is a real cut above your average hotel restaurant offering, with authentic, tasty, beautifully presented south-east Asian dishes. For those wishing to push the boat out – and we’re talking real special occasion territory here – the hotel offers a bespoke Dining by Design experience (an Anantara signature internationally). What this means is that you can enjoy an intimate candlelit meal for two in a secluded location, be that on the beach, in the gardens or out on your villa decking. The experience includes a private chef and waiter and the menu will be tailored to your culinary preferences.
Thanks to its location and striking setting, excellent amenities, stylish set up, service and décor the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara really does deliver on its promises and is something of a destination spot in itself. Combine that with its proximity to some of the most visually arresting scenery in all of Oman and this becomes a must-visit hotel. salalah.anantara.com
WORDS: SARAH PRICE
PHOTOS: ANANTARA, FOOD & TRAVEL