From tasting traditional coffee in an outdoor souq, to riding camels and experiencing all the five-star grandeur that this developing Middle Eastern city has to offer – we share some of our most memorable moments after a week spent in Doha, Qatar.
The sweet, fragrant smell of incense wafts past us and the gentle sound of shop owners peddling their wares buzzes in the background. A waiter bends and places a tray on our table. On it sits a gold, Arabic coffee pot filled with piping hot, aromatic ‘Qahwa’ (pronounced gahwa), a local brew made from green coffee beans and spices. It’s served alongside a bowl of sweet, syrupy dates with a warm, tahini-like dipping sauce.
It’s my first visit to the Middle East and my senses are tingling as I take in the sights and sounds around me. It is late in the evening and we are seated at an outdoor coffee shop in the Souq Waqif marketplace in the city of Doha.
Anyone who loves to travel will tell you that simply observing or ‘people-watching’ is by far the best way to learn about a country’s people and their customs. This culturally-rich souq, which dates back to the 19th century, provides the perfect space to do exactly that.
Seated at a table next to us, a group of elderly Qatari men, dressed in their traditional white tobes and red chequered keffiyeh’s (head scarves), chat quietly amongst themselves, cradling the prayer beads they are holding.
Our designated tour guide for the week, Saleh Abujundy, has captivated us with stories about the locals sitting around us and advises us on how to correctly accept or decline another cup of qahwa. All of this is in stark contrast to the five-star luxury we’ve been enjoying thus far on our media trip to Doha. Qatar, the host nation for the up-and-coming Fifa Soccer World Cup this November, is a country on the move, but one that is still wonderfully, deeply rooted in tradition. And therein, I think, lies its magic.
As part of a massive drive towards tourism, journalists and those in the travel industry are being invited to experience all that this Arabian country has to offer. Whether you’re passing through and need to kill a day or two on a long layover, or are planning to stay a while longer, this abundant and welcoming Middle Eastern destination is most certainly worth a visit.
WORLD CLASS HOSPITALITY AND MODERN FLAVOURS
As one of the richest countries in the world, Qatar and its capital city Doha lack nothing in the way of world-class dining and hospitality. During our stay we were spoiled with luxurious accommodations at the Ritz Carlton Sharq Village in Doha and dined at some of the top restaurants in the city.
Amongst our most memorable meals was an incredible Indian lunch spread at the Jamavar restaurant in the Sheraton Grand Hotel and a dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s award-winning restaurant, Cut, situated at the five-star Mondrian Hotel.
A stand-out favourite, however, was the delightful and bold tastes of Persian cuisine we enjoyed at the glitzy Parisa restaurant situated in the Souq Waqif. With its sparkly, bright-coloured decor and live, traditional music, this is the perfect place to stop for dinner or lunch when shopping at the souq.
HERITAGE & HISTORY MEETS MODERN-DAY GRANDEUR
The city itself is remarkable and home to a multitude of futuristic skyscrapers and inspiringly beautiful buildings created by some of the world’s top architects. There are museums in abundance and a trip to the contemporary Msheireb Downtown Doha (the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project) and the National Museum of Qatar (designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and inspired by the desert rose crystal), are both absolute musts.
All the museums offer in-depth, interactive tours, allowing you to discover the rich history and heritage of this remarkable country – from pearl diving in the 19th century to the discovery of oil in the late 1930s and natural gas in 2001.
During our stay we were chaperoned by the passionate team from Discover Qatar who went out of their way to show us as much of this beautiful city as possible – including, of course, a desert safari!
No visit to the desert is complete without a little camel ride and sand dune 4×4 adventuring and, in the capable and experienced hands of our driver Zahid, we got to enjoy the thrills and views of the remarkable desert landscape at one of only a handful of places in the world where the desert meets the ocean.
TRAVEL IN TRUE LUXURY
Every holiday starts and ends with the trip itself and the true Qatar experience starts and ends with flights on Qatar Airways. Recently voted the best airline in the world, there is simply no more luxurious way to fly than Qatar Airways Business Class QSuite, offering the ultimate in privacy and comfort (with your own pod with a lie-flat bed, delectable cuisine and wonderful service). Heaven.
If business class isn’t an option, the Qatar economy flights, too, offer fantastic service and comfort (we do highly recommend pre-booking seats though – upfront and aisle are a must if you can!).
Qatar is a beautiful, rich (both culturally and economically) and diverse country with much to offer in the way of tourism and hospitality. With the Fifa World Cup less than five months away, the atmosphere is electric as they ready themselves to welcome the international world to their beautiful capital city of Doha.
Details: Qatar Airways: www.qatarairways.com; Discover Qatar: www.discoverqatar.qa