The desert is and always will be a special place for me. Refuge for some, the enemy for others. Most of us westerners find its harsh conditions a challenge but I feel it has been undersold. With the right approach it can be rewarding, exciting and like nowhere else on earth. Welcome to Doha and its environs. An adventure awaits.
Flying business class is always a good start to any journey but flying Qatar Airways makes that even better. Yes you have more room and a giant screen to watch any number of films or TV programmes but you get to choose your own food (I am now gluten free and they couldn’t have been more helpful) and drinks of course. During the flight my ‘personal’ hostess asked me if I’d like to try out the A380 lounge. Yes I would thank you! I wandered down to the rear of business class, passed through the curtain into a room something like a private jet in a Bond film. With a capacity of 18 (16 with Goldfinger) and two bar tenders on hand this equals a party. I tested them in the only way I know how “could I have an Old Fashioned please”. “Certainly sir” came the reply. In a jiffy I was dinking my favourite cocktail, eating olives and nuts and chatting with the friendly barman. Party central achieved.
It’s a cliché but I really didn’t want the flight to end, it was so luxe. I had enjoyed fine food, some excellent Lanson rosé Champagne, a little nap in the fully extendable bed and played my part as an extra in a Bond movie 39,000ft in the air. But end it did and a seamless alight from the upper deck to waiting transport and then to the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel right in the historic centre of Doha.
There’s plenty to do in Doha and my visit coincided with one of the many festivals held in Qatar. Music was everywhere with bands playing in the streets and restaurants. With outdoor eating and shisha pipes on the go it was like being in a movie (again).
One of the jewels of the region is undoubtedly the Museum of Islamic Art designed by Iam Pei (he was the architect behind the pyramid extension at the Louvre in Paris). So committed was he to his craft that he spent six months living in the country to get a feel for the local. That’s dedication.
The building is astonishing in its beauty and seductive charm. From the outside the limestone lures you in with its ever changing colours that match the sun. The five storey main building is crowned with a high domed atrium with a large eye on each of its four sides. Augmented by a world-class education centre the whole museum seems to float from the end of a long bridge peninsular into the Arabian Sea.
Inside are treasures to behold and more outstanding architecture. The displays and knowledge of the staff are superb. With geometric patterns of the Islamic world depicted at every turn it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the building and exhibits such is the fluidity of design. Alan Ducas (holder of the world’s highest number of individual Michelin stars) has a restaurant here. This is one of my favourite museums in the world.
There are many high-end hotels to choose to have lunch at so it seemed natural to go to the top of the tree and eat at Gordon Ramsay’s Opal at the St. Regis Hotel. The weather was perfect so outside dining so I enjoyed the terrace. Gordon’s food in this part of the world nods to its provenance but still has the zing of a Michelin man. Compressed watermelon and spicy feta salad was pitch perfect.
Doha has positioned itself as the cultural hub of the Middle East whilst accepting considerable western influences. They even have an IKEA here. A tour of the souk is a must. I saw young boys of maybe 10 or 12 years old choosing a falcon under the guidance of their fathers. This might seem like buying a rabbit to us except when I tell you that the birds can cost up to £1 million and when they are transported they usually fly business class. Really. They are an important part of the culture.
I checked into the Westin Hotel. Very swish and modern with lots of marble and perfect air con. There is a wonderful Thai restaurant on site along with a spa should you desire. It’s the sort of place where nothing is left to chance. The staff were impeccable.
Dune bashing is one of those activities that’s worth trying at least once. Driving out of the city through much building work (they plan to have 14 stadia ready for the world cup in 2022) I soon reached the desert. It must have been the real desert as I saw signs that told me ‘Sand dunes this way’.
It is possible to ride camels and have a taste of local life here as well but I was all for four wheel action. It started slowly so the driver can gauge his passengers (five of us strapped in). Having let the tyre pressure down to allow for better maneuverability on the waves of sand he let rip with his right foot going down to the floor. It’s great fun and bumpy at times but definitely worth it. A perfect BBQ lunch at Gulf Adventures, which lies by an inlet of the Arabian Sea was thankfully static! It’s possible to stay the night here for a true Arabian night with dancers, food and a roaring fire. The return journey was much calmer and gave us a chance to take in the amazing scenery.
You don’t have to go into the desert for nightlife though. The Shanghai Club a restaurant and bar on the 44th floor of the Shangri La hotel in Doha offers one hell of a night out. Mind blowing views and superb cocktails (some of which were as large as goldfish bowls), DJ and of course brilliant food make a memorable event. This is THE place to hang with the hip and sip.
I really like Doha and what it has to offer, five star hotels, Michelin starred food and a sense of adventure (if only for an afternoon) and plenty of culture if you want it. Best avoided in high summer the temperature in autumn, winter and spring are perfect for us less used to desert temperatures. Go and visit and open your eyes to another world.
- Travelpack is offering a six-night holiday to Qatar from £1,385 per person. The price includes three nights at The Westin Hotel Doha and Spa and three nights at Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels both in a deluxe room and on a bed & breakfast basis with return international flights from London Heathrow with Qatar Airways. To book call: 0208 585 4080 or visit: travelpack.com/guide/qatar
- Travelpack is offering a six night holiday to Qatar from £1,535 per person. The price includes three nights at The Westin Hotel Doha and Spa and three nights at Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels both in a deluxe room and on a bed & breakfast basis with return international flights from Manchester with Qatar Airways. To book call: 0208 585 4080 or visit: travelpack.com/guide/qatar
- Qatar Tourism Authority – For more information on Qatar please visit: visitqatar.qa
Gulf Adventures – Transfers, tours and activities can be provided through Gulf Adventures. Please find fact sheet attached, for further information please visit: www.gulf-adventures.com