It doesn’t quite resonate in the consciousness of the traveller as its rivals Dubai or Abu Dhabi – or at least not yet – but Qatar’s profile continues its rapid and unremitting rise in Australia. That’s largely due, of course, to the aggressive marketing by Qatar Airways, the country’s ambitious national airline which has deftly positioned its capital, Doha, as a credible Arabian Peninsula hub option for air travellers en route to Europe. The airline’s latest competitive salvo is an additional daily flight between Sydney and Doha, following the recent launch of a new daily service to Canberra. Doha’s outstanding Hamad International Airport is a kind of Arabic Changi while Doha is definitely stopover-worthy, particularly with accommodation options of the standard of Sharq Village & Spa, a self-styled bayside “beach retreat”.
The low-rise Sharq Village & Spa, part of the Ritz-Carlton brand, is situated on Doha Bay and, beyond, the Persian Gulf, along the coast of the Qatar capital. It also doubles as a convenient airport hotel (some airport hotel) since Hamad International Airport is only a short drive away up the freeway, spectacularly festooned at night by multi-coloured illuminated poles. Aside from the airport, the city’s main attractions are also within easy reach via the city’s dependable taxi system.
The main building, which includes the reception area, is beautifully decorated and features an inviting Arabian Nights-like cafe with plush sunken seating. Beyond here is a vast open space dominated by an expansive swimming pool with the surrounding structures designed to resemble a traditional Arabian village (or a sheikh’s palace, depending on which part of the hotel’s propaganda you read) replete with courtyards, pools, fountains and gardens. Whatever it’s meant to represent, the Sharq Village & Spa’s design and layout is impressive.
My comfortable, generously-sized deluxe hotel-style room comes in at just under 50 square metres and is replete with all the requisite five-star accoutrements. It has a view of the swimming pool and, if you venture outside on the attached terrace with table and chairs, Doha Bay glimpses. The room is entered via a classical Arabic courtyard and while it is adjacent to the expansive main swimming pool area, noise, aside from the occasional jet taking-off or landing, is minimal. The only quibble with the room, designed along traditional Arabic lines, is that it can be a little dark, though that may prove a godsend should you find yourself staying here during Qatar’s notoriously searing summers.
Although it has a much-loved branch in Doha’s Souq Waqif (see below) be sure to make a booking at the in-house Parisa, a restaurant specialising in authentic Persian cuisine. In Doha’s pleasant milder months you can dine alfresco by day or night on the restaurant’s terrace overlooking Doha Bay and the city’s skyline savouring dishes such as lamb stew in a claypot and tiger prawn kebab. If you prefer to eat out it’s hard to ignore the wealth of restaurants and cafes that line the atmospheric streets of Souq Waqif.
For the visitor, Doha offers a considerably more human scale when compared to Dubai, though, by the same token, most cities do. While the Qatari capital boasts its own impressive array of skyscrapers it doesn’t suffer from Dubai’s obsession with cloud-piercing buildings. Doha’s lively Souq Waqif is rightly regarded as one of the best on the Arabian Peninsula, while nearby is the city’s most prominent cultural attraction, the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art. Unlike Dubai, the Qatari capital even invites you to explore it by foot, with a stroll along the seven-kilometre-long Doha Corniche, wrapped around Doha Bay, a popular pastime.
Doha, blessed with an outstanding modern airport, is an unexpectedly rewarding stopover destination, especially so with accommodation choices of the palatial calibre of Sharq Village & Spa. It offers a five-star resort-like experience, while being within easy reach of a major city and its wide range of attractions.
Doubles start from QAR956 a night. Sharq Village & Spa, Ras Abu Abboud Street, Doha, Qatar Ph: +974 4425 6666. See ritzcarlton.com
The traditional Arabian village design of the main part of the resort provides a perfect sense of location.
The front desk staff were far from adept in providing sightseeing and transport advice and also provided conflicting information.
Anthony Dennis travelled as a guest of Sharq Village & Spa and Qatar Airways. See qatarairways.com