Astonishing Arabia!

Susanna Reynolds returns to Oman

  • wpteam
  • 18th July 2018

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.

Back to news home

Posts from the past

Living with Wildlife

With limited sources of food or income, some people lay traps in the hope of catching bushmeat to feed their families, and sell in the local markets. But traps are indiscriminate and wildlife such as the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe...
Read more

Isolation Escapism – Namibia

Whilst we cannot physically transport you to our destinations themselves at present, we would like to offer you a little virtual escapism. We do hope that they will act as a welcome distraction as we sit out these extraordinary...
Read more

Weathering the Storm

Dear Friends, These are extraordinary times. Like so many industries, the world of travel has been knocked sideways and we are in uncharted waters. With the situation seemingly changing hourly, and with countries closing their borders like dominos, there...
Read more

Get on your high horse

Whether you’re in search of a lengthy trek, sleeping under the stars and saddling up your steed at sunrise, would like to learn how to play polo, or simply appreciate the opportunity to explore your chosen destination by horseback,...
Read more

‘We’re Not Sharing!’

While hotels have their obvious advantages, if you prefer a more private holiday experience, a catered house on an exclusive basis could well be the right choice for you and your party. Eschewing endless restaurant choices for personalised menus,...
Read more

Do nothing…

You may know us as specialists in multi-centre itineraries; but that’s not all Exceptional Travel are about. We also have  a wealth of knowledge on single centre destinations, those ‘fly & flop’ hotspots intended to instigate rest, sooth the...
Read more

Exceptional Ladies

Ahead of International Women’s Day this Sunday we’d like to thank and celebrate the great ladies in the Exceptional Travel team. The team, plus our MD Toby are pictured above at the 2019 Exceptional Travel Christmas lunch in London,...
Read more

India and its Arts

For hundreds of years, India has been tempting travellers from around the globe to its vibrant art scene, colour-popping temples, time-honoured and fiercely respected traditions and unbridled energy. Every corner of India is gifted with artistic and cultural inspiration...
Read more

Up, up and away……

With nothing but the gentle roar of a burner for company, a hot air balloon is a tranquil way to take in your destination from an alternative perspective. From the first flights in the 1800’s to the advancements we...
Read more

Pilates in Paradise

There are still a few places remaining on Why House’s upcoming physio-led Pilates Retreat – a 7-day program that starts on 27th March 2020. Hosted by Serendipity Pilates Retreats, the focus is on conditioning the body and mind in...
Read more

GIVEAWAY with Wick & Tallow

We’re thrilled to collaborate with Wick & Tallow on an exciting Instagram competition to win one of their delicious Bold Collection scented candles alongside one of our vouchers worth up to £500 toward your next escape with Exceptional Travel. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀...
Read more

Come and see us at Cocklebarrow races

This Sunday 26th January we are delighted to be exhibiting once again at Cocklebarrow Races in Gloucestershire, set to be a fantastic day out for all the family. We’d love to see past and new Exceptional Travellers, so do...
Read more

South Africa with the Children

South Africa is well known as a the perfect destination for a family escape – be it February  or October half-term, or the Christmas or Easter holidays. At the end of 2019, our Senior Sales Consultant, Alex Bellew, packed...
Read more

Christmas Crackers

Toby – Norway For a traditional Christmas escape I can think of nothing better than packing up the family and taking them to Norway. Getting cosy by the fire while the snow falls outside is a pretty idyllic picture...
Read more

Myanmar’s Top Ten

Rudyard Kipling said ‘This is Burma. It will be quite unlike any land you know about.’ Just over a century later, the exotic and enthralling country of Myanmar offers travellers a blend of cultural influences and a traditional way...
Read more


Exceptional Travel and GenerationTusk invite you to celebrate the festive season whilst also supporting progressive conservation efforts across Africa. Join us for Christmas Drinks Gone Wild at the Maddox Gallery Westbourne Grove, showcasing the superb David Yarrow “Pride Rock”...
Read more

Oman’s Top Ten

With an impressive variety of luxury hotels and just 7.5 hours from London, Oman is an attractive option for that winter sun escape. Step outside the your chosen resort and you’ll discover far more than just world class hospitality....
Read more

Introducing the NEW Pods at The Lindis

The pods at New Zealand‘s The Lindis offer guests a truly unique accommodation experience. Nestled gently into the landscape — out of sight but only a stone’s throw from the main lodge, these cosy, compact structures bring the environment...
Read more

Dont forget your khakis

Exceptional Travel are delighted to partner with The Safari Store to prepare you for your holiday in the wild. The Safari Store is the brain child of African, Steve Adams.  Created for travellers, by travellers, it specialises in  providing safari clothing, luggage, and...
Read more

Rhino Relocation

As part of the efforts to repopulate the Serengeti with the critically endangered species, nine black rhino have recently been flown into Tanzania from a game farm in South Africa. Hunted and killed by poachers for their horn, prized...
Read more

Half Term not Half Time

From Mexico to The Maldives, we all need a little winter warmer to keep us going ’til spring. Here, we’ve picked some of our favourite family friendly holidays, perfect for your half term escape from the murky month of...
Read more

An adrenaline fuelled adventure in Namibia

Having been lucky enough to travel extensively throughout Africa, Namibia has always been one country that I’ve been keen to return to and see more of, in particular. When Ultimate Safaris kindly invited me to experience their exclusive guided...
Read more

Exceptional Journeys

We are delighted to announce that Exceptional Travel have teamed up with world-class photographer, Paul Joynson-Hicks, to lead an exclusive wildlife photography tour to Brazil’s Pantanal. The Pantanal is home to one of the largest and, thanks to dedicated conservation teams, thriving jaguar...
Read more

An Exceptional Journey to Zambia and Malawi

Alex Bellew, one of our Senior Sales Consultants, along with her friend George, has just returned from an exceptional journey, and here she tells us about their amazing trip. We’ve just returned from a fantastic journey to Zambia and...
Read more

Feature in The Telegraph

We are delighted to have been featured in The Telegraph‘s encouraging article regarding the lifted FCO restrictions on travel to Sri Lanka earlier this year, and the fantastic opportunities available to travellers which wont be around for long. Read...
Read more

The First Decade of Exceptional Travel

This month Exceptional Travel is celebrating its 10th birthday, and we are extremely proud of how far we have come in our first decade, and as always we are extremely grateful to you, our trusted clients. Exceptional Travel began...
Read more

Our Favourite Tree Houses

Here is a look at two of the most exceptional tree houses in South Africa and Costa Rica, click on the property name to take you to it’s dedicated page and find out more: The Kingston Treehouse, Lion Sands,...
Read more

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Whether it be nearing the summit of a mountain, feeling the might of surrounding peaks, making your way through hidden rain forests or listening to the calls from animals echoing all around, there is nothing quite like the thrill...
Read more

Our Favourite Luxury Tented Camps

Here is a look at some of the most exceptional tented camps around the world, click on the camp name to take you to it’s dedicated page and find out more: Hoanib Valley Camp, Namibia This new camp opened...
Read more

The Myriad Landscapes of Latin America

With Spring starting to peep its head above the cold earth and the days getting longer, we are turning our attention to the other side of the world, where the bright colours of Autumn are in full display. Let...
Read more

Welcoming the newest member of our Exceptional team

We are very excited to welcome a new member to our Exceptional team this week, as Louise Russell-Pavier joins us as Marketing Manager. Louise joins us having returned last year from just over a year living in Sri Lanka...
Read more

An Exceptional Adventure in Sri Lanka

We have just returned from a spectacular journey to Sri Lanka with a group of eight, wonderful guests. The journey took us from Colombo up to the plains of Anuradhapura; by train through rolling hills draped in tea plantations...
Read more

Ice-Breaking News!

Almost unheard of at this time of year but news has it that a few cabins are now available on one of our favourite boats in the Antarctic. If you’ve finally had enough of Brexit and you’re looking for...
Read more

See The World For Less

As we kick off 2019 with U.K Parliament still in deadlock and amidst talk of ‘deal or no deal’, we thought we would reach for our tin hats early in preparation of what may lie ahead. With European holiday...
Read more

Private Villa in Mexico

Our first treat for 2019 is to let you know about a fantastic private villa on Mexico’s Caribbean coast that is (amazingly) still available for February half term. This delightful beach-front home is offering a complimentary chef and butler...
Read more

Our Top Destinations for 2019

If you’re feeling like you’ve gorged on a year’s worth of decadent food over Christmas and you need a plan to burn it off – look no further than Bhutan. This achingly beautiful country is next on our hot...
Read more

Our Top Destinations for 2019

Number three on our hot list for 2019 is Namibia. This wild and rugged land is one of the least populated places on earth and its vast expanses of deserts, dunes and deltas are teeming with wildlife. Exceptional Travel...
Read more

Our Top Destinations for 2019

Next up on our hot list for 2019 is Antarctica. However high your expectations, we can be pretty certain this white continent will exceed them beyond your wildest dreams. Want to combine two of the driest and most spectacular...
Read more

Our Top Destinations for 2019

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is the first on our list of top travel destinations for 2019. Dropped into the Atlantic off the west coast of Africa, these little lost worlds are swathed in UNESCO protected...
Read more

Launching our new website

After a year of hard work from our dedicated team, who bravely took on hours of research, writing new content for each region and carefully choosing and resizing over 7,000 images, today we are proud to launch our brand...
Read more

Gorillas On Your List?

Nothing can prepare you for the surge of emotion that takes over when you see a mountain gorilla for the first time. It is an experience that lasts for a lifetime and will, in some way, change you. As...
Read more

Don’t get left out in the cold…

The summer is officially over. If your memories of long, lazy days soaking up the sunshine are fading rapidly, below we have gathered a list of our suggested top five winter escapes.
Read more

A happy guest returns from Zambia

Renowned wildlife photographer Paul Joynson Hicks lead a small group of four guests to Zambia's South Luangwa National Park recently, and they sent in some examples of the fantastic shots they took whilst on safari.
Read more

The First Lady of Kenya starts 2018 Lewa Marathon

We were again delighted to work with Tusk and be involved with the Lewa Marathon, organising the travel arrangements for most of the international runners attending.
Read more

New Nasca Lines Discovered in Peru

Armed with satellites and drones, archaeologists discover new Nasca lines and dozens of other enigmatic geoglyphs carved into the earth.
Read more

October Half Term

You may well be all set for the summer, whether you are planning to make your way to The Maldives, settle in Scotland, pop over the pond or wind your way down to the West Country, but have you...
Read more

Beautiful Botswana

Head of African sales Lukey Bourne returns from Botswana where she visited a selection of the best camps in the Okvanago Delta. Read her full trip report here.
Read more

Get in touch with us now to start planning your journey