On a quick jaunt through a country on the rise, Lesley McKenzie declares the capital of this sovereign Arab Emirate a true “Desert Rose.” Read the article on our blog and in the current issue of Quest Magazine.

Doha, the capital of Qatar, sits at the intersection of sand, sea and skyscrapers. Located on a thumb of the Arabian peninsula, this jewel-box of a kingdom sets itself apart from a number of its neighbors with a commitment to promoting tourism (Doha has been selected to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the first global sporting event held in the Middle East), all while maintaining a hold on its desert roots. This is evident as soon as I touch down in the new Hamad International Airport, which opened this spring as part of the country’s efforts to reinvent the desert destination as a world-class, international flight hub.

museum of islamic art in doha

It’s this futuristic attitude that permeates everything happening in Qatar right now, and a 24-hour stay is ample time to experience this peaceful kingdom as it seeks to strike a balance between its historic roots and modernity. I spent a night at the extravagant St. Regis Hotel, one of the city’s five-star resorts and, without a doubt, beloved by tourists and locals alike. And how could it not be? Looking onto the Arabian Peninsula, each of the 336 Middle Eastern décor-inspired rooms comes equipped with its own personal butler, ready to cater to my every whim during my stay. The property is also home to some of the city’s most buzz-worthy eateries including Michelin-starred modern Cantonese concept Hakkasan; two Gordon Ramsey spots including his namesake restaurant, and bistro-style Opal (boasting Qatar’s most extensive wine list); and Jazz at Lincoln Center Doha, the premiere venue for jazz music around town, with an artist program curated by the spot’s iconic New York namesake.

st. regis hotel in doha
In the midst of the luxury boom spearheaded by Qatar’s former ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and now his son and successor, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a number of destination-worthy cultural institutions have made their debut around town. Must-visits for first-timers to Qatar include the majestic I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art Doha bowed on the city’s corniche in 2008, offering a sweeping—and often breathtaking— glimpse of 1,4000 years of religious history with both permanent and rotating installations.

The country’s commitment to education and impressive architecture continues at the Katara Cultural Village—a nearby complex dedicated to promoting global art and culture exchange through a labyrinth of art galleries, concert halls and an awe-inspiring Greek and Islamic style 5,000-seat amphitheater, which faces the sea.

Qatar prides itself as much on its forward-thinking visions as it does on its rich past. Locals (who number 300,000 in the kingdom’s multi-national population of two million) trace their roots back to a rich Bedouin culture, where the Arabian stallion was revered for leading tribes into battle. Today, the royal family still holds these chiseled beasts in high regard, best seen with a behind-the-scenes visit to Al shaqab stables—a world-class facility for housing, breeding and showing the family’s horses, thanks to two state-of-the-art equestrian centers and an equine exercise pool.

Local heritage is also on display at the Falcon Souq inside the restored Souq Waqif, where the prized, feathered hunters are on parade next to an array of falconry equipment. Venture further down the market’s cobbled streets to explore walls of silks and fabrics, not to mention the tantalizing aromas of sweets and spices and the clucking of eager and friendly shopkeepers.

falconry at souq waqif
One need look no further than the glittering skyline dotted with ongoing construction projects to fully grasp Doha’s commitment to growth and an influx of visitors. But can this city handle a boom of tourists, while holding on to its cherished heritage and small-city charm? A word to the wise: get there before they do.

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