Perched on the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar is the new kid on the block for those venturing to the Middle East. The city boasts far more than just a pretty face, with a plethora of luxurious pursuits on hand.
You would be for assuming that Dubai is the byword for the pinnacle of Middle Eastern luxury. With thousands flocking to the to the hyper-modem city every year, the headline act of the UAE remains in a state of metamorphosis while it works towards the construction deadline for the World Expo in 2020.
But across the Arabian Gulf is the UAE s neighbour, Qatar, forming part of the largest peninsula in the world, with the Gulf of Bahrain to the west. Qatar is often just seen as a business destination (and the home of the 2022 FIFA World Cup), but there’s more to the Gulf’s cultural capital than meets the eye. For those seeking the next up-and- coming vacation destination, Qatar sits in waiting with its royal flush of holiday must-haves. Year-round sunshine? Check. Extensive beaches across the peninsula? Check. Culture, art and high-end hotels? Check, check, check.
Once you have landed in the irrefutably luxurious Hamad International Airport, make sure to take in the view of the Qatari capital, Doha. Sky-scraping financial complexes surround the renovated inner-city souks, and the best view of Doha’s impressive (and Dubai-rivalling) silhouette is from a dhow boat in the port. The sharp contrast between the ultra-modern feel of the city and the traditional dhow can also be seen in Doha’s hotels (see sidebar, right) and even in the desert – the perfect blend of old-world hospitality and cosmopolitan sophistication.
The sun shines on Qatar all year round, but to make the most of this jewel in the Middle East, it’s best to travel between November and March, when the summer humidity has left (or hasn’t arrived yet) and the relentless desert sun is yet to peak. Temperatures range from a comfortable 26C to the radiant mid-thirties. Of course, sartorial discretion is advised for both cultural and meteorological reasons in Qatar. Swimwear is acceptable at a hotel’s private beach, but shoulders, upper arms and knees should be covered up when venturing further afield.
LIVING IT UP
Find your base camp in Qatar, with each hotel sharing the country’s modern spirit
Sharq Village & Spa
WHY: It boasts a private coastline, traditional Middle Eastern architecture and unrivalled spa facilities.
WHY: A favourite spot in Doha for many travellers, W combines a futuristic approach with top-class restaurants in the heart of the city, wdoha.com
Marsa Malaz Kempinski The Pearl
WHY: Perched on its own island. The Pearl blends European architecture with Arabian hospitality.
While Doha’s skyline is stunning, to gain a more grounded view of Qatar head to the outer-city sand dunes.
The Inland Sea (Khor Al-Adaid), about 80km southeast of Doha, is a particular highlight. It shares a border with Saudi Arabia and was given its English nickname thanks to the seawater found between the undulating desert dunes. With a shoreline that mimics a lake, Khor A1 Adaid is the perfect setting for a post-desert-safari barbecue.
A spot of “dune-bashing” (desert off-roading) is recommended, as well as other alternative sports including sand-skiing, sandboarding and falconry. What’s more, 563km of sandy coastline fringes the country, making it ideal for both lounging beach- side and exploring the depths when scuba diving. A1 Ghariya beach, a popular spot for camping on the shoreline, is a great spot for a weekend getaway, and if you travel 80km north from Doha, you’ll find Maroona, a 42km beach famous for its soft sand and unrivalled water quality.
There is also, of course, the Qatar Masters Tournament. Played at the Doha Golf Club, the home of golf in the Gulf, this is a regular fixture in every discerning Qatari sports fan’s calendar – as is the ExxonMobil ATP tennis tournament, which has been frequented by tennis titans Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
With a mission to deliver a broader understanding of Islamic art to the masses, Doha’s Museum Of Islamic Art showcases a staggering 14 centuries-worth of exhibitions in a space that is purpose-built for exploration and discussion. There is Mathaf: Arab Museum Of Modern Art, too, which houses more than 9,000 works. It shares a historical (and cultural) relationship with North Africa, Asia and Turkey, creating an inspiring space that reflects the Middle East’s contribution to art over the centuries.
Middle Eastern shopping culture thrives throughout Doha’s labyrinthine souks – illuminated in a golden glow once the sun sets across the bay – but, for more luxurious retail therapy, you can hone in on the Villaggio Mall for menswear heavyweights such as Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, Lanvin and Valentino.
Combining new-age thinking and centuries of history, Qatar will soon doubtlessly surpass its neighbours as one of the Middle East’s most attractive spots.