Qatar is a country on the rise: something that locals (and those in the know) have understood for years, but that much of the world is only discovering more recently.
Still basking in World Cup glory, Qatar is rich in history and culture – yet always keeps its eyes on the future. In Qatar’s capital, Doha, futuristic skyscrapers glisten along the city’s Corniche, each overlooking traditional dhow boats bobbing on the surface of the Arabian Gulf beneath them, while world-class restaurants meet the centuries-old smells of coffee and spices wafting from nearby souks through the desert air.
Citizen Femme checked into two of Doha’s newest hotels set in one of its most unique buildings to discover how the city is drawing on its past to create its present, and to define its future.
Here’s everything you need to know if you’re planning, or dreaming of, a stay in Doha – including where to stay, eat, drink, shop and visit.
Overlooking the Arabian Gulf is something of an architectural feat, Katara Towers, standing at 211-metres high, inspired by the crossed swords of the country’s seal. This building is designed to resemble power and strength. Inside it, you’ll find two new hotels, located on either half of the building: Fairmont Doha and Raffles Doha.
Fairmont – Lusail, Doha
The first thing to hit you when you enter Fairmont Doha is the grand lobby, home to the world’s largest chandelier, decorated with 10,000 pearl-shaped bulbs that change colour as day changes to night. The hotel’s opulent aesthetics are designed to give the feeling of being on an uber-luxury yacht: think glossy, dark wood finishes, 24k gold walls, white leather and stone-hued furnishings.
Overlooking the Arabian Sea, the hotel is home to two swimming pools, an upcoming beach club (on a private jetty), and restaurants serving everything from gastronomic Indian to Latin American and Pan Asian cuisine while well-being is catered for in a state-of-the-art gym which includes the country’s largest indoor climbing wall.
Raffles – Lusail, Doha
On the other side of Katara Towers, Raffles Doha offers an all-suite experience – the first of its kind in Qatar – with 132 suites overlooking the sea or the city. Decadent lobbies seem to be a theme in Doha, and at Raffles, the ceiling is transformed into a kaleidoscopic masterpiece, with 974 screens (the country’s calling code is +974) showcasing images of clouds to create an impressive skyscape. They transform into a starry sky come nightfall. This really is a show-stopping statement, not yet seen in any other global hotels.
Complementing the skyscape is a bespoke fragrance by Frederic Malle, designed to infuse the lobby before leading you towards the rooms – each of which comes with a custom scent diffuser allowing you to tailor your own ambience. Bedrooms blend palatial design with intricate craftsmanship and feature hand-carved vaulted ceilings, shimmering crystal-infused bathroom walls, a maxi bar called ‘the boutique’, a library and a 24 hour personal butler service.
Five restaurants, including Alba by 3* Michelin Chef Enrico Crippa, and a sublime spa, finish off the Raffles Doha offering – both joining and adding to the luxury and affluence felt throughout the hotel. Raffles is known for its service and attention to detail, but in Doha, it has taken them to a new, never-seen-before level. This is opulence at its finest.
Food + Drink
Masala Library by Chef Jiggs Kalra
At Masala Library, a beautiful restaurant where the high arches and pink walls resemble those of Rajasthani palaces, you’re taken on a theatrical journey through India and its cuisine. Split into four courses, you’ll enjoy: Indian Forest Perfume – starters comprising mushrooms, truffles and other forestry goodness; Oceanic Waves – coastal-inspired dishes such as garlic prawns or Malabar lobster; Songs Of Fire – kebabs, curries and dumplings; and Hymns of Himalayas – desserts as an ode to the majestic mountains including jalebi, coconut parfait and rice pudding. Cocktails here are equally playful and incorporate exotic flavours, each named to match the food categories and infused with flavours such as masala chai, smoked cloves, cardamon and Himalayan pink salt.
Vaya! sparks joy in the Latin American way and the warmth of the region is present in every crumb. At this stunning eatery, dotted with both tables and cooking stations, where cooking stations feast on a crispy trio of empanadas, succulent Argentinian steaks, chicken quesadillas and the Peruvian lomo saltado. Don’t miss the in-house pescaderia serving up fresh ceviche and tiradito.
Situated on the 36th and 37th floors of the Fairmont Doha and with sweeping views across the city and Gulf, Provok transports you between two realms: fire and ice. The elements are heavily referenced in the decor; there is even a resident ice sculptor who carves an elaborate creation every two days, displayed alongside glass sculptures of soaring red flames. This restaurant is not only a feast for the eyes, but the tastebud and the eclectic menu covers Pan-Asian cuisine: Japanese Robata meets Korean BBQ. Standouts dishes include the Provok Caesar salad, (easily the best salad I’ve ever eaten) the Qatarifornia roll crab and the glazed black cod.
Alba by Enrique Crippa
Alba is the first international outpost of three Michelin star chefs, Enrique Crippa, serving interactive Italian cuisine. It is a beguiling venue with grand, white marble arches and gold finishes set against dark green velvet sofas. There’s even a Romeo and Juliet balcony. Book a table for a romantic night or a special occasion and indulge in spectacular, elegant Italian cuisine steeped in history. Every course is presented like a work of art with greens and flowers supplied by Alba’s greenhouse. Don’t miss the Doha salad, the seared scampi with burrata, tomato and strawberry sauce, the duck leg with orange or the Sorrento – a luscious lemon cake with almond ice cream. A truly memorable meal.
A bar like no other, Blue Cigar is an intimate Art Deco-inspired cigar lounge, taking inspiration from the speakeasies of the era. This is a place to spend hours whiling away the time as you sip on speciality cocktails and peruse the bar’s extensive book collection – it houses 6,000 literacy classics including 200 first-edition books. A sight to behold. Settle in with a cigar or Cuban-inspired nibbles and listen as readers recite a passage from one of your favourite classics.
A glorious atrium and garden spot for afternoon tea and regional comfort food. Malaki lounge feels airy and bright; think high carved ceilings and arched windows with the ambience enhanced by the piano tinkling in the background. Afternoon tea is served in a grandstand which resembles the building, with decorative sandwiches and English scones.
The To-Do List
Desert Dune Bashing
Dune bashing anywhere in the Middle East is an exhilarating experience, but Qatar offers something particularly special. An hour south of Doha lies an expanse of desert stretching as far as the eyes can see with magical dunes that shift shape in the wind and glisten in the sunlight. The highlight? When the desert meets the sea for a magical and memorable sunset and excitement turns to awe – the scene of Instagram dreams. Strap yourself into a modified 4×4 as you hurtle over the dunes and the twists and turns with heart-pounding excitement.
National Museum of Qatar
A visit to the National Museum of Qatar takes you on a journey through the rich culture and heritage of Qatar. The building itself – inspired by a desert rose with petal-shaped curves and interlocking disks, designed by renowned Jean Nouvel – is a sight in its own right. Once inside, you are immersed in Qatari history through interactive displays and exhibits that cover topics including maritime heritage, bedouin life and pearl diving. Why pearl diving? Doha was once the largest exporter of pearls in the Middle East and is affectionately known as the Pearl of the Middle East. The museum seamlessly blends traditional artefacts and modern technology to tell the story of Qatar’s evolution and its impressive forward-thinking vision.
This bustling souk – or market – is a vibrant myriad of sights, sounds and scents. Lose yourself as you wander through its narrow alleys, stopping for karak (a popular tea in the Gulf served with loose black tea leaves, cardamon, and sometimes saffron and sugar). In the evening, the atmosphere is especially enchanting as lanterns cast a beautiful glow over the carved wooden doors and colourful store entrances. Stores sell everything from hand-woven pashminas to spices and teas, frankincense, jewellery and toys. Local ladies sit on their food stalls selling Nutella crepes while the bustling restaurants offer delicious mezze and kebabs. A trip to Doha is not complete without visiting the Souq; this is an experience that captures the essence of the city, pulling together its past and showcasing its irresistible spirit.