The day after the exciting new route from Cardiff to Doha was launched, with onward connections to 150 destinations worldwide, I and a group of top selling agents were given the chance to experience the new kid on the Arabian block first hand. We’re still not all 100% sure how to pronounce either the country or the city but we were on our way, directly from Cardiff – what a treat for a long haul destination!
Heading into Doha we are once again reminded of the huge sporting event which will take place here in 2022. Currently it seems rather wasteful to have 7-lane motorways with only enough traffic for two but the commitment to investment and infrastructure shows that Qatar means business when it comes to football. As the first World Cup in the Middle East, it’s easy to see why they want to put on a good show. As we pass one of the mid-construction stadiums (all will be within an hour’s drive of the capital) it’s plain to see there has been no expense spared… even when it comes to the environmentally friendly cooling technology which will be used we’re told. As we are visiting in May, we understand why it was a smart decision to move the tournament date to November/December… Even sunbathing is thirsty work!
The next morning is an early start and we’re whisked to the Shangri-La for an early breakfast. We’d been wondering why it was such an early start until we were taken directly to the top floor of the lift – the 48th no less – then asked to climb a further two flights… and find ourselves on a helipad! Set up right in the middle is a single table, laid out immaculately and laden with a plethora of breakfast treats. We are collectively speechless. The skyscrapers we’d gazed up at from the ground the previous evening we could now look across and down on, along with the airport and Bay. This really was an experience never to be forgotten. It was the first breakfast the Shangri-La had ever organised on its heli-pad (which, incidentally, has never actually been used by leisure choppers due to its proximity to the new airport’s flight path).
In equal measures of terror and childish glee, we head out to the sand dunes for a spot of 4 wheel drive dune safari. We scream as our Land Cruiser increases its speed to over 120km/h heading straight for the huge sand dune directly ahead at full force. We launch up the steep sandy slope, bouncing and flouncing around, letting out even louder shrills, quickly followed by gasps of excited laughter. The adrenaline rush box has been well and truly ticked! Following a short stop for dune pics, one lost bumper and one tyre reinflation, our heart rates are allowed to decrease as we spend an hour soaking up the sun and paddling in the inland sea – it’s so strange to see the sea and the desert meet – before enjoying a typical Arabic lunch of mezze, tasty dips, warm flatbreads, tender grilled meats and vibrant salads.
Back at the Ritz-Carlton we enjoy a cooling mojito in the pool bar, take time to enjoy the luxurious amenities (and a complimentary camel-shaped biscuits) of our rooms as we get ready, then head out for dinner at Al Sufra, a stunning restaurant within the opulent Kempinski Hotel on the Pearl, voted best Middle Eastern restaurant in the Gulf for the last two years running. The skyline on the journey really is a sight to behold. From every angle the shapes and colours of this architects’ playground take on different aspects, I could look at this for hours. Back in my huge bed I play with the multitude of light settings before sinking into a blissful slumber after an eventful day.
Following the lavishness of this wonderful hotel we decide that a little culture is in order. The Museum of Islamic Art is free and offers great views across the bay and more inspiring architecture, and that’s before you even look at the art. A wander around the pristine cultural village allows for some photo opportunities of the more traditional architectural variety and we learn that even the pigeons have their own towers as homes. We do a little window shopping at a Ferrari showroom then it’s on to Souk Waqif. This traditional shopping area had become very rundown but was restored in 2004, allowing us to browse through everything from fruity sweets to falcons, spices to shisha, crafts to carpets. If you do decide to become a shopaholic, there is no need to carry your wares yourself. Porters with wheelbarrows can be hired to follow you around as you shop to your heart’s content then take your purchases to your car.
If you’re looking for guaranteed sunshine, you’re in luck as it is out in force almost all year long! The scarce rainfall occurs during the winter months, and it amounts to less than 100 millimetres (4 inches) per year! The most comfortable months are from mid October to early May, averages in the summer months can be in the low 40s, it all depends how much you like to crisp!
With daily flights to Doha out of Cardiff, whether you’re after a sunny city break or an alternative stopover on the way to your exotic final destination, Qatar makes for a great choice, without even the need to travel down the M4.
Top 5 things to do in Doha
- SouqWaqif– probably the most famous attraction. Meaning standing market, my personal favourite time to go is weekend evenings when the place really comes alive. It’s a great place for food too!
- Museum of Islamic Art – one of the most photographed buildings in Qatar. Designed by IM Pei on its own island off the Corniche. The museum is home to Islamic Arts from carpets, jewelry to astrolabes. It also has a great café and is a great spot to sit by the water overlooking the West Bay skyline.
- The Inland Sea – is a great place to go to experience desert. It is a brilliant place to go dune bashing
- Malls – Qatar is home to the world’s second and third largest malls after Dubai Mall. Mall of Qatar and Festival City Mall are now open and are a shopper’s paradise
- The Pearl– Doha’s answer to The Palm in Dubai. A man-made island home to great restaurants and shops.