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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Qatar
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Qatar
It’s just six years to go until Qatar hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup. While many roads, stadiums and other bits of infrastructure are under construction, its hotels are one step ahead — and there are more to come. Up to $6bn (£4.6bn) is set to be invested in a number of properties before the football comes to town. This means the Ritz-Carlton, Kempinskis and Anantaras will be joined by a Park Hyatt, a Planet Hollywood and a Wyndham, among others.
There are more affordable options but it’d be a stretch to call Qatar a budget-friendly destination. That’s not to say it can’t be fun, though be warned: alcohol can only be consumed in a clutch of hotels with bars and clubs. And there is fine-dining galore with Michelin-star chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Vineet Bhatia among the international names with outlets there. From private islands to youth hostels, if you look hard enough, you can find every variety of bed in Doha.
For royalty – Marsa Malaz: Kempinski’s flagship hotel in Doha is surely one of its grandest, anywhere. Located on its own island, off the north coast of the city, only the absence of a drawbridge stops it looking like something from Game of Thrones. That there are 281 rooms — including 69 suites, two ‘presidential’ and two ‘royal’ — only begins to tell the story of just how palatial the Marsa Malaz is. Of its dining opt ions, Al Sufra is perhaps t he top pick, with a menu that dances through the best of regional cuisine.
For beach bums – Intercontinental Doha: There are two InterContinental hotels in Doha, one a giant tower close to the W, the other this beach-front offering further north. Much of Doha hugs the coastline, but few properties can claim to have better beach access; here, little palm-thatched cabanas lead out from a Caribbean-ish bar. If you don’t fancy getting the salt of the sea on your skin, nearby there’s also the largest free form pool in Doha. Eight different restaurants offer everything from Greek to Belgian cuisine. The rooms are neat and perhaps a bit bland but there’s little need to spend much time there when the hotel has so many reasons to have you outside.
Best all-in-one – Grand Hyatt Doha: It’s perhaps a sign of how unlike the rest of the world Qataris—the Grand Hyatt is but a mid-range hotel in Doha. Located a cab-ride from most major sites (it won’t disturb guests, but much oft he surrounding area is currently under construction), it offers plenty of reasons not to explore the wider city. In Isaan, its brilliant Thai restaurant, it has one of Doha’s outstanding eateries. Other perfectly scrumptious options are dotted around its grounds, too. At weekends, brunches spill over into club nights — if you’ve got a sore head the next morning, there’s a private beach and great spa, too.
For island living – Banana Island: Sounds like it might be the sort of place to stop during a booze cruise, but Banana could scarcely be further from a Mediterranean party island. This sprawling private island resort by luxury specialist Anantara is reached by a 25-minute catamaran transfer from the mainland. On arrival, it becomes clear the resort is dry — mocktails yes, cocktails, no. The Anantara seal of quality, on the other hand, ensures that the food is sensational and the spa utterly decadent. A combination of rooms, suites, villas and Maldives-style stilted cottages offer hoards of opt ions, none of which are cheap.
The eagerly awaited opening of foe NATIONAL MUSEUM OF QATAR will add yet another iconic tour de force to Doha’s skyline and the wider architectural world. Designed by feted French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum features a complex set of random interlocking discs, emulating and representing the desert rose. The National Museum joins a fine stable of galleries under the aegis of Qatar Museums. Among them is the MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART (MIA), a must-see – both from an architectural point of view, and for its remarkable collections of artefacts spanning 14 centuries. In the park outside, the Richard Serra installation 7 is a heptagonal arrangement of 80-foot steel plates that reflects the design of minarets and the repeated use of the number seven in Islamic doctrine.
There is also MATHAF: ARAB MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, and AL RIWAQ, which has hosted exhibitions by renowned modern artists such as Damien Hirst. You can also see Hirst’s Miraculous Journey, a series of bronzes depicting the development of human life, outside the SIDRA MEDICAL AND RESEARCH CENTRE, while across the country in the Brouq Nature Reserve, Serra’s EAST-WEST/WEST-EAST, a geometrical line of towering steel plates, rises from the desert like the remnant icons of some long-lost civilisation. Indeed, the works of famous contemporary artists abound in Qatar. On arrival alHAMAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, you cannot miss Urs Fischer’s Lamp Bear, a giant teddy that dominates the concourse in departures, and a collection of bronze oryxes by Dutch sculptor Tom Claassen.
Visitors to QATAR NATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE can stand beneath the giant legs of Maman, a huge spider sculpted by Louise Bourgeois, while the 24-foot-high black geometric sculpture Smoke by the late Tony Smith can be found outside the DOHA EXHIBITION AND CONVENTION CENTRE near City Centre mall. Elsewhere you can find public installations by Iraqi Ahmed Al Bahrani, British artist Sarah Lucas, Indian artist Subodh Gupta, more from American sculptor Tony Smith and work by Italian Lorenzo Quinn, whose sculpture Force of Nature H forms the stunning focal point for the extraordinarily beautiful amphitheatre at the KATARA CULTURAL VILLAGE. The quality and multiculturalism of Qatar’s art scene makes it essential viewing for aficionados of ancient and modern art alike.
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.