In just a few years, the capital of Qatar has gone from desert backwater to major player in global tourism, offering cultural riches, top-notch cuisine and a bottomless supply of bling
Author Alistair Crighton Photography Aurelie Korady
DAY ONE | The morning sun wakes you earlier than expected, amplified as it is by the wall-to-wall shininess of your suite. Al Jasra Boutique Hotel, a neo-traditional property in Doha’s Souq Waqif market, is luxurious even by the Gulf ‘s “seven star” standards, an opulence literally reflected in the mirror finish applied to every surface.
Having located and donned your sunglasses, you indulge in a bedside treat of espresso and chocolate-dipped strawberries, then amble down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast: a hearty bowl of foul (cooked beans served with piquant condiments) and more strong coffee.
Souq Waqif is still sleeping, so you catch a cab to the Museum of Islamic Art, which rises like a cubist sculpture from the uncannily turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf. Set on a small artificial island, the I.M. Pei-designed building pays homage to timeless Islamic architecture, but with a modernist twist. You pause to watch dhows, traditional wooden sailboats, bobbing between the museum and the glistening skyline, then head inside.
It’s easy to lose yourself among the museum’s cultural riches: ancient, finely crafted rugs, artworks and sundry implements, many of which date back to the time when the Islamic world led the way in artistic and scientific development. The intricate weapons on display, meanwhile, remind you of the region’s corresponding military might.
Exiting the museum, you swing right and stroll the palm-lined Corniche, a favorite gathering spot for Doha society in the cooler months. You stop at a café for a restorative chai—sweet, spiced tea—then cab it back to Souq Waqif, where you navigate a warren of shops hawking everything from gaudy fabrics to sticky sweets. Wizened porters thread their barrows through formations of black-clad matrons, watched by officers of the mounted Amiri Guard, resplendent in their white kaffiyehs and gold-framed aviator sunglasses.
For lunch, you go for adventurous: baby camel tagine at the stylish Moroccan eatery Tajine, located on Souq Waqif’s main drag. Served with a mixture of mezes, it’s rustic and very tasty—think mutton rather than lamb but leaner, richer and, thanks to hours of stewing, far more tender.
Though Doha has a reputation for being fast-paced, locals have made an art form of going nowhere slowly. Accordingly, you linger at one of the cafés lining the main street, where you spend a sedentary hour smoking a shisha, an aromatic water pipe, and playing “guess the nationality” as a diverse parade of people passes by.
A short taxi ride takes you to the Arab Museum of Modern Art, also known as Mathaf, which is stacked with excellent examples of Arab modernist art (you are particularly taken with the “Tea With Nefertiti” exhibition, which showcases Egyptian art from the age of the pharaohs to the Arab Spring). Another cab whisks you through the city’s high-rise monuments to wealth and on to West Bay Lagoon, home to the second hotel of your stay.
The St. Regis Doha is a paragon of Gulf bling: a fleet of Rolls-Royces and Jaguars outside, acres of marble within. You push through the sprays of aromatic flowers and emerge into the glittering lobby, where a female harpist who surely moonlights as a supermodel plinks melodiously. Soon you are approached by a phalanx of liveried staff, one of them your butler, and are led to your gold-tinted room.
If you want a drink in Doha, the big hotels are pretty much your only option. So, after a sunset dip in the Olympic-size pool, you head for the St. Regis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha, a new club launched by its New York namesake, where you spend an evening in the company of jazz legend (and the club’s artistic director) Wynton Marsalis. Between sets, the musicians mingle with the audience, and you’re joined for dinner by saxophonist Walter Blanding, who, having watched you demolish platters of succulent crab cakes and lobster, declares his own entrée to be “the best darn burger I’ve ever had.”
After dinner, you down a Sazerac—a New Orleans twist on the old-fashioned— and marvel at this cosmopolitan nightspot, smack-dab in the middle of the Middle East. A Sazerac or two later, the mood lighting seems even moodier. Time for a snooze.