Family travel expert and host of Mother Tongue podcast Maryanne Peacock checks into Alila Hinu Bay, and finds a tropical paradise which is idyllic even outside of khareef season
Why book Alila Hinu Bay
Famed for the riches of its frankincense groves, coconut-fringed beaches and spectacular ancient landscapes, Salalah, on the southern coast of Oman’s Dhofar region, offers the perfect escape. It is possibly one of the quietest places I have ever visited, surrounded by undulating mountains, palm trees and stunning sea views. The birthplace of the current Sultan of Oman, Salalah is a special spot, blessed with many seasons, rich culture, and a snazzy new airport – a nice introduction to our arrival.
The area has also become famous for its Khareef season, a colloquial Arabic term used to describe a unique weather pattern in Oman, occurring every year between June and September. During this time, the coastal fringe of Dhofar experiences a run-in with the Indian Ocean monsoon season, causing rain to blanket the region, transforming the coastal plains and mountains into an emerald green, tropical paradise.
As you can imagine, this special season causes an influx of visitors from the GCC, all attempting to take refuge from the heat under the Salalah rain clouds. During this period, the region comes alive with wildlife, including gazelle, hyena, flamingo and the unique and scarce Arabian leopard, whilst the region’s prize possession, the camel, can be spotted in the mountains, making the most of the newfound food and cool climate.
A year-round destination
Whilst Khareef is special, visiting Salalah any time of the year is something everyone should experience at least once – there is something so calming about this area – from the moment you arrive, the stress of city life seems to melt away – something I know we all crave from time to time. This visit was actually my third trip to Salalah and I was keen to see Alila Hinu Bay, a hotel that only opened a few years ago. Set over 45 hectares of untouched beachfront, dolphins, sea turtles and dhows call in at these shores. Away from the sea, the hotel is surrounded by rugged desert, palm trees and a large lagoon that flanks the left side of the property.
96 rooms and 16 pool suites make up the resort, each with a unique, private view and terrace – the perfect spot for an afternoon tipple or morning cup of tea. Even the entry level rooms are spacious – all complete with a bath and shower, sofa and large bed that you’ll be very ready to crawl into at night after a decedent feed at one of the two restaurants, Seasalt and the Orchard.
At the latter, huge spaces and high windows are the backdrop for Arabic and Mediterranean meals, which include seafood mixed grills and produce from the gardens cooked in an open kitchen minutes after harvesting. You’ll also be able to order food to your cabana outside. Meanwhile, Seasalt specialises in Asian fare – the stand out for me was the Singaporean black pepper prawns, but definitely try the Camel Rendang Curry if you are feeling a little adventurous. Options are aplenty at both restaurants and breakfast at the Orchard is always spoiling, with fresh food available at the Chef’s Table and a la carte options to suit all taste buds. Cooking classes are also popular at Alila Hinu Bay as is the Camel Mixology session, where you learn to make craft cocktails with camel milk. An experience not to miss is the 5-course Frankincense Journey at the Orchard – an exceptional dinner crafted by Head Chef Ibrahim, taking inspiration and flavours from the Frankincense route through the Middle East into Europe – the banana gnocchi was a personal favourite whilst the spiced Omani rack of lamb was something not to be missed.
What to do at Alila Hinu Bay
If doing nothing is more your vibe, you’ve come to the right place – it is possibly one of the most relaxing spots I have visited. There are two outdoor saltwater pools, open for swims between 8am and 7pm. The one next to the Seasalt restaurant has a view of the lagoon and sea too. The spa is a sanctuary in itself – with cosy treatment rooms and excellent therapists. Alongside a menu full of facials, massages and scrubs, you’ll also have the option to customise your own. Through a consultation with the local therapists, you can design treatments according to your personal needs and preferences for a truly personal approach to well-being. After your treatment, there are options for yoga or meditation or you can retreat to the steam room.
When it comes to experiences, there are so many options to choose from – a highlight though is a visit to Mirbat’s fish market, where the chef will accompany you to pick out seafood, which he’ll kindly cook for you back at the hotel. If water is more your vibe, you’ll be able to take small catamarans and stand-up paddleboards out on the lagoon, and visit the Jabal Samhan nature reserve to look for wildlife that includes wolves, desert hedgehogs and the last remaining wild Arabian leopards. If you’re lucky, you might also get a chance encounter with a dolphin or sea turtle, who both spend their days eating fish and swimming in Alila’s giant bay. Other activities on-site include kayaking, shore fishing, diving and seaside mountain biking – something for everyone. There is also a kids club full of daily activities to keep little ones entertained. Nearby, you can take the winding roads to Taqah, a striking coastal town with historic forts situated next to a natural park that is completely covered with lush green vegetation during Khareef. Taqah Castle, the area’s most famous landmark, is full of history, whilst the nearby beaches are perfect for watching the huge waves roll in.
How to get to Alila Hinu Bay
Salalah has an international airport, with arrivals from across the Middle East, including Dubai and Sharjah. The resort is approx 1 hour from Salalah International Airport by car.
Anything to add?
If you are looking for a last-minute festive escape, Alila Hinu Bay has a full itinerary of festive fun from daily morning meditation, language learning and kayaking to gingerbread house making, Daiquiri Happy Hour and Christmas cocktails.
December rates from OMR105 a night (about AED1,000); alilahotels.com