Anastasia Hedge escapes the heat and finds luxury is kicked out of the park in the home of the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
HOW TO GET AROUND
In 46C heat, and climbing in summer, walking isn't recommended. We managed to cover a lot of ground by car. Six-lane highways make driving a pleasure. I was surprised not to see one traffic jam, but it was summer and we were travelling at off-peak times. Doha's Metro is under construction but the pressure is on to have it ready for the start of the 2022 World Cup when it will take throngs of football fans from their hotels to the eight stadiums dotted around Doha, as well as the shopping malls and sights.
WHAT TO SEE
Our guide for the day described Doha as the "Miami of the Persian Gulf". Nothing defines this better than the artificial island known as The Pearl. Luxury yachts are docked under fancy apartments and villas favoured by expats, who make up the majority of Doha's two million residents. Doha's fascination with Europe is apparent. Architecture is modelled on French, Italian and Spanish designs. My favourite was Qanat Quartier, a mini-Venice complete with canals.
Katara Cultural Village, a seven-minute drive from The Pearl, is where you will find the Blue Mosque and Pigeon Towers, another of Doha's impressive skyscraper accommodation options - but only for pigeons. Katara Plaza is open for business and expanding. While open-air shopping seems like a ridiculous notion in the desert — it will be made possible with outdoor air conditioning. Only in Doha.
Doha has some impressive buildings. Take time to marvel at the 43-storey Al Bidda Tower, headquarters of the 2022 Fifa World Cup — or rather the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, Qatar Football Association and the Qatar Stars League. It's also one of the world's few twisted towers.
If you don't know what a desert rose is you can see one at the National Museum — inside and out. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the building mimics the rose-like crystal clusters formed in the desert. Kids will love the museum because it looks like something out of Star Wars and there are lots of stuffed sand-dwelling creatures inside. Adults can marvel at the strings and strings of pearls or, in my opinion, the museum's most magnificent display, the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, commissioned over a century ago and embellished with two million natural seed pearls and encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
Locals migrate to the malls dotted around Doha during the summer months, not only for shopping but for activities and entertainment. Don't get caught out as we did and arrive early on a Friday at the Lagoona Mall. Friday is the holy day and it's up to individual shop owners if they open in the morning or not. It's best to arrive after 2pm.
For something a bit more authentic — well as authentic as possible in Doha — the Wasiq Souk has a great old-world charm, with little alleyways and shopkeepers trading their wares. There's everything from teapots to turtles.
WHERE TO STAY
Doha takes luxury hotels to the next level. Most are modern — the oldest, the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort and Convention Hotel, with its pyramid architecture, is just 40 years old and offers five-star accommodation, and like many around the Pearl and Katara areas offers a private beach. By the time the 2022 World Cup comes around, there will be dozens of more choices.
We stayed two nights near Lusail in West Bay Lagoon at the Mondrian Doha. Designed by Marcel Wanders and featuring four restaurants and three bars, this Arabian Alice in Wonderland fantasy with golden eggs, ceramic mushroom-like trees and oversized furniture is a destination in itself. The rooms are just as lavish, and I have some serious bathroom goals after seeing that chandelier hanging over the bathtub.
WHERE TO EAT
We had lunch at Al Mourjan on the Corniche Promenade, which has become a popular spot not only for its authentic Lebanese lunch but also its view of the water and city skyline. I can only imagine what it looks like at night when Doha comes alive with neon lights. We got a chance to sample grilled lamb and chicken, beautifully presented hummus and tabbouleh, washed down with their signature mocktail (you can only drink alcohol at hotels in Doha) the Mourjan Splash — made with mint, lemon juice and crushed ice.
We had dinner at the Mondrian, at Morimoto, a high-end chain of Japanese restaurants which draws a hip, young and wealthy crowd. We began with starters of sashimi-style tuna pizza, yellowtail pastrami, calamari-tempura salad and rock shrimp tempura followed by the chef's combination sushi. It was more than enough for three, especially after our huge lunch, so we reluctantly cancelled our mains.
For cheaper eats, there are many options in the city and the Wasiq Souk comes alive after 4pm.
WHERE TO DRINK
I would have liked to explore this more, given the fearmongering over the recent "sin tax" where alcohol, cigarettes and energy drinks doubled in price after a Government hike in January. In fact, I found it easy to go two days without consuming a glass of wine or a beer — instead preferring litres and litres of water to beat the heat.
We did explore the three bars in the Mondrian. Thursday at the rooftop bar Rise is African night with a DJ playing until the early hours. Hudson Tavern was also pumping with music. We settled on a more mellow vibe on the ground floor at Cut by Wolfgang Puck, which turns into a sophisticated bar and restaurant in the evening. It was pricey. A Comfortably Numb cocktail, Corona and Bordeaux for the crew came in at a price that would probably get you a nice meal out for two back home. Doha has happy hours, Friday brunches and, so I'm told, Ladies' Nights, where women drink on the house.
With a bit of age and wisdom on my side — I'm of the mind there's no such thing as a free drink.
Qatar Airways offers a Qsuite service from Auckland to Doha with individual cabins, on-demand dining and a 22'' IFE screen.