While waiting for the opening of the IM Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Arts later this year, there are still a number of colorful activities to fill up the downtime in the Qatari capital, Julian Tan discovers.
Souq till you drop
A trip to the souk (market) is always a must when visiting the Middle East, and Doha’s recently restored Souq Waqif provides an ideal introduction to this staple of Qatari life. Busiest at sundown, this centuries’ old hub consists of a maze of colourful alleyways chock-a-block with shops crammed with all manner of goods. It’s a true banquet for the senses offering opportunities to concoct your own perfume or potion, pick from a variety of textiles and footwear, and buy tea (camomile costs 45QR/US$12 per kilo), saffron and cardamom coffee (10QR/US$2.70), and even a hunting falcon (from 5,000QR/US$1,374) – although getting it out of the country will be your problem. Never smoked a shisha (flavoured tobacco)? Try one at any local café or take a leisurely ride around the neighbourhood on a donkey for 5QR (US$1.40). Shops open daily, usually from 0730 to 1100 and 1530 to 2200.
Have your catch and eat it
Few hotels in Doha boast a private beach like InterContinental’s, an asset it plays up to full advantage in its Fish Market restaurant. Whether seated indoors or along the waves, the view of the Arabian Gulf is simply spectacular. Besides the mainly Lebanese menu, the day’s freshest catch is promised and you get to pick what you want and have it cooked the way you like it. The starters selection is a veritable feast – 15 entries that include favourites such as hummus (chickpea paste), tabouleh (finely chopped parsley, mint, onions and tomatoes), kebbeh (deep-fried pastry stuffed with spinach, onions and pine nuts), moutable (eggplant mousse) and spinach fattayer (deep-fried pastry stuffed with spinach, onions and pine nuts). The wine list is made up of varietals from France, Italy, Australia and South Africa. A meal for two with drinks costs US$85, inclusive of nightly Arabic entertainment. tel 974 484 4444; open for dinner from 1800 to 2400 Sun-Fri and lunch on Fri only, from 1200 to 1600
Cool off on the Corniche
Settle down at the Balhambar, which boasts the best views overlooking the central Corniche. When the climate is cooler (December to February), the place is ideal for alfresco drinks like a lemon mint (12QR/US$3). The sheikh, who owns Balhambar, designed it to follow the lines of a traditional Qatari home, and hence, features such as the white-washed façade, neutrally toned interiors and an abundance of throw cushions. Only the air-conditioning is a nod to the modern and rapidly environmentally challenging times. If you’re there for a meal, authentic Qatari cuisine (based on lamb with side dishes) is offered, as well as an all-day buffet (from 100QR/US$27) served indoors or in the outdoor rooftop area. Shishas are available. tel 974 483 4330; open daily from 0800 to 2300.
Tee off, designer style
The 18-hole, Peter Harradine-designed Doha Golf Club, which opened in 1997, annually hosts the European PGA Tour Qatar Masters. With eight strategically positioned lakes, featuring 65 giant cacti, numerous limestone rock formations and 150ha of manicured fairways, this 6.7-kilometre, par-72 championship course is one of life’s pleasures. After the game, it’s time for a light meal or drinks at any of three F&B outlets. Other facilities include a marquee for private banquets, the Al Majlis Suite that accommodates up to 50 for small functions and a golf academy. For more details, tel 974 483 2338, www.dohagolfclub.com; 18 holes cost from 370QR (US$102) with buggy.
Lock horns with an Oryx
Well, sort of…or at least get close enough to admire its long, tapering horns and black and white markings from a safe distance. Sign up for a farm tour where this desert icon –?it was the mascot of the 2006 Asian Games in Doha – is propagated, preserving it from extinction. Any local tour operator can arrange the experience. For more details, log onto www.qatartourism.gov.qa