It’s not a destination that’s top of most people’s bucket list, yet it has one of the best airports in the world, Hamad International Airport (DOH) and it welcomes more than 30 million travellers every year – Qatar!
The beauty of this luxurious small Middle Eastern country, is the contrasts, whether it’s the bustling souks and expansive skyscrapers or the dusty deserts and fascinating heritage sights, there’s something for everyone, and with the country preparing to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 (the first country in the Middle East to do so), Qatar is certainly pulling out all the stops to attract visitors from all over the world.
Unlike Dubai, Qatar seems to have a more laid-back approach to life, and although they are rumoured to be one of the richest countries in the world, they seem less showy than their neighbours in Dubai. Becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination, and perfect as a week-long getaway or an overnight stopover, Qatar is ideal forvisitors looking for a little rest and relaxation with a taste of Middle Eastern culture and cuisine thrown in.
We were lucky enough to have won a three-night trip to Qatar, courtesy of Qatar Tourismand were staying at the Sharq Village & Spa, set along Qatar’s golden coastline, a tranquil, traditionally inspired resort, hidden within the heart of Doha.
The lobby is impressive with marble floors, exquisite flower displays, sumptuous sofas and giant chandeliers that ooze opulence and style, a beautiful space thatshares the richness of the Middle East at every turn.
Outside is Arabian architecture at its best, an open space dominated by an imposing swimming pool with its surroundings designed to resemble a traditional Arabian village with courtyards, pools, fountains and gardens along with breath taking views of the Doha skyline, mesmerising at night as it lights up the sky as far as the eye can see.
Walking to our room, we have to walk by the turquoise waters of the pool, all lit up with atmospheric lighting glistening on the palms that are slowly swaying in the evening breeze, teasing us to the delights this luxurious hotel has to offer.
Our room a King Suite, was aptly named, it certainly was fit for a King. Entered via a classical Arabic courtyard this vast suite (all 104 sq. metres) just oozes sumptuous opulence, dark wooden antique furniture, marble floors, heavy studded wooden doorsand a balcony with seating overlooking the private beach.
The contrast of the crisp white linensheets swathed over the dark wooden four poster bed complemented each other perfectly. The spacious bathroom, complete with Asprey toiletries had you walking up marble tiled steps into a sumptuous bath, and another balcony off the bedroom proved the perfect place to sip coffee in the morning whilst watching the sunrise over the horizon, and with all modern amenities including a separate kitchen area with Espresso coffee machine, tea and coffee facilities, not one but two plasma screen TV’s and of course high speed WiFithis hotel is a definite haven for travellers seeking luxury and sophistication.
It would have been so easy to spend our days lazing poolside or splashing in the sea (and believe me we did do this) but Doha is such a fascinating city with culture in abundance,we just had to explore.
History & Culture
The Museum of Islamic Art is a must-visit. This internationally renowned treasure house contains some 14 centuries of the finest art and artefacts from across the Islamic world and is designed by the celebrated architect IM Pei (at 91 years of age, he had to be coaxed out of retirement to undertake the task, traveling throughout the Muslim world on a six-month quest to learn about Muslim architecture and history).
Housed over five floors, this cool and contemporary building has you walking through history dating back to the 7th century. With galleries housing collections of some of the most beautiful artefacts including metal work, ceramics, jewellery, wood work, textiles and glass. It is one of the world’s most complete collections of Islamic artefacts, with items originating in Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India, and Central Asia.
If you feel the need to for a little high-end shopping, or if like me you can only dream about how the other half lives, (a coffee is £10, in the Armani coffee shop) then the Pearl-Qatar is the place to be (aptly named as it’s built in the shape of an oyster). A man-made island designed and engineered to be an everlasting icon in Qatar, it is the jewel in the crown with luxury boutiques (thinkCartier, Versace, Rolls Royce and Ferrari) a breathtakingly beautiful marina, with sleek yachts bobbing about in front of the many waterfront restaurants, known as the ‘Arabian Riviera’, the perfect place to sit, chill and work out how much credit you’ve got left on your card!
Having seen the extravagant shops in the Pearl, it’s time for something with a more authentic feel – Souq Waqif; The original traditional market, which has stood on the same spot since the 1940’s. This labyrinth bazaar, whose name translates to “standing market,” is the Qatari capital’s oldest souq and a major tourist destination on its own. It has been extensively renovated but look closely and you’ll see parts of the original walls and some elaborately decorated doors still remain intact.
The narrow alleyways, are full of small shops and stalls showcasing their wares including textiles, trinkets and jewellery. It’s like a maze full of aromatic smells that hang in the air, intoxicating your senses, whether it’s incense, rich spices or fragrant oils. The colours are vibrant, the barter is fun, and the ice cream guy has you crying with laughter at his antics!
Not just a marketplace, Souq Waqif is also home to a wide range of hotels, cafes and traditional-style restaurants, offering a variety of local and regional foods, but if you only eat in one it has to be Parisa Souq Waqif (a Persian restaurant). From the moment you enter through the mirrored corridor you are transported to another world. Mesmerised by opulent interiors that combine hand-painted Persian artwork of myths and legends, intricate mosaics, ornate chandeliers and a beautiful fountain taking centre stage, this really is a stunning setting to enjoy traditional cuisine. The slow cooked chicken and lamb kebabs were beautifully marinated, tender, juicy, and went perfectly with the assortment of different ricesthat included saffron and dill, the fluffiest rice I have ever tasted, a truly authentic Persian dining experience.
Time to visit the hauntingly beautiful Khor Al Adaid (also known as the Inland Sea) an area surrounded by large golden sand dunes and one of the few places in the world where the ocean encroaches deep into the heart of a desert, a UNESCO-listed refuge for wildlifeand the natural border to Saudi Arabia.
It was here, the adrenalin junkie in me made an appearance, we were going sand dune bashing – Dune bashing means driving at increasing and decreasing speeds over sand dunes. As the surface of the sand keeps shifting, it takes a special skill and a special type of car to navigate the terrain (luckily we had an experienced dune basher!) The trip is bumpy, thrilling and at times a little scary, with lots of yelps, screams and closing of eyes – but oh so worth it when you see the views (your guide stops the vehicle on numerous occasions so you can get out, catch your breath and inhale the beautiful landscapes and scenery around).
After catching our breath, the adventure continues with a stop in the middle of the desert at a Bedouin-style camp, with the sea as its backdrop, it’s the perfect location for us to feast on a BBQ of Middle Eastern meats and salads. Dip our toes in the warm sea water and enjoy a more serene mode of transport along the beach – a camel!
A Feast of Food
There are some fabulous restaurants in Doha, serving international and Middle Eastern cuisines and it’s safe to say you never go hungry! Portion control is not an issue and just a little tip – don’t fill up on the pitta breads and dips as there’s at least another two courses to come!
Al Mourjan – Waterfront dining at its best, whether you sit in or outside. Be sure to order a ‘Lemon Mint’ drink – suitably refreshing and a local favourite – once drunk, you’re hooked! Arabic cuisine is based on mezze plates which means you can choose quite a few plates between you – The must-haves though are the traditional homemade humus accompanied by warm pita bread, zaatar (sesame seeds) and Labneh (soft cheese made from yogurt), zesty fattoush (a tasty bread salad), halloumi cheese and falafel.
Ard Canaan – situated within the walls of Katara Cultural Village the restaurant is an authentic representation of the traditional Holy Land. The restaurant holds many stories between its walls, the huge limestone reception desk embodies the rock found in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the ceiling reflects the tiny detailed decoration mirrored from Al Aqsa Mosque. The flooring patterns and materials are exactly like those from Nabuls, Yafa, Hebron, Jerusalem, Amman, Salt and Damascus and the bathrooms contain more gold than a jeweller! The eggplant with walnuts and pomegranate and the chicken Fattah were utterly delicious, the flavours divine and the stuffed falafel a big hit – I’m in love with Palestinian cuisine!
Whether it’s luxury, cuisine, culture, shopping or simply relaxing,Qatar offers a truly unforgettable Arabian experience, that’ll have you wondering why you’ve never visited before.
For more information and to book a stay at Sharq Village & Spa, visit www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/qatar/sharq-village
Qatar Airways run regular flights from London Gatwick and London Heathrow for more information, visit www.qatarairways.com
For tours and activities visit Qatar International Adventures at qia-qatar.com.
For more information on Qatar, visit Qatar Tourism Authority at visitqatar.qa