Sharq: Qatar capital chic

The main pool at the Sharq Village & Spa.
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The term "luxury travel" in Doha, the Qatar capital, is almost redundant. They don't do travel any other way. I discovered this recently on a trip sponsored by Qatar Airways on the occasion of the carrier's inaugural direct flight to Boston aboard the new A350 XWB, designed by the carrier in collaboration with Airbus.

Even before we arrived at our hotel, the Sharq Village & Spa, a Ritz-Carlton property on the Gulf Bay, we sampled some of the rarified treatment offered to business-class travelers on the new aircraft, including pod, flatbed seats with Frette linens and an impressive wine list. The pampering continued during the private passport control in the VIP lounge at Hamad Airport, where we sipped cappuccinos and waited for our luggage to be hand-delivered to us for our private transfer to the hotel.

Because it was my first visit to Qatar, I was goggle-eyed at the in-your-face architecture along the route from the airport — apparently any building worth its salt has to be lit up in Technicolor — but the hotel provided a contrast to the glitz of the city skyline.

Built along nearly 1,000 feet of private beach, the 174-room resort straddles several architectural styles, including traditional Arabic arched ceilings, ornately carved wood and even an on-property souk (an outdoor market, also spelled souq), with boutique shops where I could have bought expensive jewelry and designer fashions had I been so inclined (or had recently won the lottery).

The lobby sets the tone with enormous chandeliers and a massive overall footprint that reinforces the notion that space is not an issue when coming up with building plans in Doha.

But while my villa continued the theme by offering an exotic, jewel-toned Arabic decor, it also contained every high-tech gadget a well-heeled guest would expect in a five-star hotel, including robust WiFi.

The 21,528-square-foot Royal Villa goes even further, with two levels of living space, ocean views and a private indoor swimming pool. The villa, which can accommodate 10, also features a dining room, a kitchen, a living room, four suites and four bathrooms as well as a steam room with a heated stone bed, a personal driveway and, in Arabic tradition, private outdoor sitting areas, called majlis, with waterfalls and ocean views.

The hotel also contains a Six Senses Spa with 23 treatment rooms and a whopping 250 treatments from which to choose.

The spa setup is a reminder that although Westerners are clearly welcome and catered to at the hotel, Qatar has rules and traditions that the property — and by extension, its guests — must follow. There is a separate entrance for women, for example, as well as separate exercise facilities.

A King Suite at the Sharq Village & Spa, a Ritz-Carlton property in Doha, Qatar.
A King Suite at the Sharq Village & Spa, a Ritz-Carlton property in Doha, Qatar.

There are nine restaurants at the property, including Parisa, a seaview eatery that serves Persian cuisine.

It's useful to note that alcohol is permitted in Doha hotel restaurants but not necessarily in other locations.

For example, we dined at Nobu Doha at the Four Seasons Hotel, and we were able to order cocktails both during dinner and at the rooftop bar overlooking the Persian Gulf. And in keeping with the more-is-more theme, this is the largest Nobu restaurant in the world. We also ate at the Spice Market, a Jean-Georges restaurant at the W Hotel in West Bay, where alcohol is served and the menu options lean toward Thai and Vietnamese selections.

On the other hand, at the Parisa Souq Waqif, no alcohol is served, but the dining is Persian at its finest, with traditional dishes served up with a modern twist. As with much of what we saw in terms of decor in Doha, the setting is over the top, with gilded and jeweled adornments and ornate art and mirrors on every surface.

Another advantage of the restaurant's location in the Souq Waqif, or standing market, is that diners can tour the souq before or after dinner, checking out spices, traditional clothing and crafts. There is even a hospital for falcons, where we were able to wander freely and take pictures of the birds as they rested in the facility.

Although we were told that there was no need for the women in our group to cover our hair, I might have been more comfortable in the souq with a headscarf, as virtually every other female shopper was wearing an abaya (a full-length robe). That said, no one gave us a second look as we perused the stalls for souvenirs.

The concierge at the Sharq Village & Spa can arrange a guide to tour the souq as well as outings to the Museum of Islamic Art and the lesser-known Sheikh Faisal Museum, a quirky facility that displays an eclectic assortment of historical clothing, coins, weapons and a massive collection of beautifully restored vintage cars.

However, hands down our favorite activity was dune bashing in the Inland Sea at the Khor Al Adaid desert. The way it works is that up to three people ride with a driver in a four-wheel-drive vehicle at breakneck speeds over and through cavernous sand dunes on what can best be described as a moonscape for as far as the eye can see. It's not for the faint of heart, but the ride is exhilarating and, because of the surroundings, surreal and unique.

Of course, guests can also just relax at the hotel's private beach overlooking the city skyline or swim in one of the infinity pools that dot the property's landscape.

There is even a Ritz Kids club with supervised activities and special meals for children.

Expect to pay from about $300 per night for room and breakfast; about $7,000 a night for the Royal Villa.

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