Easy Escapes: Salalah, Oman

Caroline Garland grabs some peace and winter warmth in the Land of Frankincense.


Caroline Garland grabs some peace and winter warmth in the Land of Frankincense.

Caroline Garland grabs some peace and winter warmth in the Land of Frankincense.

Why go? Want some guaranteed winter sunshine? Then it's best to head for the desert. And if you choose the Sultanate of Oman, you'll also get spectacular mountains, storybook dunes, camel rides, hassle-free souks and top class hotels. The capital, Muscat, is just under eight hours' flying time from London, but if you want to go somewhere that's beautiful and relatively unknown, take a second flight southwest to the emerging resort of Salalah. Once home to the Queen of Sheba, and famous for its frankincense trees (now a World Heritage site), it has miles and miles of palm tree-lined Indian Ocean beaches. The landscape is as Arabic as you could imagine, with desert and mountains in one direction and untouched shores in the other. No holiday strip, no garish clubs, no raucous bars – just peaceful sands, a traditional lifestyle, interesting architecture and acres of space.

Arabian escape: unwind on the empty sands of Salalah

When: The weather in Oman is best from now until mid-April. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures dropping again from October. From July to September Salalah is kissed by the monsoon season, when the sea is too rough to swim. A fine mist covers the mountains, the desert turns green and visitors from the Gulf States flock in to enjoy the drizzle. This year Ramadan runs from 18 June for a month.

Stay at: The five-star Salalah Rotana Resort (rotana.com) is built like an Arab village with lagoons, canals and landscaped gardens. Set beside Salalah Beach, it has 400 grand rooms that come with a king-size bed and balcony or terrace as standard. Amenities include two pools, a Zen spa with a comprehensive treatment menu, a fitness centre, kids club and tennis courts. Double rooms cost from £119 with breakfast.

Peace and luxury: the five-star Salalah Rotana Resort

You really must... Al Fawaz Tours (alfawaztours.com) runs half-day excursions (£44) that tour the city of Salalah visiting highlights such as the Museum of the Land of Frankincense, fruit and vegetable plantations and the Sultan Qaboos Mosque. The guides are informative and full of interesting anecdotes and you also get to shop at the Haffah souk.

Another must is a swim with dolphins in the wild, which can be booked through Around The Ocean (from £34, aroundtheocean.net). Our trip took us along a beautiful coastline of white sands with not a soul on any of the beaches. We pulled up at a large school of sardines and saw at least seven playful pods of dolphins feeding. The skipper said it was fine to jump in and so we did – a dream fulfilled!

If you’re a foodie like me you’ll love exploring a local produce market, Visiting the fish and meat one in Salalah you can see tuna, sardines and many colourful varieties of fish, all caught that morning and being sold to restaurants and local people.

Stars of the sea: in Salalah you can go swimming with wild dolphins

Dine at: The Salalah Rotana Resort has two restaurants, the all-day, international Saffron and the dinner-only Silk Road, specialising in the cuisines of the Far East, India, Thailand and Arabia. This means you can eat very well on whatever you want, including sushi, ceviche, curry, burgers or lobster – all cooked and presented to a five-star standard.

For a treat, organise a 'Destination Dining' experience, which could be in any location of your choice from a mountain-top to a dhow or on an island. A candlelit meal on the beach, with a private chef and waiter, feels very special with the sunset, palm trees and crashing waves.

For something beyond the hotel walls, I enjoyed going to a local Omani restaurant called Bin Ateeq (ask the concierge for directions). This is a small chain serving traditional food and rather than an open plan restaurant each group of guests has their own room. You sit on the floor on rugs and cushions while the food is brought over on silver trays – get ready for spicy meats, freshly grilled fish, vegetables such as aubergines and okra, sweet desserts, and coffee infused with cardamom and cloves.

Bring home: dates, halwa sweets, silver jewellery, painted frankincense burners, leather bags, colourful pottery.

Light my fire: bring home an Omani frankincense burner

What to wear: Oman is a safe, friendly and traditional country with quite strict rules about what women can wear in public. Outside of a hotel you should wear dresses or trousers below the knee and shoulders and tops of arms should be covered (no plunging necklines, tight or see-through material, or bare backs). And slap on that sun cream!

Book now: Oman Air (0844 482 2309; omanair.com) has daily flights from London Heathrow to Salalah via Muscat, from £725 return. Thomas Cook (0844 879 8442, thomascook.com) offers seven nights stay at the Salalah Rotana Resort from £1,094 per person based on two sharing, including flights, transfers and breakfast. Price valid for travel between 1-31 March 2015.

Info: Oman (£15.99; Rough Guides) is a comprehensive guide, and see omantourism.gov.om. Visas are available on arrival.

Images © Oman Ministry of Tourism