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Qatar – Arabic Culture Swathed in Luxury:
The Horizon Club room at the Shangri-La Hotel Doha, Qatar has probably the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. Looking out through the floor to ceiling windows I could happily have laid there a while to enjoy it; But not today as we were off for a sunrise breakfast on the roof.
Taking the lift to the 45th floor and up some stairs takes you out onto the helipad, with stunning views across all of Doha, Qatar and the Persian Gulf. As the sun rises the heat starts to hit, but there is always a gentle breeze making it pleasant. The Shangri-La Hotel had laid out a Bedouin-style breakfast on a carpet and rich cushions for us, with dark coffee and delicate pastries. You had to pinch yourself that this was real, so far away from anything expected or experienced before.
Breakfast on the helipad is a special treat, and probably only available to those that know about it, but if you were on a honeymoon or wanted that special moment, this is one activity that would be forever memorable.
What an amazing start to a day.
Back down to ground level and our first trip out is to The Katara Cultural Village, an area 10 minutes’ drive from the hotel. It is built on reclaimed land as is much of the Qatari shoreline and is a vast area which aims to showcase Qatari arts, heritage and traditions in a functional and working environment. With so much to see I can only mention a fraction of what is there.
Firstly, you notice 2 giant pigeon towers, and then the numerous white birds sitting in them, or quickly flying out and back to stay cool from the daytime sun. Pigeon Towers are a traditional design that is thousands of years old. They were originally designed to keep birds so that their droppings could be used as fertilizer, but smaller ones were also used to keep birds as pets; in the heat, it isn’t practical to have a dog or a cat.
Walking on through the village, there is a huge amphitheatre bordering the sea, which is used for concerts, opera, theatre and other performances. Newly built, it is a blend of traditional Islamic features with the Greek style of openness and inclusion, and is jaw-dropping to stand in the middle of the arena and look around. Maybe this is how the Colosseum looked to the Romans when it was first built! During the day it is just too hot to be outside, but at night the crowds will arrive; I wish I could have stayed longer.
Walking around there are numerous art installations, by various famous artists. The Force of Nature sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn stands out, overlooking the sea and is instantly recognizable as there are different variants of it in major cities around the world.
Subodh Gupta has a large three piece work on show, based on the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Built out of recycled items it is an impressive piece tackling the theme of war and piece that you can go up and touch, soaking up the atmosphere. It makes for a fascinating discussion piece.
There are several indoor art galleries together with cultural workshops. Here there is a mixture of old and new culture. The Katara Cultural Village has over 40 individual units allocated to different arts, all of which are in use and that you can visit. There are units for traditional activities such as falconry, weaving and archaeology through to modern art hubs, video production and stage set building.
Katara Cultural Village is also the location of the Katara Mosque, designed by the female Turkish Mosque designer Zainab Fadil Oglu. The inside, whilst obviously functional, is also considered one of the most ornate in all of Qatar. It is also exceptional in that the minaret is not connected to the mosque itself. We didn’t go in but were warmly invited to look around.
Five minutes North of the Katara Cultural Village is The Pearl, a manmade island development, known locally as the Arabian Riviera or Little Venice. Home to some of the most luxurious apartments and stylish shops, it is modelled on a Mediterranean theme. It is called The Pearl because of its shape as well as the fact it was built near historic, long since disappeared, oyster beds.
The use of water to create lakes and marinas around high-rise apartments and shopping centres makes this a stylish place to live and yet has a remarkably open feel to it. The use of traditional architecture with modern materials makes for a palatial feel as you walk around the shops and the boats in the marinas are larger than most UK houses.
15 minutes’ drive back across town takes you to the Museum of Islamic Art, a stunning building on the edge of the bay by the harbour.
Built by the renowned architect IM Pei, it is a stunning building inside, set over 5 levels and house a multitude of Islamic antiquities. It is an active museum and you can see many students going around engaging with the exhibits.
Signage says photography is not allowed but provided you don’t use flash the curators didn’t mind and often pointed to things that would be of interest. Entry to the museum is free.
At the side of the museum, you find the iconic arches used in so many images of Doha around the world.
Overlooking the harbour full of traditional dhows on one side and with views of the Doha skyline across the bay from another, bright fountains sparkle in the sunshine under the allure blue sky and offers some natural cool. It’s a great place to just sit and reflect.
Doha has a vast offering of restaurants and food offerings, so for lunch, we went to the Sheraton Grand Doha. Established in 1979, the Sheraton Grand Doha was the first five-star luxury hotel in Doha, and cost over $100m to build. It is well known for hosting conferences and has one auditorium that seats over 1000, so it is no surprise that it should have an amazing food offering.
We chose the Al Hubara Restaurant buffet hall for lunch, but this was no ordinary buffet. Set in a beautifully multi-domed room, there were 7 different buffets to choose from; classic, vegetarian, Greek, Japanese, Chinese and others. Tables we subtly set out between each buffet style giving the feeling of being surrounded by food. And when the main buffet meal was finished there are numerous further dessert bars, including an ever-flowing chocolate fountain, with white and dark chocolate of course.
After the leisurely lunch, there was a bit of a rush to get back to the Shangri-La Hotel for an unexpected (by us!) event. Every 4 years or so the British Red Arrows perform at Doha to show their unity with the Qatari people, and today was the day of the event. Added to this, they were doing it in conjunction with Qatar Airways who were showcasing one of their new planes. So back to the hotel, and then up to the rooftop helipad again to join the VIP’s and specially invited guests to watch the show.
The experience was incredible, and not something you would ever expect to see. And at 45 Stories up, the planes are a LOT closer to you than watching from the ground.
People waited, cheered, oohed and aahed at the display and then gave a rapturous applause as the sun went down and the last flyby passed.
With the sun going down we headed over for dinner at Nobu, part of the Four Seasons Hotel complex on the side of the bay. Nobu is one of the best restaurants in the world and I knew we were going to have an amazing time. The Qatar Doha Nobu is the largest in the world, and laid out in a stylish 3 level corkscrew building, almost totally surrounded by the sea.
The meal and the whole experience at Nobu was so good I have a complete post on it here.
Back at the Shangri-La Doha hotel, we sat and lingered in the outside patio area, sipping the aromatic Arabic coffee and enjoying the warm air, before heading up to our rooms and the amazing nighttime panoramic view over the city.
We were guests of the Qatar Tourist Authority
Shangri-La Hotel Doha
Sheraton Grand Hotel Doha
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