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 TWO | It’s another dazzler outside, so you grope your way to a bathroom bigger than many hotel suites and hit the shower. Then you pop downstairs to one of the St. Regis’ 10 on-site eateries, Vine, for a perfectly prepared chili-infused omelet. You’ll need the extra zing, you figure, for the experience that awaits.
Driving in Doha isn’t for the fainthearted, but it’s a must if you want to go beyond the city limits. So you rent a car and hurtle north toward Al Khor. While Qatar’s industrial second city is hardly an obvious destination, you want to see its wharf, which turns out to be well worth the 45-minute trip. The hulking dhows here were built using age-old methods in the nearby shipyard, and they still ply ancient trade routes. The captain of one scruffy vessel invites you to join him on deck for a glass of tea. You take him up on it (much to the consternation of his crew), and are entertained with what you hope are salty tales of the high seas but, given the language barrier, might be a commentary on the state of cricket in his home country of India.
A 50-minute drive northwest takes you through an arid, relentlessly flat landscape, the monotony occasionally broken by an oasis or a pretty mosque. You’re heading for a local oddity: Zubara, an abandoned 18th-century settlement that’s become a sort of al fresco museum. Upon arriving, you stroll among its ruined houses, then tour the nearby Zubara Fort, an imposing early-20th-century structure that must have been an unhappy post in the days before air conditioning.
Turning back toward Doha, you stop at Al Shahaniya Camel Racetrack, about 20 miles outside the city. There’s no race on, but you’re lucky enough to see some practice runs. The surly animals achieve a remarkable pace, geed on by bizarre robotic jockeys. A local breeder tells you these animatronic riders are a Qatari invention, and have replaced the child jockeys that only a few years ago were the norm.
Though you get back on the road, a truly arresting spectacle soon has you hitting the brakes. The sprawl of refineries just south of Doha is like a distorted reflection of the city’s skyline. You gawp for a while at the flaming towers cutting through giant dunes, then make for your lunch destination: Lagoon Ristorante, located at the perfectly manicured Sealine Beach Resort. You devour an excellent linguine al gamberi, yet you don’t tarry afterward—your driver from a local adventure outfit has arrived to take you dune bashing in a 4×4.
For the next hour or so, as the driver negotiates near-vertical off-road terrain, you are able to form only two thoughts: “ouch” and “eek.” It’s fun, but you and your rattling bones are happy to disembark at the Inland Sea, a picturesque spot where billowing dunes plunge into an inlet of the Persian Gulf. After a quick dip, you climb a dune to watch one of the most dramatic sunsets you’ve ever seen. Your inner peace abates, however, when the driver takes you roaring through the dunes once again. It’s much scarier in the dark.
Having piloted your rental car back to Doha, you clear the sand from your ears before heading to the W Hotel for dinner at the chic Market by Jean-Georges, where you plump for an exquisite fontina and black truffle pizza, washed down with a draft Hoegaarden. Next, you beeline it to Crystal, the W’s studiously hip nightclub, and dance into the wee hours, racking up a tab that outstrips the GDP of some small countries. All in all, then, a very good night.