Having just passed through the blissfully coolHamad International Airport, stepping out into Doha’s mid-afternoon heat was a shock to the system.But then it was late May and the city was experiencing the start of a very hot summer (temperatures peaked at 46C/118Fin July).
Making our way into the centre of Doha, we approach West Bay along the Corniche (the city’s waterfront promenade), when a milieu of skyscrapers emerge from the sandy bay—all in different shapes and sizes, none seemingly coordinator with the next, but somehow they all work together. A favourite is the charcoal mesh-clad Jean Nouvel-designed Doha Tower (formally The Burk Qatar), which looks like it’s come straight from the CGI set of a futuristic Batman movie.
On the northern tip of the Corniche, the 17-storey Four Seasons Doha has a prime position with its own section of beach, a private marina and offers all of the shiny five-star service one would expect from a Four Seasons property. While the rooms have a signature Four Seasons look, with an opulent colour scheme, the hotel incorporates subtle Arabic touches as a reminder of the region’s rich cultural heritage, such as the geometric lattice-style wood carvings and art and textiles throughout the hotel.Most exciting of all is the hotel’s new—the biggest in the world—Nobu restaurant. It’s so big that a separate 26,000-sqft building was created to house it and the hotel chauffeurs its guests directly to the restaurant door.
There’s also the new Shisha Terrace which, as well offering a menu of flavoured shishas and Moroccan teas, is home to something really rather spectacular: the humble shawarma. The shawarma, a charming traditional Arabic kebab-style dish, is a flatbread filled with meat—lamb or chicken usually—slow-cooked in aromatic spices and coated with yoghurt and other toppings. The 10 minutes I spent devouring this savoury pouch of deliciousness were completely divine.
That evening, I headed over to the three-storey Nobu restaurant. A lot of emphasis is internally, the restaurant has the ability to completely overwhelm the senses thanks to its detail-orientated design and grandiose scale.
Dining on aThursday evening, the restaurant was full, packed with a mixed crowd who filled the 134-seat main space (there’s also a sushi counter, private dining room, the White Pearl and Black Pearl Rooms, as well as outdoor space accounting for an additional 276 seats).
The food was faultless, with Nobu staples such as yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno, black cod yuzu miso and a large selection of sushi platters spread among the table; small and larger plates flow, including tiradito, sashimi,Chilean sea bass, lobster and spinach salad and mini tacos filled with spicy salmon and another with tuna and tomato salsa. There’s a strong sake menu—don’t leave without trying at least one—and killer cocktails, such as the lychee martini. The only good thing about leaving was the short drive, or five-minute walk if you’re feeling less lazy, back to the hotel to sink into a deep-food coma for the night.
Following breakfast at the hotel’s Il Teatro the following morning, it was time to take in some of the city’s art and culture at the Islamic Museum of Art.Designed by I.M. Pei, the museum has become an icon of Doha and representsIslamic art from three continents over a 1,400-year period.
It’s not all about the artefacts, though, with the building’s design, both inside and out, offering a brilliant example of contemporary Arabic architecture. During my visit, I experienced theQatar Women: Images of Women in 19thCentury Iranexhibition, which showcased the culture and history of Persian women.
For a touch of French-Arabic cuisine, visit Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, IDAM, (which meansgenerosityin Arabic) located on the fifth floor of the museum. Ducasse’s only Middle East restaurant has great views of the bay and an impressivePhilippe Starck-designed interior.
Executive chef Frederic Larquemin, who has been with Ducasse for over 10 years, curates a fusion menu, with dishes such as marinated bonito from the Arabian Gulf, with lemon-gold caviar and the signature tender camel, duck foie gras, black truffle and soufflé potatoes, which takes six days to prepare. There’s no wine list, however “fine waters” and other non-alcoholic drinks are served. For visitors looking to grab a lighter bite, there’s also the MIA Café on the first floor of the museum.
Walk off lunch at IDAM with a stroll around the neighbouring 68-acre MIA Park, which is home to a coffee, ice cream and gift shops and includes activities such as bike hire, paddleboats and bungee trampolines. Look out for the Park Bazaar every Saturday, running from November to May, to pick up local wares and artisan produce. There are currently over100 vendors with stall showcasing a mix of food, jewellery, arts, crafts, clothing and souvenirs.
If you have time, take in another of Doha’s cultural meccas, the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art located a short drive from the city centre. Architecturally, it’s not nearly as impressive as the Islamic Museum of Art, but it’s what’s inside that counts,containing more than 8,000 objects from the Arab world and other regions historically connected to the Arab Peninsula.
With the faint scent of cardamom in the air, our next stop is the city’s central market. Mingle with local merchants at Souq Waqifand browse the rows of spices, artefacts, leather goods and many other items as locals push timber wheelbarrows piled high with goods through the narrow alleyways and others socialise in the shisha bars. Like most of Doha, Souq Waqif is manicured, clean and caters well for the international visitor.
Following a day of soaking up Doha’sculture, I headed out of the city for a hair-raising desert safari that evening. With camels lazing around and a myriad of dunes rising from the roadside, I watched the blazing sun slowly lower itself in the distance, before experiencing one of Doha’s less serene activities. Stepping into the back of a 4X4, we descended into the dunes, sand-shifting and scaling the mountainous terrain. Hold your hat—and the side of the car—because it’s a scary but ultimately fun way to experience this incredible landscape.Back at the Bedouin-style camp, we settled down for a traditionalArabic mezze and barbecue feast in the tent.
There is a lot to cram in if you are only visiting Doha for a short break, with the Arabian Gulf offering watersports, such as scuba and pearl diving (pearl oysters found in abundance off Qatar’s shores), dhow cruises and, known as the ‘sport of sheikhs,’ camel-racing taking place from October in the small town of Al Shahaniya.
The following day, I indulged in the spa and some poolside sun, before a sushi-making class led by Nobu’s chef de cuisine Andrew Bozoki, while sake sommelier Layne Nguyen guided us through a selection of sake pairings.
While the sun is guaranteed, and a location like the Four Seasons offers plenty of opportunity for some rest and relaxation,I left Qatar with my culture-seeking-self suitably satisfied. And with temperatures starting to cool, now is as good a time as any to experience Doha.