When you think of the Middle East, you think of the gold and exuberance of Dubai, the market souqs and burgeoning business of Abu Dhabi and the beaches and Desert Safaris of Oman. But there is another state, one that is slightly younger in it’s tourist industry… Like the little brother that no-one saw excelling his older siblings.
I was recently lucky enough to go to Doha with Qatar Airways and Visit Qatar to see for myself.
Before we had even left London, they were winning. Qatar Airways, (if you haven’t flown with them before), have won the worlds best airline for the last 5 years and it takes all of about 17 seconds to realise why.
The business class cabin is impressive. The lay-down beds are really roomy by business standards and all have individual cabins. Should you be more of a social person (Oh hi), the business bar is really wonderful and fully stocked with desserts, snacks, pastries and of course… drinks.
But this is not why they are the best….
They aren’t just attentive, they are “invested” in the passengers and spend time introducing themselves to understand your preferences and likes before take off. Their business class comes with a “when you want it” menu as well as an option to request more or less of anything.
They asked if because I was Greek, I really liked feta, to which I told them… “But, of course, I love it!”… they added a feta side to each of my dishes.
In addition, the Business Class bar was one of the largest and best I have seen. If like me you are a 37,000 ft social butterfly, then this is 1000% for you. There are only so many movies you can watch!
They serve pretty much any cocktail you can think of, and delicious little mid-flight snacks.
From the moment we arrived, the impeccable service continued, including Qatar Airwarys private arrival lounge. They greet you from the plane with refreshments and then they collect your baggage (and driver if you have one) for you.
We stayed at The Mondrian Doha which is one of the most fashionable and newest hotels in Doha. Having worked with Mondrians around the world, they are nothing if not consistent with their trendy design style. Impeccable and minimalist style is the order and did they deliver? 1000% they did.
The Real standout bits for me were the rooftop pool (that would have made Gianni Versace gasp with envy), Their rooftop view and…
The staircase of my dreams…. you know, incase my house ever has an 80ft foyer roof.
I am a stickler for tradition and I cannot go to the Middle East without having a “shisha” and their alfresco bar has more than a decent selection of drinks and… well shisha
They also happen to have a pretty great breakfast selection
I know what you are thinking. “But, I know Dubai” or “I haven’t really heard that much about it”.
Qatar is what happens when the world was busy procrastinating. That is not to say that it is the leader of technological innovation, nor will it compete with the Caribbean beach views…. But it is smart. It is ever developing, consistently evolving and working at a rate of 4 years ahead in it’s planning.
As the host of the 2022 World Cup (which as someone who knows zero about football, I will not be attending), it has already built not one, not five, not even ten but TWELVE stadiums.
It isn’t just football stadiums they have built. Since 1980 and more over in the last 5 years, the state has gone from mostly arid land to an architectural leader.
Where to Eat?
On our first night, we ate in our hotels famous restaurant Walima. I am an instant fan of all things middle eastern decorated and so this was the glistening lamp Aladdin’s cave of my dreams and the traditional food was JUST as much of a winner.
Parisa at Sharq Village. This was really great food and a relaxed fine dining atmosphere. As a fan of a grilled meat selection, this was absolutely up my alley.
Then, brunch in one of my favourite spots in the city, St Regis Doha.
When I say brunch, as a fan of a Sunday egg brunch, this was the spread of my dreams with eggs EVERY WAY and a sushi spread of equal proportions. They also had your classic lunch menu for those of you who have any space after the starters…
In addition, they also do a Bottomless Champagne brunch on the roof with a DJ and live singer. This is absolutely 1000% my vibe and as someone who has stayed at St Regis Doha before, I can’t recommend it enough.
Baladna Farms. Since the trade embargo it is responsible for a huge part of their agriculture and food exportation. Including… their famous milk. Now, as someone who prides themselves on an honest depiction, I want to give you a heads up here.
Locals (and half my group) LOVE this milk. It is a famous delicacy and they will talk it up and offer it as a thirst quenching beverage aside your food. I however, was less than a fan. It is sort of a grainy, thin Greek Yoghurt of sorts, or for the initiated, a Yakult in a very large vessel. Acquired taste that is a 50/50 split.
The food however, was a 100% BIG hit. Especially for me who LOVES a traditional Arabic lunch of lamb, salads and a million different things containing chick peas and parsley.
But what if bars, restaurants, hotels or football aren’t your bag?
How does a morning Kayaking on the mangroves sound to you? Terrifying? To me, yes. However, if you are braver around water than I am with more upper body strength (not difficult), you will LOVE THIS.
Where to spa? I’ve got you covered, or more specifically, The Mondrian does.
They have my favourite, an ESPA spa. I had one of the best facials of my life by a woman named Snow-White. That literally was the translation of her name and she definitely lived up to the hype.
The others had massages and relaxation treatments before we all headed for yet more relaxation in what is maybe the coolest spa I’ve ever seen.
“That’s great Zoe, but what about some culture?” Well hold onto your Lonely Planet Guides guys… We visited the Islamic Museum of Art.
Home to some of the most beautiful and important artefacts in Middle Eastern history.
In addition, the views of the city are INCREDIBLE and probably the most inspiring thing about the building itself is that it was designed to resemble a traditional Qatari woman…. When you see it…
For the best in local spices, fabrics, ouds (my obsession) or even your very own falcon, head to the Souq Waqif.
Should you be in the market for one, you can purchase your very own… Falcon. These are actually highly protected and respected birds, often gifted to young men on coming of age… Yes, this is absolutely true.
Should you already be the proud owner of a falcon, then you and your bird can spend time catching up with friends and their birds in various spots in the souq. I swear, this is true. They also have three amazing falcon hospitals which care for injured falcons.
This is also where you will find some of the best authentic restaurants and food.
If thats’ not enough, head to Katara Cultural Village (“Culture” is in the name…) for daily live performance shows in their amphitheatre, shopping and restaurants.
Now to address an important topic. Safety and cultural appropriation. On telling people that I was heading to Qatar, I had a lot of online responses telling me to be careful, and mindful etc because of the preconceived notion of cultural beliefs and how women are viewed. That as a woman travelling on my own, is something I am always mindful of…..
The treatment I received was not just good, it was outstanding. I would go as far to say perhaps the best service, treatment and respect for safety I have experienced anywhere.
As an example I will share with you a story (…admittedly, I don’t come off that well but hey, it’s for the good of truthful story telling). We had been at Katara Cultural Village for a couple of hours, looking around, stopping off in one of the shows. As bloggers tend to, we stopped to take (a LOT of) photos by a Giant door…
On returning to the car after a 15 minute walk and hypnotically editing my photos, what I had not remembered….. was my bag…. with all my money, passport and pretty much existence. Not my finest public moment.
Our chaperone (and all round hero) Abdullah from Q Explorer ran (I mean, the man practically flew) to where I had casually left it. When we arrived at the spot where I had put it down, it was sat there… now 20 minutes later untouched. Even more impressive, I hadn’t for even a second considered it wouldn’t be.
Yes it is different from a lot of westernised countries, but here’s how I see it. (Stick with me here because I’ve thought this through). It’s like going to a friends house only to find out that it is a “shoe-less” household whereby you must remove said shoes before proceeding in (even though you allow people to wear shoes in your own home and in my case, they actually are the most important factor in my outfit) – I digress.
You have two options, you can either say… I don’t want to have to take my shoes off and so I am not going…. or you can respect their rules in their home and just take them off.
Dohw Boats. My favourite part of the trip was a surprise private evening Dohw Boat trip out to The Corniche. You can see the most famous buildings of Doha light up the Qatar skyline and really see the incredible city at it’s best.
If anyone tells you there is a better place to see Doha from…. Do them a favour and take them with you on a Dohw Boat, they are obviously miss-informed.
For one last surprise from Qatar Airways, en route back to London, we were flown in their Q Suites… This not only gives you access to the most luxurious airport lounge I have ever seen (with what I assume is an Olympic sized swimming pool as their water feature, but also their newest cabin.
It is similar to their other first class cabins in decor and size, except this one comes with….. I need to take a moment here for the dramatic pause that it deserves…..
A. Double. Bed.
Mind blown, I doubt I will ever see a more luxurious cabin than this:
I absolutely LOVE Doha and they now have a definite return traveller in me. So next time someone mentions the GCC, If you don’t add Qatar to your immediate thoughts, you are doing yourself an injustice..
For a run-through of my highlights, click the link below.
Visit Qatar – @ginandbone
A list of the companies mentioned:
Qatar Airways: www.qatarairways.com
Qatar Tourism Authority: www.visitqatar.qa
Mondrian, Doha: www.morganshotelgroup.com/mondrian/mondrian-doha
Sharq Village and Spa: www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/qatar/sharq-village
The St. Regis Doha: www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/dohxr-the-st-regis-doha/T
Q-Explorer: Transfers, tours and activities can be provided through Q-Explorer: https://q-explorer.com/