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When you hear the words ‘wellness retreat’ what comes to mind? Maybe you think of 6am yoga classes and intense daily workouts, interspersed with wheat grass shots and salads that are green enough to test your human limitations. Whatever your notion is, let it go and let’s start fresh. Forget about intermittent fasting, juicing, calorie counts and perfect flexibility. Instead, concentrate on your inner wellbeing – your mind and body connecting to come clean. This is exactly the soulful journey we embarked on during a visit to the luxury resort of Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara.ARE WE STILL IN THE GCC?
In a region where many seek the solace of wilderness for the sake of their human spirit and the necessity of their personal peace, Salalah is the kind of place that can help you put a true perspective on life. As a destination, it offers you the kind of landscapes that speak to your soul; silent, rocky wadis, turquoise waves lapping white sandy shores and plenty of mountainside moments – where you might just spot a tribe of goats moving ever-so gracefully over rugged ground, or a family of neat-looking camels resting calmly as 4×4 vehicles whizz by. It is the Middle East after all, and Salalah offers raw, unfiltered surroundings without a single skyscraper in sight.
Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara has every luxury and comfort you could dream of; starting from personalised greetings to a kitchen-sized mini bar and even a soap menu. They’ve really thought of it all. There’s no compromise on convenience and you’ll quickly start to slow down and appreciate every little detail (we loved the complimentary beach bag, hat and frisbee in the room), something that is so easily lost in the hustle of life in the Gulf.BALANCE WELLNESS PROGRAMME
Once we’re well acquainted with the stunning One-Bedroom Garden View Pool Villa, we head for a consultation with our Wellness Guru Ratheesh at Anantara Spa. After filling out a questionnaire that specifically asks questions related to your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing, including things like “how quickly do you get angry” and “do you have any particular pain in the body to target” – Ratheesh establishes our individual needs and goals of the three-day Balance Wellness Programme. We’re not weighed and our BMI isn’t checked – two things we were expecting to happen at consultation stage. However, it quickly becomes clear that this programme isn’t designed to be a military-style boot camp of regimented exercise and eating, instead you’re encouraged from the onset to choose light daily activities alongside nutritious dining options that will aid in really restoring your internal pipes, so to speak, to their purest form. All the while, you’ll be aiding your body’s natural way of working with three healthy meals a day, fresh juices to top up and stay hydrated, and, of course, a host of activities and treatments that go hand-in-hand with your selected diet. We were ready!
If you’re someone who eats sporadically throughout the day or if you’re not used to eating the recommended daily intake specified for your age, gender, body type and so on, then day one is likely to be a little testing – but far from impossible. Breakfast at Sakalan is like walking into a bona fide food paradise; served in the stylish dining room or on the terrace beside the infinity pool, there’s a full-to-the-brim buffet packed with pastries galore (the vanilla cruffs are well worth biting into), a fruit station, egg counter, cereal and bread for days, healthy smoothies and juices to kick-start your system, and all the indulgent favourites including brick-sized French Toast, Pancakes dripping in maple syrup, savoury classics like Eggs Florentine and even a host of Arabic, Chinese and more worldly options. What we’re saying is – be ready (and behave!).
Day one of the programme remains our favourite, all thanks to the resort’s Salalah Guru, Hussain. Without exaggerating, Hussain may just be the best guide you could ask for on an excursion – in this case, a Mountain Hike. He shares with us stories about growing up in a mountain society, how life was as simple as a glass of milk and a piece of bread back then, and, probably the most endearing tale – the Salalah community has set up a WhatsApp group to help each other, and those less fortunate who reside there, with any financial and medical problems. If an issue arises on the group: “you can give even five or ten riyals each and people give something, whatever they can, to help the person,” Hussain says. This, we thought, was exactly the good-natured character we’d experienced of the Omani people and their ways.We drive deep into the wadi on the Dhofar Mountains which resembles something that is easily a cross between the worlds of Mad Max and Jurassic Park. Hussain tells us that in a few months, these empty spaces will be filled with water. We navigate a labyrinth of rocks; white, brown, craggy earth, working up a respectable sweat (for people who haven’t hiked in a LONG time) and admiring the sparse vegetation and wildlife when it appears. It’s windy when we visit, and the breeze helps to keep us going at a steady pace – however, we’d highly recommend wearing a hat and sunscreen. Hussain then drives us to one of his “secret” spots – a place that could easily bring a tear to the still eye. Over the edge of a cliff, serene blue water glides onto white sand like something you would only expect to be conjured up on Photoshop – we were lost for words – even more so when Hussain takes just minutes to trek down to the beach and etch “Anantara” in the sand, all for the sake of our insta-stories – LEGEND.
We return refreshed and ready for the first meal of the wellness programme – Avocado Tartare (starter), Red Lentils and Tomato Casserole (main) and Carrot Cake with Dark Chocolate Frosting and Goji (dessert). The three-day package includes a three-course lunch and dinner, which you get to personally choose from the Wellness Cuisine menu. All meals and wellness drinks are brought straight to your room or villa, making it pretty smooth to stick with the agenda of the day.
We expected the food to be quite basic and small-sized portions, but we were pleasantly surprised. Central to the success of the wellness programme, the specially-designed cuisine is the brainchild of expert vegan-vegetarian chef Valeria Agnelutto. This healthy, cleansing cuisine is designed to maintain your energy and levels during the entire programme while providing you with all the elements that your body needs to detox.
We felt it almost immediately. Firstly, every course is oozing flavour – something that is often difficult to attain with vegan and vegetarian ingredients – but is achieved here so perfectly. The portions are of good size – not excessive but definitely filling. And we notice that our bodies are digesting the food we’re eating with much more vigour and imminence.Before dinner, we head to the spa for a luxurious hammam treatment. Drawing on centuries of Arabian wellness – the ancient ritual starts with a muscle-relaxing steam bath in preparation for a black soap cleansing and kessa mitt exfoliation to sweep impurities. Once steamed and scrubbed, a Moroccan Rhassoul treatment richly nourishes and rehydrates, leaving the skin silky soft. It’s the complete opposite of our morning hike; just what our bodies needed. The robust scrubbing seems to have washed away any internal negative thoughts as well as the actual dead skin too.
By the time dinner arrives, we’re in our robes, ready to eat up and get a good night’s sleep. One thing this wellness programme has triggered is our body clock – it’s getting back in tune with daylight and darkness, which means that we fall into a deep slumber with bellies full, prepared for more nourishment.
Day two takes a more chilled-out turn. After breakfast and the first wellness drink of the day, we head straight for the beach where the next four hours is spent shifting between a fair amount of beach walks and topping up the tan. This is one thing we really appreciated about the programme – it allowed for enough spare time for us to relax and do our own thing. Of course, we headed back into our impressive villa for both lunch and dinner, where the chickpea burger with rosemary and parsley with veggie mayo and the carrot and cashews smooth soup are both highlights. Ingredients are rich and the taste is what we’d easily call Michelin-standard. In between the two meals we opted for our second wellness therapy: the 60-minute Abhyanga Massage, which is designed to restore balance. The ancient healing massage uses herb-infused oils that are gently warmed and lightly massaged into the skin using soothing friction strokes. As the oils penetrate the skin, toxins and impurities are loosened, reducing muscle tension and calming the nervous system. The massage is a great choice for those looking to harmonise their mind and body. The therapists, including wellness guru Ratheesh, are both professional and thorough – we leave the room in a complete state of zen.DAY THREE
By the time we arrive at day three, there’s a pep in our step that wasn’t there when we’d arrived to the resort. Although activity has been light, we’re full of energy and the nutritious food we’ve been eating really seems to have done the trick with balancing out our inner workings. We’re sleeping better, our skin is glowing and overall we feel fresher – no sluggish periods in the middle of the afternoon and no lethargic moments of zoning out for impromptu naps. In fact, we start our day with a 9am yoga class in the spa garden and even manage to make it to the gym a little later on for a cardio hit. The food continues to impress with standouts being the special miso soup and the vegetables fettucine with spinach pesto and cherry tomatoes. The menu is serious foodie goals – even for die-hard carnivores, it’s a big change – but one that’s really worth it.
PERSONAL WELLNESS GOALS
Ask us again what we think of when the words ‘wellness retreat’ crop up, and we’ll answer: the active process of making better choices towards a healthier mind, body and soul – both inside and out. If there’s one thing you’ll find at the end of your Balance Wellness Programme at the serene Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, it’s that this could very well be the beginning of a constant, conscious pursuit of truly living your best life.