EXPLORING DOHA, QATAR
Intrigued by the Middle East? Qatar is filled with culture, luxury and adventure.
By Beth Graham
Beth Graham, travel / lifestyle writer and Executive Editor of IFWTWA’s FWT (FoodWineTravel) Magazine, shares her adventures in Doha, Qatar, with Big Blend Radio.
If the Middle East is on your bucket list, Qatar is a country you won’t want to miss. Aside from being one of the wealthiest economies and the country with the highest per capita income in the world, you’ll find this destination teeming with culture, uber-luxurious hotels and some pretty amazing food.
Located on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar is one of the most diverse Middle Eastern countries with the tall, exotic skyscrapers of its capital city Doha, against the backdrop of the beaches of the Persian Gulf to the vast desert with tall dunes.
You’ll want to travel to Qatar via Qatar Airways, ranked the World’s Best Business Class by the 2018 Skytrax World Airline Awards and the 2018 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. And believe me, the upgrade to business class is well worth the price for the lay-flat seats and concierge service, not to mention a pretty amazing inflight wine list and gourmet menu.
Qatar was originally a trading port settled by bedouins from Iraq and Saudi. Today, the country is home to more than 2.4 million people, including wealthy celebrities and expats from around the world, many of who bought property on Doha’s The Pearl, a man-made $15 billion, four million square meter island. It’s worth an afternoon drive to The Pearl to see the massive luxury condo buildings and upscale shopping district.
One of Doha’s most iconic tourist attractions is the Museum of Islamic Art. The building was designed to resemble a Muslim woman behind a burka, with dark architectural niches cut to resemble her eyes. The museum gives you a glimpse into Qatari life of the past 1,400 years where tapestries, pottery and relics are on display.
If you really want a flavor of the local culture, head to the Souq Wiqaf, Doha’s central market. You’ll encounter plenty of locals shopping for everything from daily provisions to fabrics to oddly enough, pet birds. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon wandering through the labyrinth of streets lined with shops. If you’re looking for an authentic Middle Eastern feast, dine at Parisa. It offers family-style dining with platters piled high with grilled meats, salads and accompaniments.
One of the best ways to experience Doha’s spectacular skyline is onboard a dhow, a Qatari wooden sail boat that was originally used as a fishing vessel. You’ll find a number of dhows docked along the Corniche, Doha’s famous waterfront promenade. I highly recommend booking an early evening cruise when the city’s entire skyline is lit up and on display.
You don’t have to be a horse enthusiast to appreciate the world’s premier Arabian horse breeding and training facility, Al Shaqab Equestrian Center. This multi-billion dollar facility houses more than 800 horses complete with a newborn nursery, training facilities including a pool, treadmill and equine jacuzzi, a retirement village and hospital.
Luxury accommodations with exceptional service
Too bad there is not a 6-star hotel rating because you’d find it here in Doha. Splurge and stay at one of the uber-luxury hotels where the personalized service, decor and dining are something to experience.
Four Seasons Doha offers luxury accommodations on the Arabian Sea. Get your sightseeing done early and spend the afternoon relaxing in a lounge chair at the hotel’s beachfront resort. There are 10 restaurants on-site including the world’s largest, Nobu.
If you’re looking for something a bit trendier and high energy, choose the W Hotel that attracts locals and travelers, especially those who come for the dining options by 3-star Michelin Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Visit the casual Market by Jean-Georges for breakfast and enjoy fine-dining at the eclectic Spice Market in the evening. For your accommodations, book the corner suite with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the Arabian Sea.
Mondrian Doha is a spectacle unto itself. It feels a bit like you’ve landed in Alice in Wonderland with psychedelic and oversized decor including a 24K gold elevator. If there are celebrities in town, this is where you’ll find them. For dining, indulge at Morimoto where sushi is flown in daily along with Japanese Wagyu beef.
Escape the city for some adventure
There’s plenty of culture to experience in Doha but if you’re looking for some desert adventures, be sure to book a dune bashing excursion. You’ll board a rugged 4×4 truck and speed up and down and sideways along the massive sand dunes. It’s seat-gripping, heart-in-your-throat thrill seeking at its best. You’ll also get to see the inland sea, one of only two spots in the world where the desert meets the ocean (the other location is Namibia).
In 2022, Qatar will host the World Cup and the government is investing more than $500 million a week into the country’s infrastructure to put the country on display and hopefully, to attract repeat tourists. An extensive new train system is under construction that will ferry attendees between the soccer venues and will expand the country’s transportation options for the future.
As is traditional with many Arab destinations, you’ll want to dress conservatively and respect the local cultural norms. Enjoy happy hour at your hotel because most traditional restaurants will not serve alcohol. The country is very welcoming to visitors and is certainly one of the jewel destinations of the Middle East.
Plan your visit at https://www.visitqatar.qa/
Beth is a former travel PR professional with more than 30 years of experience. Today, as a freelance writer, she draws on that storytelling experience to share the unique and often untold stories about cultures and destinations through the personalities. She covers bespoke and curated experiences for active 50+/empty nest travelers who appreciate luxury accommodations, fine food and good wine. Other topics include empty nest travel/romance, wine tourism, culinary travel, adventure travel after 50 and destinations/resorts. Beth serves on the board of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association and is Executive Editor of the association’s FWT (FoodWineTravel) Magazine. She also writes for Travelocity, Orbitz, Just Luxe, Luxe Getaways, Travel Age West and other publications. www.BethGraham.com