Salalah is the location Anantara picked for one of their latest private pool villa resorts. The brand new Al Baleed Salalah by Anantara opened only a few months ago and promises discerning travellers from around the world a great place to relax and enjoy the best Oman has to offer. Naturally this triggered our interest so we seized the opportunity to experience the new resort first hand.
The Anantara Al Baleed resort is blessed with a prime beachfront location just outside the town of Salalah in Southern Oman. When I say prime I truly mean prime as it is bordered by the Al Baleed Archaeological Park (a UNESCO world heritage site), the Indian Ocean and a sweet water reservoir called Khor with several banana and coconut plantations. The old town of Salalah is only 5 minutes drive away and the airport is 20 minutes away.
Salalah is the capital of the Dhofar Governorate, the largest of the 11 regions in the Sultanate of Oman. It borders Saudi Arabia in the North and Yemen in the West. Despite the close proximity to Yemen the area is very safe and secure and crime is pretty much non-existent. The landscape is very mountainous with a strong contrast between towering rock cliffs and pristine white sand beaches with banana plantations.
Throughout the Dhofar area you can find fortresses and archaeological sites which date back to as much as the 4th century. The area gained worldwide fame for the production and trade of frankincense. Frankincense is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes, obtained from Boswallia trees. The Al Baleed Archaeological site next to the hotel was a major fortified trade port between the 8th and 16th century and early remains date back to as far as 2,000 years BC. The hotel levies a small fee per guest to support the archaeological site and in return each guests receives a ticket that gives access to the Al Baleed UNESCO site as well as three other significant UNESCO sites in the area including the lost city in the desert.
Dhofar has a subtropical climate – something you may not expect in the Arabian peninsula. Salalah generally has a dry period between October and June. Around mid-June the monsoon season starts which lasts until mid-September. During and after the monsoon season the area is covered in lush green vegetation which slowly dies down as the vegetation lacks water in the dry season. Day time temperatures generally vary between 28 in December and 32 degrees in June. During our stay there was a pleasant breeze and with 1,000m+ mountains nearby you can always drive up to experience a 6-7 degree drop in temperature.
How to get there
Salalah is quite a new tourist destination with less than a dozen beach resorts in the entire area. The airport is brand new and will soon see direct flight connections from airports in Europe. We travelled with Oman Air to Muscat and continued with a smaller plane to Salalah. Muscat airport is being reconstructed and a new terminal should open next year making the journey to Salalah via Muscat even more convenient. Alternatively Qatar Airways operates daily flights via Doha and Emirates offers flights via Dubai to Salalah.
The resort itself consists of a main building which houses 40 guest rooms, the reception, a shop, a travel organizer and the Sakalan, all day international restaurant. The resort’s architecture hints at the many fortresses in the area, using typical Omani colors, materials and elements. This is successfully combined with modern architecture and clean lines.
Around the main building there are 96 private villas, 86 of which have a private pool. At the heart of the resort lies the infinity pool with direct views towards the beach and the ocean. Adjacent to the pool you can find another all-day dining restaurant serving Mediterranean food called Al Mina. Elsewhere in the resort you can find a library, activity and diving center, the Anantara Spa, gym, tennis court and a kids club with a separate kids pool.
Rooms & Villas
In total there are 136 rooms and villas at the Anantara Al Baleed resort. Ranging from the 53 m2 Premier Sea View Room to the incredible 630 m2 three bedroom Royal Beach Villa that comes with a huge private pool, outdoor shower, direct beach access and one of the most private locations in the resort.
We were staying in room 411, a one bedroom garden view pool villa. This villa comes with an enclosed private garden with 20m2 private pool, a large indoor lounge with 49 inch flatscreen TV, a desk and a little kitchenette with a sink, nespresso machine, minibar and several snacks. Next door to the lounge is the master bedroom with a king size bed and another 49” flatscreen. From the bed you can enjoy views of your very own private pool which is a great environment to wake up to in the morning.
Connected to the bedroom is a walk-in closet with a safe, a beach bag and Spa robes. The marble bathroom comes with a separate toilet, large bathtub, rain shower and all amenities you can wish for like bathing salt and different soaps. Both the bathroom and the living room lounge provide access to the pool. Each room comes with a beach volleyball and Frisbee – a nice touch that emphasizes the Al Baleed resort is as much about relaxation as it is about activity.
The design of the villa mixes traditional Omani designs and elements including marble, wood and colourful fabrics with modern features. You can tell Anantara has a lot of experience building and managing private villa resorts as there is very little left to wish for in the villa. Our particular villa 411 is located in close walking distance to the main building. The walled garden provides plenty of privacy valued by the Middle Eastern guests but you can also opt for more open lagoon or beach pool villas which provides amazing views of the lagoon or beach. If you like something special opt for the two-bedroom pool villa with number 203. It has a large infinity pool with a stretch of private beach that opens out to the lagoon and it has the best sunset views of all the villas in the resort.
Restaurants & Bars
The Al Baleed Resort by Anantara provides the choice of three different restaurants each with its own specific focus and menu. The Sakalan restaurant is the main restaurant for breakfast every day. There are multiple buffets and life cooking stations which provide a great selection of European, Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. The service is friendly and there is always someone there to assist. The Sakalan restaurant also offers a buffet-style lunch and dinner.
The Al Mina restaurant is a large outdoor restaurant which is open all day and provides views of the beach and infinity pool. It has a very laid-back atmosphere with relaxed music – in the evenings there is live music as well. The menu offers a choice of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern a-la-carte dishes ranging from pizza to typical Arabic starters. A large TV in the corner shows important sport matches – it is a sign that this restaurant wants to appeal to a large and different audience and it does so surprisingly well. After dinner you can also smoke a shisha or enjoy some cocktails here. For an even more authentic experience there are also two tents and a fire pit dug out on the beach where you can watch the stars while enjoying your shisha.
Last but certainly not least there is Mekong restaurant. Unlike Sakalan and Al Mina it is not located at the main building but on the lagoon side of the resort. Step through the door of the modern building and you immediately have the feeling you step into Asia. Dark wood and dimmed light with the typical Asian scent mark the start of a culinary journey over the famous Mekong river.
The menu offers varied dishes from China, Thailand and Vietnam. Every guest is welcomed with a cold tower and a surprising appetizer – in our case small salad leaves that you can fill with a mix of peanuts, onions, ginger, shrimp, chili, lime and a special sauce; delicious! For starters I opted for the Vietnamese spring rolls; perfectly wrapped and creatively decorated every bite was an explosion of flavours. As second course I had two different Chinese wantan dim sum, one with chicken and one with prawn. Again a feast for the eye as well as for the sense.
For main course I opted for one of the restaurant’s signature dishes: Vietnamese stir fried beef. Served with rice this dish blew me away. The beef was so tender it literally melted in my mouth. The sauce could be a little spicier but overall a delicious treat. To wrap up the culinary travel over the Mekong they served green tea ice cream. It came meticulously decorated with some mint, thin dark chocolate and crispy red flakes of strawberry. After dinner a traditional hand washing ceremony is performed by the friendly staff.
As you can probably guess Mekong is definitely my favorite restaurant at the Anantara Al Baleed resort and the restaurant alone is a reason to come back. But the other restaurants are very good as well providing a great variety of tasteful dishes and quality service.
Facilities & Spa
The resort is well equipped with facilities and activities for all ages. Various courts are set up on the beach every day including a beach volleyball and beach football field. The infinity pool is surrounded by sun loungers and cabanas. Overall there are plenty of them so no worrying if there is a place to relax available.
Opposite the main building and reception you can find the Anantara Spa, beauty salon and ball room. The Spa has his and hers dressing rooms and wet areas including steam rooms. The hammam should open soon and is the largest hammam in Salalah. There are 5 treatment rooms, 3 for couples and two single rooms where guests can enjoy a range of massages and beauty treatment. All have their own dressing and shower areas.
Behind the Spa you can find the gym and the kids club. The kids club offers day care and entertainment for kids from the age of 4. There is a little play garden with kids pool and the staff has different programs to keep the little ones entertained. Right next door is a play room for older kids with various game consoles, an air hockey-, pool- and table football table. Outside you also find the tennis court and bike rental where you can rent a bike to ride around the resort. Last but not least there next to the reception there is a separate building housing the library where you find hundreds of books and a lounge area to relax and read.
In short the service is great. The 350 employees of the Al Baleed resort are always happy to help and take care of you 24/7. Each villa has a dedicated villa host which takes care of any wishes you may have. The daily housekeeping and turn-down service makes sure your villa stays in tip top condition. The restaurant staff recognizes you and your personal preferences which makes for a very enjoyable experience.
Worth mentioning are the on site ‘gurus’ which share their knowledge with both the staff as the guests. We had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Hussain – the Salalah guru. He gave us a tour of the area showing us one of the many banana and coconut plantations, the Al Baleed archaeological site and museum, the souk, the Sultan Quboos mosque, flamingos in a nearby lagoon and treated us to several local delicacies. If you plan to visit the resort make sure to plan some time for some local sightseeing with Hussain – well worth your time! If you have even more time to spare the hotel is also happy to organize tours to the mountains and the other UNESCO world heritage sites in the area. Especially the road to Magsail beach and beyond is beautiful.
The Anantara Al Baleed resort in Salalah is an amazing property and great addition to the collection of luxury hotels in Oman. The pool villas are spacious, well equipped and offer excellent privacy or tremendous lagoon / ocean views. Service is outstanding and there are plenty of on site facilities and activities to keep you entertained. The beach is among the nicest I have come across and the restaurants provide plenty of choice and quality to please.
Salalah as a destination is still very unspoiled with amazing nature and cultural sights to explore and with diving, hiking, fishing, sightseeing or just relaxing on offer it should appeal to a very broad audience.