With the opportunity to escape to warmth of Arabia following what felt like the longest winter in memory, I grabbed my passport, packed my bag, and hopped on the very easy 7 1/2 hour flight to Oman with little hesitation.
My last trip here involved a fleeting catch up with my favourite haunts in Muscat, however, this time, I would not only be able to explore more of the capital but also escape to the desert, mountains and the tropical shores of Salalah.
Shortly after landing, our excellent team on the ground sped us off down the coast to Al Husn, Shangri La’s flagship property in Oman, set a top a cliff overlooking the dramatic coastline, its own private beach and it’s sister resort Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah, home to Al Bandar and Al Waha. Operating on an ever increasing level of luxury, the three hotels cater largely for young families in Al Waha, older families and younger couples in Al Bandar and couples of all ages looking for a more refined and luxurious stay in Al Husn.
The view over Shangri-La Barr al Jissah Resort from Al Husn
While out of the city and standing as a resort destination in its own right, it was still close enough to easily visit the sights of Muscat and despite our tight schedule we still managed to enjoy an afternoon wandering round the fabulous Bait Al Zubair Museum, admiring the Sultan’s Palace and naturally a little retail therapy in the Muttrah Souk.
Sultan’s Palace Muscat
The following day we transferred to Jabal Akhdar, a mesmerising 3 hour ascent into the dramatic mountains. Here, the delightful Alila Jabal Akhdar was kind enough to host us for the night and it did not disappoint. Elegance combined with a traditional and raw design ensured this property both met and exceeded expectations. With theatrical views across the deep valley ahead this was both a perfect spot to relax or on the flip side, step out of your comfort zone onto their fantastic Via Ferrata – an adrenaline fuelled cross between a steep hike, abseil and rock climb. Those with a more nervous disposition (or pregnant, I’m still not sure anyone believes the only reason I didn’t do it was due to my carrying our second child!), can visit the local rose gardens, follow the butterfly trail or enjoy the majestic stargazing at night.
A pool with a view, Alila Jabal Ahkdar
Alila’s Butterfly Trail & Alila’s Via Feratta
A further three hours the next afternoon, via Nizwa, its impressive fort, souk and market, took us to Sharqiya Sands (formerly known as Wahiba Sands). This is a very easy three hour triangle back to Muscat so can be done in the order to suit your needs, and a thrilling dune drive for over 30 minutes deep into the desert. Arriving as the sun set, all the Lawrence of Arabia’esque images that I’d conjured in mind were realised.
Glamping in the desert
This barren land was truly beautiful in its own stark way and our private camp was the perfect way to experience and take in the glorious landscape. Dinner was served in a traditional majlis, seated on floor cushions around a low table and after the evenings laughter died down we retired to our pretty bell tents for a restful nights sleep. We woke at an ungodly hour but as we climbed to enjoy the sunrise we were so pleased we did. A cliché it may be, but sunrise in the desert is quite something, even spiritual if you are that way inclined. Breakfast was flanked with sandboarding and camel rides and after packing up we made our way out of the desert via a Bedouin home where were welcomed with dates and Arabic coffee and the opportunity to buy local wares, supporting the community.
Sunrise over our private tented camp in the Sharqiya Sands
Our Bedouin hosts and guide Salim
As we journeyed back to Muscat and one of my favourite hotels, the realisation that I would be turning up a little sandy to say the least, not unlike the final scene from ‘Ice Cold in Alex’, filled me with a small amount of horror. Thankfully we stop en-route at Wadi Bani Khalid where large pools of water have formed, making them the perfect spots for swimming and rinsing off the sand. Admittedly today, with escalating popularity it is a busy attraction complete with carved out paths and an onsite restaurant but it a very welcome opportunity to clean oneself up a little and ensure our arrival at our destination was marginally more presentable. I would note that Oman boasts a wealth of wadis and if you’re happy to work for your reward, there are some untouched gems to be found, away from the crowds.
Wadi Bani Khaleed
A return visit to the gloriously stylish Chedi was our next stop. Located on the beach in Muscat, it boasts a convenient location combined with a rejuvenating atmosphere surrounding three pools and calming water gardens. With six distinct restaurants and a thirteen-suite Balinese spa, the Chedi exists as a standalone destination for those looking for a relaxing break in the winter sun or as part of a journey through the country.
The Long Pool at The Chedi
After enjoying a pre breakfast swim in the Long Pool (103m to be precise) and indulging some of the best Eggs Benedict I’ve had the pleasure of sampling, we took the opportunity to visit Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Covering an estimated area of 416,000 square metres, this breataking place of worship was brought alive by our exceptional guide Salim (who accompanied us for the entire tour) and while I am not one to languish in museums, temples, palaces and the like, this is one I would not have missed out on.
Our magnificent guide and friend, Salim & Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
As the mosque closed, it was time to return to the airport and take the short flight down to Salalah, a region previously off the luxury route due to the lack of suitable accommodation. The Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara has thankfully filled the void here and offers a wonderful contrast by way of tropical beach destination compared to the drier climes of those surrounding Muscat. Feeling more like The Seychelles than Arabia as we exited the plane, the brand new airport is clearly gearing up for an increased number of visitors in the future and as soon as we arrived at our home for the next 24 hours it was clear to see why. Picture perfect beaches run along the coast line and moods of the Indian Ocean Islands made this feel like an entirely separate country and a glorious contrast to the dry rugged region surrounding Muscat.
Nestled between a private beach and freshwater lagoon, Anantara is Salalah’s first and only luxury pool villa resort, it’s accommodation scattered through garden walkways, lush with palms and water features. A stand alone destination or part of a journey through Oman, Al Baleed Resort boasts rooms and facilities catering for all ages, including surprisingly affordable and spacious pool villas, ideal for familes or couples wishing to spread out.
Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara
Salalah is famous for being the lush green region one sees in the photographs but as I soon discovered, this is during the summer months when the remainder of Arabia becomes unbearably hot. As a result, GCC residents flood to Salalah for the cooling Khareef (monsoon), turning the otherwise barren surroundings a magnificent shade of emerald. However, this is accompanied by overcast skies and drizzle which results in a brown sea – not so attractive to western travellers looking for a sunny escape! This aside, I would not hesitate to recommend Salalah as a beach escape from our Autumn to Spring and will be watching it keenly as a hot spot in the future.
To conclude, Oman remains one of my favourite destinations for variety, adventure and rejuvenation. A mid haul flight makes it accessible for even a short break and while many may be seduced by the glitz and glam of Dubai, Oman is reserved for the few longing to be captivated by authentic Arabia.
For more information on Oman or to book a holiday please call us +44 1608 638 777 or send us a message.