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Oman Tourism: visit Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara this weekend.

by Felicia Campbell IMG_1759

Story: Felicia Campbell Photography: Mehdi Taghavi They say it is the little things in life that matter most, and when it comes to luxury travel -- that particular category of leisure that is immune to price, and, at times, jaded -- the details are everything. It is the little extras, surprises, exceeded expectations, and unique experiences that Anantara properties are known for, and at their newest property here in Oman, the Al Baleed Resort in Salalah, they are living up to their global reputation as one of the finest hotel chains in the world. It all begins with the arrival. Rather than pulling up to the well-designed lobby to be greeted with a refreshing beverage and cold towel (you've already been given those in the car as you were whisked away from the airport), you will find yourself pulling to a stop on a quiet stretch of beachfront where a group of local men and their camels are waiting. With your Anantara Panama hat atop your head (an arrival gift), you will be assisted in mounting your steed. Once upright, you'll not only feel, but also look like, a romantic character in a 1920s film about the great mysteries of the Orient. As you caravan down the nearly empty beach, waves crashing at the feet of your unusual new friend, the cool Indian Ocean breeze swirling around you, I wager that you will have a hard time thinking about anything other than the adventure you are on, and what lies at the end of your trek. Just passed the 8th century AD Al Baleed Archeological Park, a Unesco World Heritage site, an entourage awaits at the edge of what looks like a chic Omani village. (That is, if village homes featured private infinity pools and modern architecture.) More cold towels and welcome drinks are offered and your personal villa host -- if you are lucky enough to book one of the 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom lagoon, garden, or beach view villas -- will escort you to your accommodations. Wandering down the palm-lined path that leads through the villas, the hand-carved wooden doors and windows, white-washed stucco walls, and stone facades are distinctly Omani, in the most modern interpretation. There are even nouveau falaj fountains running throughout the property. The surprises continue once you reach your villa, where a hand-painted palm with your name on it hangs outside your courtyard entrance. Inside, two more members of the welcome committee have prepared bowls of cool water and scented oils for your foot ritual, a traditional Thai act of hospitality (Anantara is Thai-based). After your feet are refreshed, you can sign your check-in documents, accept the list of complimentary activities for the day (everything from watersports to beachfront sunset yoga), say goodbye to your villa host, and settle into your surroundings. The villas include a spacious bedroom, a bathroom with a deep soaking tub and rain shower with direct access to your private pool, and a large living room leading out to the real show-stopper -- your private terrace. The 'backyards' feature curtained lounge beds, a seating area, a good size plunge pool, and a small dining table, either overlooking the beach, the lagoon (and Al Baleed beyond), or completely walled-in for absolute privacy in the garden view option. Electric lanterns are peppered throughout the space for romantic evening lighting. Back inside there are plenty of thoughtful touches, from Frisbees and volleyballs for some backyard or beachfront sport, an overflowing fruit basket, a beach bag stuffed with towels, locally made soaps in scents like sandalwood, ginger, and patchouli, and Amouage bath products. And, of course, towel animals and palm art on your plush bed. At turndown, you'll have new creations waiting along with house-made sweets to enjoy on your terrace. Aside from the villas, those who opt for premier sea view (the hotel's standard room option) or deluxe rooms are also in for a pleasant surprise. The spacious premier rooms, could be considered suites in many other hotels and feature the same luxurious bath setup along with balconies that overlook the infinity pools and beach, while the deluxe rooms have private entrances and courtyards surrounding the massive 91sq metre interior space. Though you could happily spend your entire vacation in your room, you'd be missing out. The facilities and activities are as world-class as the accommodations themselves and there are enough on-site options to keep you occupied for a week, from cooking and mixology classes to fitness classes, yoga, and bikes for cruising along the nearby corniche and Al Baleed Archeological site. The beach itself offers a world of new experiences to explore thanks to the resort's position on the Indian Ocean, which sees much larger waves than the ripples we experience on the Sea of Oman up here in Muscat. That means seriously challenging stand-up paddle boarding and sea kayaking, which the incredible on-site fitness staff are more than happy to patiently help you master. If you prefer a more restful beach day, you need to only choose between the hammocks, the canopy beach beds, and the traditional lounges, and umbrellas. Staff will regularly come by to take your fresh juice orders, bring you cold towels, and even clean the saltwater off your sunglasses for you. If you still manage to get restless, there are a seemingly endless array of offsite tours from overnight desert adventures in the Empty Quarter where you can explore the lost city of Ubhar, to souq tours with a local guide, hiking in the Dhofar mountains, dolphin watching and fishing excursions, diving and snorkelling along the coast near the quaint village of Mirbat, and tours of incredible archaeological sites like Ayub's (Job) tomb and the ruins of Sumhuram, the ancient palace of the Queen of Sheba. To help plan these excursions, or simply to offer insight into the local area, the hotel has employed its very own "Salalah Guru". Hussain Balhaf is a Dhofar native who, in addition to having a deep knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the area's mountainous back roads and hidden beaches, has an effortless sense of hospitality. Spending a half-day with Hussain means impromptu stories and anecdotes, and, once he has had time to see what you are really enthusiastic about, suggested side trips on the way to or from your destination, which make it feel as though an old friend is eagerly showing you around his home-turf. Passionate, expert staff, like Hussain, set the property apart as much as the fine finishes and stunning views, especially when it comes to food and beverage. In addition to in-room, in-villa, and private dining, Al Baleed has three restaurants: Sakalan, an indoor-outdoor all-day dining buffet; Al Mina restaurant, an alfresco Mediterranean poolside cafe that overlooks the sea and comes alive with a band on weekend evenings; and Mekong, a celebration of modern Asian cuisine. At the helm is Executive Chef "Sam" Gaspare Greco, an Italian by birth, who has travelled the world cooking in some of the best hotels and restaurants across Asia and the Mediterranean. His unyielding standards are apparent in every dish, from the modern mezze, fresh gazpacho, and prime cuts of beef served at Al Mina, to the downright stunning cuisine of Mekong. My husband and I had the opportunity to enjoy the food of Mekong in the most exclusive of settings thanks to the creative stylings of Ahmed "Waddey" Waheed, the director of in-room dining who oversees the Dining-by-Design programme. Raised in the Maldives, Waddey got his start in the world-famous luxury resorts of the Islands, and his elaborate beachfront dining setups reflect his experience. Each Dining-by-Design is a custom creation, and for our dining room, he surrounded a cabana with softly glowing fire pits, driftwood hung with lanterns, and flickering candles in what was the most sophisticated beachside dining set-up I've ever seen. Rather than ferry our meals from the main restaurant out to the beach, a cooking station had been arranged beachside as well (though far enough away to be unobtrusive). The set-up alone was impressive, but the real pageantry was yet to come. After reviewing a menu that had been specially prepared to suit our dietary restrictions and preferences, a dapper-looking Englishman appeared pushing a bar cart. Recruited from the bustling Liverpool bar scene, Daniel Cunningham is as much showman as he is mixologist. Regaling us with stories about the origins of Indian Ocean punches, we watched with fascination as he poured and shook his potions, which ended up in a massive, vintage rickshaw punch bowl garnished with fresh lemongrass and ginger straws. Lighting a torch, he threw cinnamon through the crackling flame, toasting the spice for a dramatic finish. The resulting mocktail was far from the syrupy sweet concoctions often served in these parts; it was balanced, complex, and utterly refreshing. We sipped on our rickshaw, and the first course arrived -- fiery papaya salad, fresh spring rolls, and a mind-bending banana blossom and chicken salad, which is the best thing I've ever eaten in Oman. We savoured our meal, enjoying the sounds of the lapping waves mixing with the soft music being played by the American singer and guitar player performing at Al Mina. Then we met Stefan. A wine specialist from Canada, Stefan St Pierre worked in wine making before entering the hospitality side of things. Recruited by the property, he is in charge of the viticulture programme and guest education. His passion and knowledge are matched only by his flair for entertainment, which we experienced first-hand when he wielded a saber, deftly slicing the top off of a bottle of bubbly before pouring us each a glass. The passion of the Anantara staff for their areas of expertise, is matched only by their enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge and ensuring their guests have a memorable, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime, experience. This attitude creates the sensation of effortlessness, an indulgent stay that feels somehow casual and accessible, an escape that makes you feel pampered, but not fawned over, thanks to the authenticity of both experiences and hospitality. This is the global benchmark for modern luxury travel. And, with the arrival of Anantara Salalah, a new bar has been set in Oman. [emailprotected] Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara +968 2322 8222 [emailprotected] Opening special rates are 25% off all rooms and villas starting from OMR109 with breakfast from November 3 -December 15 . Get There on Oman Air +968 2453 1111 Oman Air operates 7 daily flights between Muscat and Salalah for approximately OMR65 return economy and OMR148 return business class. The hour and 45-minute flights are rarely crowded, thanks to the frequency of flights and light meal service is provided along with a baggage allowance of 30kg for economy and 40kg for business plus a 7kg allowance for hand luggage.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:7OMAN
Date:Nov 2, 2016
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