Salalah, Oman

Photo: Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas
Photo: Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas

To say that you were nervous about traveling to Oman is a bit of an understatement. The Middle Eastern country is in a precarious position. Saudi Arabia is to the west. Yemen is to the southwest. Plus it shares a marine border, in the Gulf of Oman, with Iran and Pakistan. But Oman is a bright spot in the problematic region. During the last few decades, Oman has shed its isolationist policy. The Sultan of Oman, an absolute monarch, has modernized and opened the country. While tourists are exploring the mountains, the deserts, and the coastline. You had to see the country for yourself.

Your trip started in Muscat, the booming capital. You drove through the expansive desert, climbed into the green hills, and found a deep gorge high in the mountains. But you’re not done yet. You have one more stop, Salalah, along the southern coast.

Salalah is Oman’s second-largest city. It was the capital—first of the Sultanate of Muscat and then of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman—for centuries. Then, in 1970, the current sultan overthrew his father in a coup and moved the capital to Muscat. It’s left Salalah relatively unexplored by tourists. Those who venture this far will find one of the largest ports on the Arabian Peninsula and a souk that smells like frankincense. The Sunni Muslim people who live here grow coconuts, welcome its khareef (monsoon) season, and love football. Rocky mountains, ancient historic sites, and nature reserves surround the city. Plus luxurious resorts are starting to pop up along the white-sand beaches that line the coast.

Photo: Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas
Photo: Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas

You’re staying at one of those new resorts. Al Baleed Resort Salalah sits in between a freshwater lagoon and the sparkling Arabian Sea. The Al Baleed Archaeological Site, a World Heritage Site with ancient ruins, is within walking distance. The sprawling resort is gorgeous and peaceful. Grand arches and ornate doors decorate the whitewashed buildings. Reflecting pools, tropical gardens, and towering palms surround them. The elegant restaurants overflow onto outdoor terraces filled with couches and lots of pillows. While an infinity pool, lined with sun loungers and navy umbrellas, borders that white-sand beach.

After running around so much, this resort is the perfect place to end your trip. Sure, you’ll visit the Museum of the Frankincense Land and the ruins of Al Baleed’s citadel. You’ll again drive into the mountains, this time the Jebel Samhan mountains, for panoramic views of Salalah, the east coast, and the sea. Keep an eye out for endangered Arabian leopards and Arabian gazelles along the way. And you’ll browse the souk for frankincense oil to bring home.

But you also want to relax before your long trip. That’s easy to do here. Your beach villa features a marble bathroom, a soaking tub, and, most importantly, an outdoor lounge with a view of the sand. The spa offers an indoor/outdoor tea pavilion, the area’s first hammam, and therapies featuring frankincense and coconut. Regional specialities—from China, Thailand, and Vietnam—are served at Mekong, which overlooks the lagoon. While cocktails and shisha are available in the open-air lounges after dinner.

Right now, you can hear a traditional long drum procession starting. The sunset celebration welcomes the beginning of the evening. You walk over to the pool, which is now empty and free of ripples. You’ll watch the sun disappear and see the first stars pop out against the dark sky. Then you’ll toast to this beautiful, welcoming country with which you’ve quickly fallen in love. Don’t worry, this is only your first trip to Oman.

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