Doha is fast becoming a wellness hotspot, thanks to its staggering development of sophisticated hotels and indulgent spa locations. This ultra-modern metropolis is in many ways an unlikely location for embarking on a restorative wellness journey, but, done right, the vast desert turned cityscape, with its melting pot of cultures and traditional souks, can be spectacularly scenic and tranquil.
Still connected with its seafaring past, Qatar is a tiny peninsula state positioned by the sparkling Arabian gulf, located at the point where the Middle East meets Asia. The push and pull of east meets west, where tradition and modernity blend as seamlessly as the Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea), makes Doha all the more intriguing and an ideal base from which to explore the sloping dunes and immaculate cultural villages.
And with its selection of art galleries, cutting-edge architecture, and a burgeoning culinary scene, there’s more to this peninsula of contrasts than meets the eye.
The Packing Edit
Arrive by night and you’ll get to experience the grand entryway to the Ritz Carlton, Doha which follows a private road illuminated by fairy lights. One for smart business trips, there’s a laidback opulence to this property with its hazy ground floor smoking room and plush speakeasy-style bar, Habanos. The smart deluxe rooms feature a balcony with views overlooking the harbour, or you can upgrade your stay with the Club Level option for a more personalised experience. The hotel’s open-plan gym has just about every piece of equipment and there’s an al fresco swimming pool to retreat to post-workout.
Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som
Just over an hour’s drive from the city and set in a remote desert location, Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som is a must for wellness lovers in need of a lifestyle reset. A personalised programme guided by Traditional Arabic Islamic Medicine (TAIM) is determined by a 45-minute consultation on arrival, a session that differs according to each specialist: some provide uncanny pulse-point readings to gather your energy, others adopt a relaxed Q&A-style format over a cup of lemongrass tea. The family section of the resort, a separate entity with its own wellness facilities, follows a similar template.
A typical seven-night stay for the Mind and Body programme involves a mishmash of fitness activities, cooking masterclasses, and a daily treatment of your choice. Try to nab a suite with direct access to Zulal’s very own lagoon to get in a mid-afternoon swim. That said, the 120 rooms and suites are cleverly mapped out to offer views or access to the natural landscape in some form – be it the sea or desert. Interiors are soothing and serene with Axel Vervoordt’s signature soft hues and bold choice of contemporary artwork, including a thought-provoking Bosco Sodi piece on arrival.
Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara
The Maldives of Qatar, Banana Island feels like a world away from Doha’s towering skyscrapers, a private island positioned on a crescent of golden beach. Days here are spent mooching on the beach, reading by the serene infinity pool in your overwater villa or speeding around on one of those inflatable doughnuts attached to a jet ski. It’s the perfect concoction of pure, unadulterated relaxation and getting in an adrenaline fix when the craving strikes. Whether you’re there for the day or a week, a massage at the overwater spa is a must. Treatment rooms have elegant Arabian accents and offer meditative views of the skyline and sea.
The St. Regis Doha
Located in the plush West Bay district, The St. Regis flaunts a range of eclectic dining options and tasteful leisure facilities for escaping the city heat. Customisation is key, with bespoke luxury services provided upon request. All 336 rooms overlook the Arabian gulf and feature tasteful interiors; expansive marble bathrooms offer a deep soaking tub and Remède Spa products. The hotel is a culinary hotspot in its own right, with 12 restaurants all featuring artisanal cuisine by world-renowned chefs. Centre stage is the Olympic-sized swimming pool which sits moments from the private beach.
The Ritz-Carlton Sharq Village
Resembling a traditional desert village, and located moments from Doha’s Corniche, The Ritz-Carlton Spa Sharq Village is a beachfront property that feels a little more private – especially if you opt for the sprawling Royal Villa. Intimate courtyards and winding alleyways nod to a traditional Qatari environment that feels far removed from the modern cityscape. Inside, the 174 rooms and suites have been designed to emulate a Sheikh’s palace, featuring Qatari accents and regal gold hues. You can directly access Souq Waqif from Parisa Souq Waqif, an ornate Persian restaurant serving soulful Persian soups, a highlight on the menu, and colourful appetisers with sprinkles of saffron and pomegranate. With three pools to choose from, including an infinity pool and a kid’s pool, Sharq Village can be both a playground for families and a romantic retreat.
EAT + DRINK
La Mar is Doha’s answer to contemporary Peruvian cuisine in an elegant beachfront setting. Chef Gastón Acurio has created a colourful menu of succulent seafood dishes and authentic ceviche alongside chargrilled meats. Similar to Acurio’s much-loved La Mar cevichería in Lima, the dishes are rich in flavour and are best served as appetisers for an all-encompassing taster of the menu. The tiradito is an example of Acurio’s diverse influences, a dish that’s similar to ceviche, but differs in its Japanese sashimi-style cuts. Wash it all down with a frothy Pisco Sour, a go-to across La Mar’s various locations.
Evergreen Organics At The Pearl
After a few days of hearty eating, Evergreen Organics is the place to visit for light plates. Colourful Mexican bowls, moreish spicy cauliflower, and fresh kale salads can be served as a standalone main or a sharer. Completely alcohol free, the restaurant offers a selection of healthy beverages such as authentic coconut water and hibiscus kombucha, a fragrant and hydrating tipple of choice to complement the health-giving plates of plantain. The location is handy for popping over to the West Bay district for some retail therapy or a post-lunch iced coffee.
Bayt el Talleh
Appearing as a statuesque castle from the outside, Bayt el Talleh is a buzzy Lebanese restaurant perched on a hilltop with spectacular views of Katara south hills. This is where the locals are found, sharing plates upon plates of home-style cuisine cooked up by a jovial singing chef who may or may not serenade you. The hummus here is silky soft, topped with sumac, lemon juice, and dribbles of olive oil. For hot appetisers, soulful dishes of fattet eggplant, potato kibbeh, and spinach fatayer are paired alongside an assortment of lemony salads and dips. As this is an alcohol-free restaurant, a chilled glass of the homemade mint lemonade and a replenishing mint tea with dessert both go down a treat.
An evening stroll around Souq Waqif’s maze of cobbled lanes is the perfect pre-dinner activity. Pick up boxes of pistachio-stuffed dates and stop by the multiple stalls for a taste of local life. The colourful winding lanes are packed with handmade accoutrements to take home as souvenirs and the Arabian cafes are abuzz with locals sipping strong cups of Turkish coffee.
Dune bashing is certainly one way to spice up any wellness-themed itinerary. It’s become a favourite Qatari pastime over the years, particularly during the weekend when locals turn up in droves to race each other in their sturdy 4x4s. Adrenaline junkies are bound to relish in the sporadic drops whilst speeding around the vast desert landscape. The journey to the desert from the city takes around an hour, a route that weaves past palatial mosques and museums. Traditional camel rides can also be arranged not far from the UNESCO-recognised Khor Al Adaid inland sea, one of the few places in the world where the desert meets the sea.
Water sports at Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel
Craving some time by the sea? Try slotting in an afternoon of water sports at Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel. With endless views of the horizon to play with and a varied selection of water toys, this is bound to be a fun experience that differs from your average city break.
If the weather permits, a dhow cruise is one of the most tranquil ways to see Doha’s various attractions. Made from wood, dhow boats are majestic in structure and look like relics from a bygone era when this part of the Arabian Gulf was a humble fishing port. There is plenty to see architecturally: Jean Nouvel’s interlocking disc-shaped National Museum of Qatar is a must-see by day, or catch the luminescent skyline light up on a night cruise.
Qatar Tourism: For further information and to plan your holiday in Qatar, head to www.visitqatar.com
Qatar Airways: Qatar Airways flies six times a day from London’s Heathrow and Gatwick direct to Doha’s Hamad International Airport, and onwards to more than 140 destinations globally. Qatar Airways is the only airline to have held the accolade “Skytrax Airline of the Year” title for five years. For further information and to book a flight, visit qatarairways.com.