The Qatari capital is a dazzling city in the making
As I looked around at my fellow bloggers turned conference-goers, their beaming smiles made it hard to believe we’d only just met. We were gathered in a regally furnished, luxurious state suite in Doha’s Four Seasons hotel, dressed in personalised, fluffy white dressing gowns – gifted to us by the hotel.
The noise levels rose as photo opportunities were snapped up (two people, it turned out, could pose in the giant bathtub, all shiny marble with gold taps), and it was only a matter of time before everyone jumped on the huge double bed for a group picture.
It wasn’t just any old bed, you see. It was the four-poster that British footballer David Beckham had recently stayed in, when he visited Doha for the tennis. I could have moved into the suite there and then; it was enormous, and the impressive views made it feel like a swanky New York penthouse apartment, complete with a grand piano, butler and walk-in wardrobe.
I’d stayed in many faceless hotels on work trips in my life before kids, but the BloggingME workshop at the Four Seasons in Doha took hospitality to a new league altogether. They’d thought of everything, from the amazing canapés to the sundown reception on the terrace with champagne and chefs at live cooking stations. Doha, I discovered, knows how to conduct business, be it in a local coffeehouse or at a five-star hotel with bells on.
There can’t be many places in the world that are changing as radically as Qatar. Doha, which began as a small fishing village, is now the capital of one of the fastest-growing countries on the planet.
A massive spending plan is part of the government’s National Vision 2030, which envisages a highly diversified economy with a focus on education and culture. What’s more, as Qatar gears up to host the 2022 Fifa football World Cup, Doha is investing more than $200bn in the development of essential infrastructure such as a metro to transport fans, stadiums to host matches and accommodation.
But while there are cranes and heavy equipment all over the city, visitors will find both history and modernity, often on the same city block, along with a generous smattering of authentic souqs and wide-open green spaces.
I was struck by the uniqueness of Doha’s buildings, and still have one particular view etched on my mind. While promenading the corniche, you can admire Doha’s sparkling skyline, rising up behind the old wooden dhows bobbing on the cobalt-blue bay. The corniche is without a doubt the highlight of the capital – together with the city’s geometric Museum of Islamic Art, which sits on the water’s edge like a gigantic broken Rubik Cube.
Inside the free museum, there’s a fine collection of Islamic metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles and glass, spanning a period of 1,400 years and mostly from Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The building, with its symmetry and lineal architecture, is just as impressive, with stunning views over the water and downtown Doha across the bay. A popular photo is taken from the terrace on the left side of the building, where you’ll find water fountains and three arched open windows, which frame the city centre buildings beautifully.
It’s then just a short walk to Souq Waqif, the social heart of Doha and a great place to explore, shop, have dinner or people-watch from one of the cafes. Tourists and locals mingle here, and the alleyways and architecture are wonderfully atmospheric. I found myself surrounded by colourful birds and rabbits (in dresses!), then angled myself in a different direction and soaked up the aromas coming from the numerous shops selling spices, perfumes and oud (an exotic incense made from agarwood).
Given a day in Doha, you can also fit in the cultural village of Katara, and by way of contrast, The Pearl, the glamorous address for some 12,000 residents as of January 2015. Once fully completed, The Pearl will create over 32 kilometres of new coastline. Love or hate it, it’s a distinctive sight, and otherwise known as Doha’s ‘Riviera Arabia’.
Of course, you’ll also want to take the obligatory Doha selfie on a mosque visit – my last photo I’ll leave you with, just as a thumbnail!