Get to this fitness-friendly country before the tourist boom in 2022.
The tiny Middle Eastern nation of Qatar attracts buttoned-up businessmen and jet-settingentertainers and athletes alike. Maybe it's the sun-drenched peninsula's 350 miles of uninterrupted coastline along the Arabian Gulf. Or perhaps it's that among the glittering skyline of the capital city of Doha, you can still find nods to the country's intriguing past. Whatever it is, the whole world is talking, and all eyes will be on Qatar when it hosts the World Cup in 2022. Until then, you've got plenty of time to become acquainted with Qatar's bountiful on- and off-the-water activities, luxurious accommodations, and sophisticated dining scene
Note: While Qatar is quite relaxed, be respectful by keeping shoulders and knees covered while in public (at the souk, at the museum, etc.). On hotel grounds, there is no dress code.
WHERE TO STAYStay in the heart of Souq Waqif at Al Jasra Boutique Hotel. The five-star, 26-room property has beautiful Arabian decor and views of the Souq and Arabian horse stables. There's also a full-service spa with Moroccan hammam and six onsite eateries, including two rooftop restaurants.
Located in Mesaieed, about an hour drive from Doha, the white-washed walls and palm tree-lined paths of Sealine Beach resort make for a beautiful oasis from city life. Each room overlooks the Arabian Sea and recreational activities are unique, like camel rides on the beach, desert safaris, and oversized games of chess.
On The Pearl, a man-made island off the West Bay is Qatar's first vegan cafe, Evergreen Organics. The plant-based menu has no added preservatives, additives, or processed sugar and is the perfect place to fuel up for a day of fitness with a breakfast bowl of bananas, pineapple, acai, coconut water, activated charcoal, superfood granola, and gojiberries, as well as fresh-pressed juices and smoothies.
Choose Your Afternoon Adventure
OPTION 1: CULTURE
Housing the largest collection of Islamic Art in the world, the Museum of Islamic Art is a must-see. Study the I.M. Pei-designed building (the architect of the Louvre), particularly the top two windows that were fashioned to resemble a woman's eyes peering through a niqab. The permanent artifact collection is spread across two floors, so break up your visit by pausing for bit of sun in the outdoor courtyard with arches framing views of both modern and old Doha.
OPTION 2: FITNESS
At The Pearl, take a stand-up paddle boarding class with Blue Pearl Watersport, Qatar’s first SUP school. Book the QSUP Basics class to learn all the essentials, or challenge yourself with a level two class, sunset SUP, or SUP hatha and yin yoga. If paddle boarding isn’t your thing, Blue Pearl offers wind Sup, kayaking and fat bike tours in the desert.
Lunch is at Parisa Souq Waqif, one of the most opulently designed spaces in Souq Waqif. Modeled after a Persian palace, the space features thousands of glimmering mirrors lining the walls and ceilings, hand-painted artwork, delicate mosaics, and ornate chandeliers. The cuisine is Persian/Iranian and you can't go wrong with kabab shishlik (Persian-style grilled lamb chops) and saffron polow (saffron basmati rice).
Start the evening with a sunset dhow cruise of the bay. The traditional Qatari wooden boats have open-air top levels where you can watch the city lights come alive as the sun sets. Make reservations in advance through your hotel.
End the night at the world's largest Nobu, perched on its own peninsula in the Arabian Gulf. After a Japanese-Peruvian dinner of yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, black cod yuzu miso, and king crab leg with shiso salsa, enjoy a cocktail from the restaurant's rooftop lounge.
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Grab breakfast at La Varenne Brasserie. Choose from the housemade granola with honey yogurt and strawberry compote, quiche, or fresh crepes with berries.
You'll want to keep it light, though, before a morning of dune bashing in 4x4 vehicles with the expert drivers at Qatar Inbound Tours. After about an hour drive to Mesaieed (if you're staying in Doha), you'll go off road, sliding down giant sand dunes and stopping for a swim in the Inland Sea. It's the perfect spot for pictures of varying landscapes: endless desert, sparkling coastline, and Saudi Arabian mountains.
Choose your Afternoon Adventure
OPTION 1: CULTURE
Qatar's rich equine history is preserved and cultivated at Al Shaqab, a 242-acre, state-of-the-art equestrian center with facilities including indoor and outdoor arenas, a riding academy and rehabilitation center with swimming pools, exercise machines (think horse treadmills), and jumping stables. Visitors can get a guided tour of the massive facility via golf carts.
OPTION 2: FITNESS
Spend a few hours in Aspire Park, the largest park in Doha. Go for a run on the rubber-floored outdoor jogging track or create your own workout among the 34 gym stations installed across Aspire Zone within the park. Each one has at least three pieces of equipment including cycling bikes and multifunctional bars for pull-ups and push-ups.
Depending on your afternoon activity choice, lunch is an organic mix of salads or sandwiches at Chef's Garden restaurant within Al Shaqab, or south-east Asian street food at Spice Market, back in Doha. Try the Mongolian lamb skewers, green papaya salad, and seared jumbo prawns.
Head to the spa at Four Seasons Hotel Doha for a revitalizing mineral salt therapy exfoliation and massage, then get ready for dinner. Set within the whimsical Mondrian Doha, the sleek and glamorous Morimoto Doha is the first location in the Middle East from world-renowned Chef Morimoto. Start with the oyster foie gras then go for the chef's robata combination.
Photo: Getty Images