The team from DLX recently headed over to Qatar for a little R&R. When you think of the Middle East, you think of countries like Dubai or maybe even Abu Dhabi. Many Americans have heard of Qatar, but know little about it. Qatar is located on the border of Saudi Arabia and has the 3rd largest oil reserve in the world. It is also known as having the highest per capita income economy and the 4th largest GDP per capita in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Qatar Airways has launched a unique stopover package in partnership with Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) to promote and market the area as a destination of choice for international travelers. The program offers transit passengers the opportunity to discover Doha with free luxury hotel stays and complimentary transit visas. The unique offer is part of a broader campaign called +Qatar that aims to encourage all transit passengers to add Qatar to their itinerary.
There are massive developments going on within the country, particularly the city of Doha. In 2022, Qatar will be the first Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup so there are a variety of highly advanced stadiums being built, along with 5-star hotels and restaurants.
The skyline is modern and ever changing. It can be compared to Pudong in Shanghai with its futuristic buildings and crisp clean lines.
Is it safe?
Yes, it is very safe and easy to get around. One of the most popular attractions of Doha, is the Souq Waqif. The Souq, which means standing marketing in Arabic, is a marketplace filled with traditional garments, spices, pets, handicrafts, restaurants, and Shisha (similar to hookah) lounges. Since the weather is general warm during the day, the best time to go to the Souq is the late afternoon and evening when it cools down. The Souq Waqif is considered to be the last area of Doha that remains authentic to Qatari culture and architecture.
Then there’s the falcon market. Falconry began over 5,000 years ago in the Middle East and was introduced to Qatar through Bedouin tribes. They found it was much easier to use falcons to hunt their prey than to shoot them down themselves. In the falcon souq, you can purchase the best raptors for thousands of dollars and with all the accessories, you will spend thousands of dollars more.
Steps away from the souq is the Museum of Islamic Art. Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, designed the museum with inspiration from the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo. The ultra-modern facade is the perfect contrast to the priceless pieces of art spanning over 1400 years that sit inside it. The museum showcases treasures from the religious and secular world with artifacts from the Middle East.
Is there alcohol?
Yes. Though this is a Muslim country, alcohol is available to foreigners at all five-star hotels. The country will soon be implementing a “sin tax” which is a 100% tax on all alcohol, fast food and cigarettes. For locals, they can apply for a license to buy bottles of alcohol at the store that sells liquor and pork, however, this store is not open to tourists.
We had signature cocktails at the largest Nobu restaurant in the world, located in the Four Seasons. This 26,000 square feet landmark was designed by the Rockwell Group and features six distinct contemporary environments for guests to enjoy dinner and drinks. The black cod is a must-have that comes steeped in sweet miso, then oven-baked to perfection. The restaurant is shaped in a circle and sits on it’s own private island. It is surrounded by yachts on one side and the Arabic Gulf on the other. This is a place to be seen with a sexy crowd.
How are the hotels?
The hotels are the central points for socializing mixing and mingling. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton Doha which is located in the Pearl. This exclusive island resort is surrounded by sparkling turquoise waters with sweeping views of the Arabic Gulf. Our favorite part about staying in the hotel was the Club Level Lounge. Located on the 23rd floor, it was a place to relax with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.
The staff was so courteous and tended to our every need. They were thoughtful and had such beautiful smiles and warm welcomes. It was the perfect place to come up for a snack, glass of wine, cocktail, or even have a little dim sum. We loved sitting on the couch having afternoon tea with views of the jet skiers as they sped up and down the marina.
The Marsa Malaz Kempinski features European architecture with blended Arabian elements in its 281 luxurious rooms. Each room comes with its own private butler that caters to your needs 24 hours a day. Also located on its own private island, this palace has its own beach club which is available to hotel guests.
When it comes to nightlife, Illusion (located in Kempinski) is the place to be. The nightclub is split into two parts. You can drink and dine with light appetizers on the outside patio in the Secret Garden. The Secret Garden has majestic views of the Kempinski private beach club and the azure waters of the Pearl. In the 1933 Grand Dome (open Thursdays and Fridays), listen to live music and watch contortionists and dancers perform feats you have never seen. Illusion is definitely the hottest club in Doha.
The next day we took a swim in the Curve by Ezdan which features one of the best pools in all of Doha. While this is a business hotel, the infiniti pool features views of The Four Seasons, Nobu and the Arabian Gulf. The weather was about 85 degrees and the pool was set to a curve. It was paradise.
What about adventure?
Adventure seekers have nothing to worry about. We embarked on a desert safari with Falcon Tours. A driver dressed in a traditional Qatari outfit picked us up from the hotel in a 4×4 Landcruiser and took us to Messaid which is about an hour away. As we entered the golden sand dunes, we were taken on a rollercoaster ride through the desert all the way to Khor Al Adaid. We took a dip in the crystal clear blue waters of the Arabic Sea and saw the border of Saudi Arabia (probably the closest we will ever be to it).
After our adventure, we were taken to the Regency Sealine Camp for lunch. Located where the desert and sea intersect in a collection of luxury tents which is perfect for glamping. These air-conditioned tents come with comfortable beds, bathrobes, bathroom slippers, towels and the modern amenities you might expect at a hotel. Relax on day beds with views of the sea as the wind blows through your hair.
For those who love the water, we took a voyage on a Dart 16 catamaran with the Regatta Sailing Academy on Katara Beach. It took about a half hour to sail to Slafiya Island which is a naturally forming sandbar. We walked the long narrow sandbar to the end with a gorgeous view of the futurist Doha City Skyline. We even ventured further out through shallow waters as they went hundreds of feet out. The Regatta Sailing Academy offers sailing and yachting lessons for locals and tourists.
The Pearl is the crown jewel of Doha as it is the epitome of a planned out luxury community. The self-sustaining real estate development has all the amenities and lifestyle privileges anyone could ever dream about. Massive high rises are built around a circular yacht harbor. There are restaurants, stores and the best shopping you can imagine throughout the property with the most sought after luxury brands. The Pearl is also home to Janet Jackson.
Qatar International Food Festival
The Qatar International Food Festival is held every Spring. This year, Food Network’s Andy Bates & Graham Elliot shared their secrets of cooking with attendees. Guests participated in Dinner in the Sky and sampled dishes from many of the 5-star hotels of Doha. One of our favorite items at the festival was the smoking bite which was created by the Indian Restaurant Zaffran. We put a dried-ice infused cooking into our mouths and ate it in one bite. Soon, dry ice was coming out of our noses and mouths.
Read about our additional adventures in Qatar last year at Dinner in the Sky.