Living the high life, writes JENNIFER DUNKERLEY
LOOK out, Dubai! Doha is fast becoming the ultimate destination in the Middle East for sunseekers, spa-goers and shoppers.
With more millionaires per mile than any other country, a trip here is sure to see you treated like a king - royal price tag not included.
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The tiny desert oasis of Qatar became the name on everyone's lips after Fifa controversially awarded them the 2022 football World Cup. It will be the first Arab state to host the competition.
So during my trip I was keen to see what the country had to offer.
The answer? Striking shopping malls, five-star accommodation, top-notch cuisine and an out-of-this world spa experience. Definitely worthy of our gaggle of glamorous WAGs (whoever they may be by then, sorry Colleen and co).
The oil-and-gas-rich destination has a population of just 1.7 million and the capital city Doha is a multi-cultural hub housing workers from all over the world who have moved to the country to enjoy their tax-free income.
Sleek, futuristic skyscrapers line the roads from the airport, as do construction sites for what seems to be more impressive building work. Doha is moving fast and the architectural advances are clear to see.
We have a little bit of Doha style on the London skyline. The jaw-dropping new Shard building, which opened in time for the Olympics, is 95% owned by Qatar's sovereign wealth fund. Arriving at the sparkly new five-star Hilton Doha I headed for the sensory heaven that is the eforea: spa. Any jet lag I felt after the eight-hour flight was massaged, scrubbed and soothed away by the outstanding staff, who come from the spa's award-winning locations around the globe.
Created with a blend of Arabesque design details and a contemporary, light finish, the spa invites guests to "emerge brighter". I certainly felt pampered to the max. I'm a regular spa goer but I was gobsmacked by the luxury and attention to detail on offer. With five multi-purpose treatment rooms and one Thai massage and meditation room, every whim was catered for.
Beach There was even a couples' suite with a steam rasul providing a complete exfoliation experience.
In addition, the spa boasts an extensive thermal lounge that includes a traditional sauna, two aroma steam experiences, a hydro pool, ice chute and two experience showers with aroma and colour lighting. The thermal lounge also opens to the spa garden with an outside pool.
Even here my every whim was attended to, with chilled water, cold flannels and a spritz of cooling rose water regularly coming my way to make sure I didn't boil over in the 32-degree heat.
The hotel also has its own private beach for the A-list clientele to sunbathe on and take a dip in the warm waters of the Gulf. It felt like entering a bath rather than the sea and was the perfect place to laze away the day.
After one afternoon I felt refreshed and my skin glowed from every pore. That night I took my permagrin for a cocktail at the new Trader Vic's bar. Its opening set tongues wagging in the area and it has become the place to be seen for the many Brit expats.
The rum-cocktails, Cuban band and extensive menu provide a brilliant night out - plus there's a breathtaking view of sunset over the water on the Gulf.
But this was just the start of my Doha adventure.
I hadn't even left the hotel grounds.
The city holds much more to see and do.
The Villagio shopping centre is a one-stop destination for the world's best designer gear and even houses a Topshop for Brits looking for a piece of home. There's also an extensive food court, fun fair and cinema.
But walking here would be cheating.
Instead visitors sail through the centre on a gondola until they reach their fashion house of choice, naturally.
For some culture and those interested in the country's Islamic heritage there is much to see.
The striking Museum of Islamic Art stands like a beacon at the port. Its four floors house beautiful artefacts from each of the world's Muslim nations and is definitely worth a visit, especially as it is free.
The building is a sight to behold and its cafe has wonderful views of the harbour (as well as excellent cappuccinos).
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Desert Public transport is virtually non-existent here, but luckily the city's aqua-blue taxi cabs are easy to spot and affordable enough to get around in.
As the day got even hotter (temperatures can reach 47 degrees) I returned to the hotel in time for another dip in the pool.
But for those with more time on their hands there are day-trips into the desert, and treks. Or the Souq Wasif, a bustling market and tourist hub, is worth an afternoon out to pick up some bargains. If Dubai thinks it's the only jewel in the Arabian crown, it may have met its match.
GETTING there: Qatar Airways fly daily to Doha from London and Manchester.
For more information visit qatarairways.com or call 0871 909 0574.
Where to stay: Rooms at the Hilton Doha International start from £144 per night. Visit hilton.com/DohaActivities: For details on the eforea: spa network visit hilton.com/eforea.
For more information on Trader Vic's restaurant and bar visit tradervics.com. For more information on the Museum of Islamic Art visit mia.org.qa