Spoiling yourself with added indulgence is an understandable desire, if you’ve got a 17 hour plus-flight on your agenda. Heading home from Europe, I plumped for a swish stopover in Doha, ahead of the marathon non-stop trek back to Auckland on Qatar Airways. The futuristic bling and architectural audacity of Doha’s West Bay skyline is a Dubai-like dalliance. I opted to stay in the city’s traditional downtown district of Msheireb, just a stone’s throw away from the multi-sensory allure of the storied Souq Waqif. Qatar’s ruling family has overseen a striking redevelopment of Msheireb preserving the historic downtown area while also reviving its vitality with sustainability to the fore.
The sparkling new Mandarin Oriental Hotel is at its heart, the veritable oasis in the desert, where every imaginable creature comfort is lustily laid on. As you’d expect from the celebrated hotel brand, staff are unfailingly attentive, outgoing and hospitable. The concierge desk knows all of Doha’s best kept-secrets inside-out. Irresistibly intimate and stylish, the guest rooms, suites and serviced apartments are ultra-spacious, where artful and contemporary design is fused with subtle elements of traditional Qatari heritage. Sumptuously decorated with supreme comfort in mind, my marbled bathroom, with deep tub and walk-in rain shower would make those temple-bathing Romans blush.
Studded with nine restaurants and bars, my on-site culinary experiences were mouth-drippingly superb, as I introduced my palate to classic local dishes and delicacies, in between the Western comfort food. The breakfast eggs benedict was so good, I ordered it up on both mornings of my stay from IZU, facing the town square. On the upper floors of the hotel, enticing Mosaic boasts nine open kitchens, spanning the world, from Japanese Sushi to the Arabic Grill. In a city besotted with buffet brunching, save your appetite for the hotel’s exuberant Almas Afternoon Tea, served in the playful Mandarin Lounge. My tiered stand brimmed with masterly crafted delectable including a foie gras macaroon with green apple and goat cheese mousse and corn arepa with avocado velvet. That was just the savouries!
The warm chocolate and medjool date scones duly arrived with the obligatory clotted cream and strawberry basil jam, but for an extra dollop of decadence, dulche de leche was on offer too. Try and leave room for a red velvet croissant. It is a radiant and reimagined afternoon tea service. Also on-site, I succumbed frequently to the divine temptations of the Gelato shop. There’s no denying how taxing the Doha heat can be, so a scoop or three of freshly homemade gelato proved very restorative. You must try their Arabic coffee ice-cream. What a hit. Further dining venues are in the works at the hotel, including the desert landscaped-inspired Amber restaurant, a rooftop alfresco diner and a bespoke cake shop.
Speaking of the rooftop, two gorgeous pools crown the building, wrapped in private cabanas and citywide vistas. Yes, burning off the calorie intake was desperately in order. A life-affirming dip in these pools, as the mercury nudged 43C, was nearly as restorative as another scoop of that Arabic coffee icecream!
Ramping up the pampering, I made a booking at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental for a pre-flight treatment. I opted for an Oriental Essence massage, which uses custom-blended oriental oils and movements inspired by traditional oriental therapies. This tension-busting massage zeroed in the traditional stress-holding areas of the back, neck and shoulder. I’m sure I floated out of the spa after feeling so liberated by the panel-beating. Across all areas, the Mandarin Oriental Doha, which still exudes that unmistakable new-hotel-smell, lavishly delivers on what magical hotel stays are all about. www.mandarinoriental.com
Departing New Zealand for Europe via Doha, I opted for an economy class seat, to see for myself just how rigorous an endurance test that 17 hour non-stop flight really is. With a voluminous library of on-demand entertainment and WiFi at my disposal, I was suitably engaged for hours, before taking my trusty magnesium tablet and clocking up nearly 9 hours of sleep, throughout the flight. Ensconced in an aisle seat, it was generally when another passenger wanted to get up, that my snoozing was rudely interrupted. But along with being well-fed and watered, it was a far more survivable experience than I had envisaged. On the homeward run, I plumped for the pointy-end, with Qatar Airways launching their revolutionary Business Class product, QSuite, on the Auckland service.
Despite all the PR hype, this truly is a breakthrough product, where the best of First Class has been deployed to Business Class. Best of all, those flying double beds. Yes, if you’re a couple travelling together, your seats convert into a lie-flat double bed, with privacy sliding doors, sealing you off in your own cocoon of comfort. QSuite has also pioneered the quad, a private space fully adaptable to your family or fellow travellers’ requirements. Every seat, whether you’re travelling solo or with company, has its own slider door. The trimmings keep coming, with soft feathered pillows, a velvet duvet and pyjama set.
I particularly enjoyed the sublime quality of the full-flavoured cuisine and QSuite’s “dine on demand’ system. The delightfully effervescent and obliging cabin crew welcomed me aboard with a lemon and mint signature drink, before explaining how I could order anything at all from the expansive menu and arrange for it to be served at any time. The beverages menu was equally tempting with various champagnes on offer including Champs Pommery Brut and Laurent-Perrier Cuvee. I was also impressed to see their feature sav blanc was Mansion House Bay from Marlborough. But as I’m a stickler for not consuming alcohol while flying, I opted for their delicious alcohol-free drink, So Jennie. This pale pink sparkling rose beverage, made in France, is a class act.
With a late-night departure, I ordered up the magnificent Arabic mezze, consisting of hummus, tabouleh, muhammara and breeds, for a quick supper before turning in. Sleeping like a lamb in my cosy lie-flat cocoon, I awoke to my pre-arranged Chicken kabsa, which was dressed with crispy onions, roasted cashew nuts and mint rata. Simply exquisite. And I caved into temptation, ordering up the coconut pudding with spiced chocolate dessert. Sinful! After another snooze, Australia was below me and the Tasman was in sight, so I feasted on a bowl of fresh berries for a 2am wake-up breakfast. Bonus points must go to the coffee – possibly the best tasting brew I’ve encountered, in-flight.
Qatar Airways has every reason to feel like it’s on top of the world – and deservedly so. The Doha-based carrier, with one of world’s youngest aircraft fleets, has just scooped supreme honours at the Skytrax Airline Awards, crowned World’s Best Airline, alongside winning the gong for Best Business Class product. Flying non-stop between Doha and Auckland on the world’s second longest ultra-long haul route, Kiwis enjoy via-free entry into Doha. Beyond Doha, Qatar Airways flies to over 160 destinations worldwide. www.qatarairways.com
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings