Doha Qatar


By Jay Akasie

Doha has a bit of a Napoleonic complex, but that's a good thing. The capital of the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar sits on most of the world's natural gas supply and, in turn, boasts the highest per capita income of any place on earth. Combine that immense wealth with the fact that everything up the road in the United Arab Emirates is bigger and bolder and you have a splendidly laid-back vacation destination on your hands.

Sure, Doha doesn't attract the hoards of beer-swilling British tourists or the sheer number of hotels that the U.A.E.'s Dubai does, but its beaches are more beautiful and its gourmet restaurants are less crowded. The Al Jazeera news network is what put Doha on the map a decade ago, although a different sort of camera -- the movie kind -- is what's drawing tourists for the Doha-Tribeca Film Festival. Next year marks its third installment.

Doha is putting the finishing touches on what's known throughout the Middle East as the Arabian Riviera: the so-called Pearl Qatar, a lush, manmade island filled with luxury villas, marinas, and five-star hotels. Again, it's not nearly as large as the Palm islands of Dubai, but it's prettier.

Doha is concentrating on beefing up its presence on the international stage by following up its world-class, I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art with a bid for the Olympics in 2016 and the Fifa World Cup in 2022. Despite the intense heat of summer, Doha manages to pack a lot of sporting events into the high tourist season that runs from November through March. The city is a regular fixture on both the men's and women's tennis tours and the European golf tour. Plus, the city is hosting professional soccer's Asian Cup in January.

Jay Akasie is editor of TRENDS magazine, the Middle East's leading English-language business monthly and a contributor to Frommers.com's sister site www.whatsonwhen.com.