Dune Bashing, Falconry, Dining in the Sky
Qatar International Food Festival
A land that understands a traveller can never be a stranger, just a friend not yet met.
That ultimately everyone is on their own journey,
seeking the warmth of a friendly embrace,
unique experiences, new stories to share.
Where a meal is not a meal unless it is shared.
A land rooted in ancient cultures, authentic soul,
where past learning informs contemporary vision.
Progressive spirit ignites new futures.
A land offering enlightenment, invigoration and inspiration
through its warmth of soul and spirit of vision.
Just over two weeks ago I was flying high, in all senses, as I travelled to Doha in Qatar as part of an International press and media group who were invited to the 7th annual Qatar International Food Festival. I was offered a Business Class flight with the country’s flag carrier airline, Qatar Airways, which made the seven hour flight most enjoyable. Once on-board, I was treated to a selection of fine food and wines, as well as priority check in and a large comfortable seat that converted into a full length flat-bed, and, I was given a selection of Giorgio Armani toiletries to freshen up with too.
There was plenty of storage for my belongings within easy reach, as well as Qatar Airways’ special state-of-the-art communication systems via satellite wi-fi (OnAir mobile service), laptop power and a USB sockets for easy charging, plus a large working area – not that I worked on the flight out! As well as my large seating (and sleeping) area, the Airbus 380-800 also boasted a separate Bar and Lounge area, where you could sit and relax with a cocktail or glass of wine, as well as stretch your legs. It was definitely THE way to travel.
The food on-board was innovative with a fabulous choice on offer; I opted for the Classic Arabic Mezze with Hummus, Tabouleh, Muhammara and Lahim Bil Agine served with Arabic bread as a starter, followed by Persian Lamb Kofta with Saffron Rice. This was preceded by a couple of glasses of pink champagne and an amuse bouche of Lamb Kibbeh with Beiruti and Tripoli sauce…..all very tasty and beautifully presented on fine china and with linen tablecloths. A cheese board of Chevre, Fourme d’Ambert and Saint Albray with Chutney and Bread Basket followed my main course, but I was too full to indulge in any dessert, even though there was Banana and Caramel Slice on offer.
The return journey was just as comfortable, and as it was an early morning flight, I was offered a choice of global breakfast dishes – I opted for the Arabic breakfast which comprised Ful Medames, Feta Cheese, Labneh, Za’atar, Olives, Tomatoes, Cucumber and Flat Breads, even though I was already full, as I had had a light snack in the Business Lounge at Hamad International Airport of Labneh, Hummus and Flat Breads! As well as fine food and a full length bed on-board my Qatar Airways flight, there was also an excellent choice of entertainment, with audio-video on-demand service and up to 3,000 entertainment options – films and movies, TV, games and a great choice of music.
We all stayed in the very impressive Five Star Sheraton Grand Doha Resort and Convention Centre situated on the shores of West Bay and the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf, my large “Deluxe” room had everything I needed for the next three nights; the en-suite had a bath and a shower, there was tea and coffee-making facilities, as well as a handy little lounge area down some stairs from the bedroom and right opposite a large balcony that overlooked the sea. As well as the main”All Day Dining” restaurant, Al Hubara, were I enjoyed breakfast, the hotel also boasts a Latino Steak House, a Lebanese restaurant and a very convivial Irish Bar, which proved to be very popular with some of us at the end of the day!
Image: Sheraton Hotel Group
Image: Sheraton Hotel Group
We had been invited to Doha to experience Qatar Airways Business Class, as well as attend the Qatar International Food Festival, but we also had a varied and interesting schedule of other excursions, namely a visit to the world-famous Souq Waqif, lunch at Parisa Persian Restaurant in Souq Waqif, a visit to Msheireb Museum, a “Dinner in the Sky Flight”, Dune Bashing in the desert and visiting the Inland sea of Khor Al Udeid, a BBQ beach lunch, a visit to the Museum of Islamic Arts and a water taxi ride over to The Pearl and Katara Cultural Village with dinner from the food trucks there…….all packed in to our forty-eight hour stay! As well as these scheduled trips, we also managed to go “off-piste” several times and visit a Falcon Hospital as well as hold a falcon in the Falcon Souq too……
…….after a fabulous lunch of Persian cuisine at Parisa Persian Restaurant, where our taste buds were treated to a cacophony of spices, flavours, and textures, from sesame hummus and cumin tomato dips to grilled lamb koftas, tender spiced chicken kebabs and the most amazing fish skewers, we made our way to opening ceremony of QIFF (Qatar International Food Festival) in the MIA (Museum of Islamic Arts) Park; there were a multitude of food stalls there, from all over the world, including Mexican, Chinese, Thai and rather bizarrely a Shake Shack! A host of famous chefs were there to demonstrate their recipes, including Martha Stewart, who I later interviewed, Massimo Capra from Canada, Paul Bentley from Australia and Michelin starred chef Vineet Bhatia from India. There was fine dining on offer, afternoon teas, food trucks, street food, the cuisine of China and Qatar, (in celebration of the Qatar/China 2016 cultural partnership) and Dinner in the Sky, which I attended!
Food Images: QIFF
As well as the food in the parks and QIFF areas, you could also have Dinner on a Dhow (experience an age-old seafaring heritage aboard a traditional wooden dhow, while enjoying a sumptuous buffet, while taking in a fabulous panoramic vista of Doha’s beautifully lit skyline), BBQ on the Bay (enjoy a fun meal with friends and family on a floating a BBQ Donut. Trained staff are in attendance to prepare and serve your meal or you can show off your own skills at the grill), and visit The Market, where there are a wide variety of tasty treats, including confectionery, coffee and tea. In addition to all the foodie stalls, restaurants and demonstrations, the festival also offered lots of family entertainment with jugglers, stage shows, music and dance – it was a thoroughly “well-rounded” festival of food and cheer.
My Business Class Dinner in the Sky Flight was a slightly surreal experience, and I can’t quite believe I ate a full course dinner whilst sitting strapped into an airline seat 165 feet up in the sky! Would I do it again, probably, but with a few glasses of wine next time! Whilst we were “airborne” we were also treated to fireworks, which just added to the experience – the whole “flight” took about ninety minutes before we “landed” and made our way into the Business Class Media Tent for dessert and coffee.
As well as this adventurous dining in the sky meal, I also enjoyed (I’m not totally convinced that is the word for it!) a spot of dune bashing next day, as well as a beach BBQ and a sedate visit to the Museum of Islamic Art before being taken at high speeds across the bay in a water taxi to the other QIFF sites at The Pearl and Katara Cultural Village! I’ll leave you with some images of these activities, but suffice to say, that when I boarded my business class flight home with Qatar Airways, the full-length flat-bed was very much appreciated and it was used for nearly the entire flight! I thoroughly enjoyed my forty-eight hours in Qatar and if you ever find yourself there on a stop-over en-route to far-flung places, then why not indulge in a little dune bashing, souq shopping or local dining yourself – there is plenty to do in this small Gulf state and the trip out to the Inland sea of Khor Al Udeid was a magical experience. Karen
Qatar Airways flies from London Heathrow six times a day, seven days a week.
Economy return: From £555 per person
Business Class return: From £3,487 per person
Disclaimer: I was the guest of Qatar Airways and the Qatar International Food Festival; all flights, transfers, accommodation, food, drink and excursions were included in the media trip I attended. All views and opinions remain my own and I was not paid to publish this article, although I retain the right to publish similar material on a commissioned basis with other print and on-line publications. With thanks to Katie Moine and Philip Allport who made this happen for me, as well as Nancy and Noufel from the Qatar Tourism Office who looked after us so well for the entire trip!
Images: All images are my own unless otherwise stated.
Parisa Persian Restaurant
Camels, Dune Bashing and Beach BBQ
Doha, Museums, MIA and QIFF