Last month we gave you the low-down on what to see and do in Doha – the Qatari capital that is making claims to be the region’s next big travel hotshot. But there’s more to Qatar than its capital… Leave Doha for a day and get to grips with the former fishing town of Al Khor – only a short 45 minute drive away
We’re not going to mince words; Qatar’s main draws are most definitely in Doha. However, when you’ve exhausted the capital, there are a few places further afield that warrant a visit and Al Khor (Arabic for ‘stream of water’) is arguably the pick of the bunch. Once famous as a center for the pearling industry, life here moves at a more sedate pace than Doha making this former fishing town the perfect place for a pleasant week-end break.
What to see
Most visitors head straight to the harbor where you can see the distinctive silhouette of dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) bobbing up and down. For a different perspective of the Al Khor landscape, consider cruising the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf on board a show. Meanwhile, beach babes will relish Al Khor’s wonderfully unspoiled beach; here you can laze on sand whiter than a dentist’s chair while soaking up the rays of the Middle Eastern sun.
Of course, Al Khor isn’t solely about sun, sand, and sea – the sleepy village has a fascinating history and up until the mid-nineteenth century, pearl diving was the main source of income for the locals. The pearling journey (called Al ghawa al Kabir) typically took from three to four months, usually June-October of every year when the waters were warm, and whole communities came to the shore to see off their menfolk who were renowned for their courage and stamina. However, the discovery of oil in the 1930s altered the fate of Qatar with many pearl divers becoming employed in the burgeoning petroleum industry, which transformed the tiny Gulf state into one of the richest countries in the world. The decline of the pearl trade soon accelerated as Japanese businessmen began farming cultured pearls (created by placing a shell bead inside an oyster manually) and selling them at a small fraction of what a natural pearl cost. A visit to the Al Khor museum – housed in an old police station – will reward those looking to learn more about the history of Muscat’s relationship with the water. This miniature museum is also the place to view archaeological discoveries dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages as well as weaving, wood carving, and other traditional Qatari crafts, plus some gorgeous gypsum carvings. Once you’ve completed your cultural odyssey, nearby attractions include mangroves and pretty public gardens that are ideal for picnics in.
Yet ultimately while there are things to see and do in Al Khor, a trip to this town cannot be described as a ‘must do’. Make no mistake; there are definitely more compelling places to visit in the Middle East. Despite this, if it’s peace, seclusion and a change of scene that you’re seeking, then Al Khor scores.
Where to Eat:
At Ain Haikitan Restaurant diners can feast on familiar Arabic fare (think fattoush, mutabal and more), at Pizza Hut prices; don’t leave without trying the fantastic falafel sandwiches. Alternatively, make a beeline for Beitiut Pearl Restaurant. The food here, while perfectly adequate, is unlikely to win any awards but the arresting vistas of the coast make Beituit Pearl a great spot in which to sip sweet mint tea or to quench thirst with a refreshing fruit juice.
Where to stay:
Al Khor’s appeal as week-end getaway is bolstered by the sprawling Al Sultan Beach Resort (www.alsultanbeachresort.com). Perched picturesquely on the waterfront, the resort boasts vast bedrooms with arresting sea views and a smattering of superb restaurants. Leisure facilities include a temperature controlled outdoor swimming pool (rumored to be the largest in Qatar), high-end health club and top-notch tennis courts.
How to get there:
Al Khor is situated 40km north of Doha. Follow the Al Shamal (meaning ‘north’) road out of Doha city center all the way to Al Khor. The drive should take approximately 45 minutes.