With last leaves on trees here falling and teaching us how to let go, it’s time to focus on new things or pick up old habits…shall we continue where we left off in the South African road trip blog posts?
Where the previous post left us in Plettenberg Bay it is time to move on. Next stop: Addo Elephant National Park. The first part of the drive leads us through Tsitsikamma NP. If we would have had more time, would surely have planned an extra night(s). It’s where ocean meets jungle, where wild meets wilder and leaves you speechless.
Time to leave Western Cape and Garden Route for now and enter Eastern Cape province. Our accommodation for the next two nights is Gerald’s Gift Guest House in Addo.
Another gem and highly recommendable and, bonus, within a short drive of the NP. But let’s leave that for tomorrow, first up a refreshing swim, garden stroll, lovely dinner, some mingling with the other guests, enjoy the sunset and a good night’s rest (after husband took care of the two giant spiders in the room)
Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa’s third largest reserve and malaria free, is of the ‘self-drive’ principle, though if you pay some extra you can opt for having a trained guide accompanying you in the car. You can try to spot the Big Five there, Big Seven if you include the Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark at the Indian Ocean coastal belt. Though, as the name suggests, the reserve is most known for the herds of elephants. When the Park started, in 1931, there were only 11 of them, now there are over 600 of these giants! Best place to spot? Near a waterhole, though you will bump into them all over the park.
To spot lions (and/or leopards) it’s best to go early morning or evening (and take a guide with you). Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any.
In total we spent over six hours in the park, just to point out that there’s lots to explore and observe! Stay safe at all time and follow the park’s well-indicated routes and guidelines. Keep distance unless of course some animals choose to observe YOU more closely. The park also offers some hiking trails and picnicking areas.
We had far encounters with elephants and some scary close ones too…
We saw an abundance of zebras showing all hair styles and can confirm they do justice to their name as we often had to stop the car (and enjoy the view) as they were blocking the road…
We saw warthogs and buffalos, wilde- and hartebeest, ostriches, all kinds of birds, and lots and lots of other wildlife.
The park consists out of five different biomes, different ecological areas (like for example fynbos, forest, karoo…) each defined by their typical plants and animals. So many biomes combined in one park is rather unique and offers you as a visitor a great diversity. And, of course, a chance to observe the largest land mammal on our planet in its natural habitat is a wonderful experience.
Join me next time, in the SA series, when we’ll continue our trip and head to Oudtshoorn.
(Note: this trip was made just before Covid-19 travel restrictions)
Let’s pick up where we left: leaving Tergniet and Mosselbaai the next destination on our South African Garden Route trip was hip and trendy Plettenberg Bay, or Plett (as said by those hip and trendy).
When doing a roadtrip though, the driving to your destination is half the fun. The road we took from Tergniet to Plett (N2) lead us via Herolds Bay to Wilderness and yes, the name says it all. When passing through, do not miss the ‘Map of Africa’ viewpoint and ‘Kaaimans River Railway Bridge’. The bridge crosses the mouth of the Kaaimans river and when it was built, in 1952, it was the very first curved bridge in SA. However, Kaaimans River is known for something truly unique: as the river winds and wends its way through this land, it makes the unmistakable outline of the African continent around the foot of the hill. You can only really appreciate this wonderful twist of nature when viewing bird’s eye perspective, so, when nearby, do not skip this lookout point. If you need a coffee stop head to ‘Green Shed Coffee Roastery’ for excellent coffees and lunch or brunch treats.
‘In the backwoods of nature’s soul, I left my wild true heart‘
Just down the road is a KWIKSPAR where you can stock up on beverages and snacks and they have a wonderful small breakfast corner with (according to hubby Bert) sublime Lavazza coffee.
Visiting this region, hiking the Robberg Peninsula (or part of it) is not to be missed. This nature reserve and marine protected area offers great ocean views and, in season, whale watching opportunities.
Always make new friends when travelling…
Plettenberg area has plenty of beaches and nature on offer, one of the main reasons why we, ourselves, preferred it to nearby Knysna, which is slightly more touristic; though I am aware that’s a very personal thing. Just combine the two to have best of both worlds! Both towns also have an abundance of shopping and restaurant facilities so either one of them is surely an excellent choice.
We spent most of our evenings with a cocktail in hand by the beach and if you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll fancy yourself on the ‘Baywatch’ set, with local coastal rescue team having practice.
We loved the beautifully located Bramon Wine Estate where we enjoyed a Valentine lunch with lovely accompanying wine. The estate overlooks the Tsitsikamma Mountains and you can even spot some elephants. The restaurant offers some fine (and vine, ’cause litterally in the vines) tapas-style dining and award winning wines. Their emphasis is on freshness and flavour and the location makes their story and picture complete. The Plettenberg wine route is definitely worth discovering! (and an alternative if you don’t have time to visit that other wine region Stellenbosch-Paarl-Franschhoek)
Now that we are talking food and drinks, as for restaurants, we can highly recommend ‘The Fat Fish’ with predominantly seafood based menu and ‘Barrington’s’. Barrington’s is home to the first Craft Brewery situated within Plettenberg Bay, as well as a magnificent kitchen garden, restaurant, bar and small hotel. And go to ‘Mobys’ to enjoy a relaxing lunch or dinner with ocean view.
In a shopping or souvenir hunting mood? Head to City’s downtown centre and Main Street, the Market Square Shopping centre or Old Nick Village for the more creative and eclectic shops. (And if that’s not enough you can always head to Knysna city centre and Thesen Island). If all that shopping makes you hungry or thirsty we can recommend ‘Café Pure’ in Plett Main St with its healthy breakfasts and lunches (We went twice, because there is just too much yummy food to order when only going once)
Time for some monkey business as we’re heading to local Monkeyland. It is the world’s first free-roaming multi-species primate sanctuary. Its overall mission is to educate and foster larger understanding of our primate (cheeky) cousins and the threats and challenges they’re facing.
At Monkeyland you can enjoy a guided tour of the hidden forest during a a monkey safari on foot which allows you to spot, photograph and/or observe the various species of primates that call the sanctuary their home, such as capuchin monkeys, ringtail and black-and-white ruffed lemurs, buff-cheeked gibbons, squirrel monkeys and black howler monkeys.
If you want some additional wildlife experience you can also combine this with neighbouring Birds of Eden sanctuary.
I believe it’s fair to say Plett has it all: beaches, forests, vineyards, plenty of recreational activities, shops, restaurants, etc…they all contribute to that ‘Plett Feeling’.
‘Die son trek water’
(the sun turning to water, meaning it’s getting late)
Did YOU get it? That Plett Feeling? Hope you’ll join me next time as our route continues to Addo Elephant Park.
With travel plans cancelled worldwide we turn to what’s right under our nose to re-discover what’s familiar, or at least thought was familiar…close to home destinations will be extremely hot (and probably our only option) this Summer. Come (re)join me on the short visit to Kortrijk we made last year.
Are you living outside Belgium? Then Bruges is probably the first city that comes to mind when thinking of Belgian West Flanders province, right? May this post give you some inspiration on other interesting places in Flanders to discover once we all get the ‘travel go ahead’ again.
Kortrijk (Courtrai) is West Flanders’ second largest city, after Bruges, and just like its big brother knew great wealth in the Middle Ages. The eye-catching Broeltorens are reminders of the medieval defensive structure and offer great photo opportunities.
A river runs through it, being the ‘Leie’. Over the past years it was widened and straightened in order to make it more navigable for larger ships. This gave the city a major facelift as the wider river also came with new bridges, lower banks, walkpaths and park areas and even a little beach in Summer months.
Below the area around city college with the College footbridge and K-tower housing complex.
Kortrijk inspires and innovates, and rightfully earned the title of ‘Unesco Creative City’ (design). Art centre Buda offers a platform for a varity of artists and designers and just walking through city streets already gives a hint of the city’s contemporary character.
I personally liked the quotes and graphic designs in city centre part of the playful ‘here to there’ art installation. And I know spitting is a big NO these days, but hey, don’t we all hope for the best?!
Summer usually brings a lovely terrace just next to ‘Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk’…
…where churches bring us to the peaceful Unesco-heritage beguinage site which dates back to the 13th century. Restoring the housing facilities and renovation of the site as a whole started in 1984 and will be completed by 2021.
So next time West Flanders is on your radar, do take time to visit Kortrijk. If you’re looking for a place to stay, can recommend B&B OYO, just outside city centre, but still in walking distance, and near train station. Of course, Belgium would not be Belgium: lots of restaurants and bars, just ask and your hosts will guide you to the best places in town!
The drive from CPT is around 400 km and many interesting stops are possible along the route. We took a coffee and sweets break (Trends Cafe) in charming Riversdal and had a late lunch in Mosselbaai at trendy Blue Shed Coffee Roastery…
Lovely seaside and beach walks were in very short distance and together with a glass of local wine and some snacks on our outside porch thé perfect way to end first day of our stay here.
Day two and time for some action and see some wildlife.
Reason for choosing Tergniet was actually its proximity to Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. Alternatively you can also opt for a luxurious stay inside the reserve and enjoy its spa facilities, but Tergniet was only a 20’ drive and for us a more budget-friendly option. (Though must say pricing seemed reasonably fair compared to other game reserves)
The 4500 hectare reserve is home to four of the big five (no leopards) and offers a wide range of activities, also for day visitors like us. We opted for a 3 hour guided game drive, where guide Silas safely drove us around and gave lots of intel on the local wildlife.
Sadly no lions showed up that day, but we saw plenty of zebras, giraffes, elephants, springbok (one of SA’s national symbols), the rare black impala etc…… ( there are about 26 different species to spot and over 200 resident bird species).
Had booked a picnic after the drive, which was served on the border of the inner lake, with comfy seating and great views the perfect spot to relax and kill the appetite.
Sleeping outside the domain has its advantages, like in daytime safari-feel, night-time ocean-feel…best of both worlds!
Time to continue this roadtrip! Next stop on our Garden Route discovery will be Plettenberg Bay. So keep an eye out for the next posts! See you then, and in the meantime: stay home, stay safe and above all, stay dreaming!
(Note: we made this trip early Febr, when world was not yet in this tight paralyzing grip of scary Corona, stay safe everyone!)
Cape Town touchdown…what better way to start our South African adventure than eploring the Mother City! Welkom in Suid-Afrika!
We landed in Cape Town around noon and after installing ourselves in our comfy Airbnb some leg-stretching to ease the back and muscle pain after the long flight was more than welcome! We spent our first day on African soil strolling CPT’s streets with impressive Table Mountain as perfect backdrop.
Table mountain is a flat-topped mountain overlooking Cape Town and is a huge tourist attraction. The highest point is 1,086 meters (3,563 ft) above sea level. It is often covered in cloud which is know as the ‘Table cloth’. By the way, it only looks flat from one side, the overlying mountains to the south west are known as the Twelve Apostles…
Another day, other scenery. On our second day we took a sightseeing bus tour…The red tourist busses, hated by some, loved by others, though a relatively cheap way, at least in SA, to cover more ground. The red city line brought us, among other stops, to Castle of Good Hope, Table Mountain and Camps Bay.
…and we used the blue Peninsula line to get to Kirstenbosch Gardens where we spent almost whole afternoon.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is acclaimed as one of the great botanical gardens of the world. Showcasing Cape flora in all its beauty and the garden’s jaw-dropping setting, against the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, make this a must see.
You can do the lovely tree canopee walk, several theme gardens, like the fragrance or medicinal garden and multiple walks to choose from, even a braille walk.
For us Kirstenbosch definitely was one of the highlights during Cape Town visit and only a short bus or Uber ride from city centre.
Day three started slowly as that night I had a major back pain attack and needed upto noon to recuperate. As it was Saturday that day we decided to take an Uber to lively Woodstock area and market. Setting for this was The Old Biscuit Mill, and old red-brick factory that was transformed in 2005 into trendy co-work spaces, workshop venue and designer stores. Add the daily artisan and fashion stalls and every Saturday a neighbourhoods market and you’ve got a hip and trendy hub for fashion/designer/foodie lovers.
‘One of the very best things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating‘
Foodies without a doubt will enjoy what Cape Town has to offer on culinary and gastronomic level. Favorite breakfast spot was Origin Coffee Roasters at the Waterkant, just a short walk from our Airbnb and most of our evenings were spent at the vibrant V&A Waterfront, it’s see and be seen there with lots of restaurants and bars, live performances, start of boat excursions, local artisan stalls at the Watershed, etc. We had some lovely dinners at Si Cantina Sociale, Ginja and Sevruga.
Day four and already our last day in Capetown and time to test-drive our rental car before the real roadtrip began! We drove upto Kalk Bay for breakfast and some shopping. Salt and also Lekker are great spots for a coffee and or light snack.
then onwards to Boulders Beach and spot the local penguin colony.
Did you know when African penguins are on land, their black and white ‘tuxedo’coat may seem a cool fashion statement, but that it also serves a practical camouflage use when in water? Known as “countershading” the black coat on the penguin’s back hides the penguin from predators swimming above them, while the white belly ensures that predators swimming below the penguin have a difficult time noticing its prey when they look up.
About 2100 penguins call Boulders Beach home, but make no mistake, they are still an endangered species. Do not disturb them to get close and rather observe from a little distance.
…Further south to Cape of Good Hope. We did a lovely hike there with jaw-dropping views.
Beware of the baboons! Bought something to drink and snack and before I could put it in backpack one of the cheeky bastards ran off with my pack of chips. They would make master pickpockets, fast as hell!
Moenie bobbejane voer nie!
Would have liked to spend some more time there but a challenging drive back to city awaited with famous Chapman’s Peak Drive. (Chappies for the locals and among one of world’s best coastal drives)
The road winds through steep coastal cliffside linking Cape Peninsula with Cape Town city. Breathtaking views guaranteed! When driving, eyes on the road though, there are plenty of viewpoints along the drive where you can stop and admire the view.
Sun was already starting to set when we drove back, truly magical.
Another last night and lovely dinner at the Waterfront and then onwards to more adventures. Next stop: Mossel Bay with first safaritrip, but that’s for the next post!
Want to know our itinerary and where we stayed? You can read all about that here
We just returned from our South African roadtrip and already a lot of you, through my IG acount or personally, asked me about the places we stayed at.
So before starting sharing some of our favourite photos and stories a quick overview of the route we followed and places we stayed at.
First things first, I was lucky to win 2 return tickets to South Africa through an IG-challenge I entered last year. (Contest #beinsouthafrica @meetsouthafrica @divimovenl that was only open to Belgian residents). South Africa had always been on our bucket list, more later than soon; winning the tickets was of course like a gift from heaven and no excuse anymore to postpone our plans.
With only limited travel days this year, we had to choose our route wisely. Based upon the shortlist of things we absolutely wanted to do and see, I planned out a route and started my search on Airbnb and Booking.com for suitable accomodation for the two of us.
Route: Cape Town 4n / Tergniet 2n / Plettenberg Bay 3n / Addo 2n / Oudtshoorn 2n / Franschoek 2n / return to Cape Town International
Accomodations: of the six places we stayed at, five were found through Airbnb, and one through Booking.com. All gems in their own unique way, we fellt at home in each and every one of them and were always warmly welcomed.
1/ Airbnb Trendy Loft Apartment Cape Town, De Waterkant, contact Luigi
Perfect location, view on Table Mountain, spacious, lovely trendy interior, shower and separate bath. All that CPT has to offer on foot or short Uber-ride distance.
2/ Airbnb C-the-C, Tergniet, contact Diana
We chose this apartment on ground level of private home (though completely separated and with private entrace) for its proximity to Botlierskop Private Game reserve and the ocean. The owners have a lovely eye for detail and decoration and the outdoor terrace just invites you out to hear the waves crashing, enjoying the last sunrays of the day while sipping from a lovely local wine. Beach and ocean for a romantic sunset stroll easily reachable by foot (or car) Perfect address to exhale!
3/ Airbnb Park House Forest Suite, Plett Bay, contact Paul
What a true find this one was! Doesn’t get much more perfect than this: in both private and shared spaces (kitchen, swimming pool, lounges) you could feel and see the owner’s (who live next door) passion for interior design. the house could easily feature in a magazine and yet, still felt very cosy. oh, and our room even came with a private outdoor shower! Plett offers an excellent starting point to explore all the lovely nature reserves in the neighbourhood and some excellent restaurants too. We, personnaly preferred it to busier Knysna.
4/ Gerald’s Gift Guest House, Addo, Booking.com
Offers multiple rooms, included breakfast and even on site dining, so if you want to just put feet up after exploring Addo Elephant Park the whole day, and mingle wth the other guests, search no more! Lovely garden to stroll in and of course also a swimming pool.
5/ Airbnb Karoo Country Style Guest Suite, Oudtshoorn, contact Sharon
Another gem if you are looking for an apartement with homely feel. Very spacious, again spotlessly clean, lovely outdoor seating porch and terrace and large pool and comfy chairs. If you love reading, you’ll appreciate all the lovely books on various topics in the hallway. Kitchen has everything you need to prepare a quick meal, though plenty of great restaurants, ask Sharon and she will help you make a choice and/or booking.
The estate comes with million dollar views. As for accomodation, again very spacious, clean kitchen with filled fridge to provide for breakfast, etc…and lovely outdoor seating areas to enjoy that view. Indoors some tiny points of attention could easily lift this to the same level as the view. ( Was not a fan of rather old-fashioned and noisy airco and living area has floor mats with curled up ends, which for someone like me who has to take care not to trip are not that great, but am sure if we would have asked housekeeper she would have rolled and stored them)
Last but not least some facts and numbers:
We flew Lufthansa. The 11and a half hour flight out of Germany was, no sugarcoating it, true hell for me as major back pain sufferer, even with the pain medication and muscle tranquilizers and downloaded Netflix to distract.
We hired a rental car through Sunny Their service in general never disappoints.
We spent 15 nights at an average of EUR 78/night and drove aprox. 1600 km, that is solely the above tour, without excursions, I guess grand total it was almost 3000km. All accomodations had secured, on site parking facilities.
In retrospective, would I change something? To the accomodations? No. Would however, if we had had more time, spent an additional third night at the last two stops. In overall this tour gave us what we expected and for us, as first time Africa travellers, a taste to verify if, like the cliché says, Africa gets under your skin…and yep, it did, does, 100% affirmative, so hope in my lifetime to discover some more of what this continent has to offer!
Join me next time when we start off our trip in vibrant Cape Town
Third and final part of our Puglia-trip brings us back where we started: to Bari, but not before exploring the region south of it, which is dotted with picturesque towns, inland or seaside, and the oh so typical trulli houses…avanti!
Our first stop after leaving Salento region is Ostuni, nicknamed the white city, wonderful town with lots of dining and strolling options. La città bianca shines in the sun, though that requires its effort: inhabitants are obliged to maintain and re-white yearly…
On route to our lodging for the next two days we passed Monopoli, another stop obligatorio! And as we already discovered earlier on this trip, another town with Greek roots. ‘Monos polis’ means unique and singular and even many centuries later the city still proudly wears this name. Lively atmosphere near seaside and colourful shopping streets, though time pauses and all sounds ebb away when further exploring the tiny city streets…
Time to check out our b&b! Home for these two remaining nights of the trip was the lovely Dei Balzi-Dimore de charme in medieval-vibe town of Conversano… what.a.gem! Both city as the lodging! We had the very spacious suite Lavanda on top floor which comes with room-wide terrace and city views. Yummy breakfast and warm welcome included, what more do you want?
Conversano is about a 15 to 20 minute drive from both Monopoli and Polignano a Mare and an excellent choice if you need a central location to visit the area. On top of that the city on itself with medieval trapezium-shape castle and lovely squares and alleys is worth a visit.
Another highlight, Polignano a Mare, birthplace of the father of Italian singers, Roberto Modugno, and his epic classic ‘Volare’. Dramatic and breathtaking views with the city centre perched on rocky headland overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Lots of viewpoint terraces to admire the caves and creeks carved out into the limestone. Might become bit crowded in tourist season but nevertheless a must ‘sea’ 😉
Last stop of this trip…charming Alberobello: trulli wonderland and inevitably attracting many tourists. Trulli are limestone dry wall and conical-roof houses. The roof is often decorated with, mostly, Christian symbols and sometimes topped with a pinaccolo. The ancient dry stone building technique is characteristic for the Itria Valley region with a very high concentration (around 1500 trulli) here in Alberobello which is listed Unesco World Heritage since 1996. The town is built on two hills and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. Tourist shops, trendy bars, etc…can be found in Rione Monti district, however, head to Rione Aia Piccola district if you want to escape the crowds.
Ready for second part of our recent Puglia discoveries? Andiamo!
That means leaving beautiful Bari and Matera and heading towards region around baroque town Lecce.
We stopped around noon in Taranto: industry and port acitivities rule in this city that once was found as a Greek colony and now, at first sight, seems ruled by shipyards and factories…At first sight that is, because when you head for city centre, you’ll get a glimpse of a vibrant city trying to find a balance between its economical character and cultural past.
Highlight definitely is the Aragonese castle: it is located at the turning bridge where old town meets new and where Mare Grande meets Mare Piccolo. Btw, don’t let the industrial aspect fool you, dolphins made the water and islands in the Ionian see facing the city their home and town delicacy are locally-grown mussels.
Time to drive towards Lecce and check in at the Agriturismo we booked ahead and which is located just outside Lecce, in quiet Novoli countryside. We enjoyed three nights at Li Calizzi amidst fruit and olive trees and fully enjoyed the warm welcome and peaceful location. Thumbs up for the lounge and pool area, yummy al fresco dinners and host Ravi!
Time to set our teeth in exploring the region: Lecce lies in Salento, the southern tip of Puglia and just breathes culture. Famous for its ‘Pietra Leccese’, a soft limestone that has a very unique way of reflecting light and gives the local monuments a natural warm glow. Besides the history lots of shops and restaurants and bars.
Another town within easy reach of our accomodation was Brindisi, which can also serve as airport destination when visiting this part of Italy. Again lots of shops and a ‘stroll, explore and enjoy’ destination. Pier side offers multiple fine dining and passeggiata options while admiring the passing yachts, in all sizes!
Highlight, for us, in Salento was trip to nearby Gallipoli, again an acient Greek settlement. Lots of shops and dining facilities and alleys to get lost in, though turquoise water of Ionian Sea is never far off, so perfect town to explore on foot…
…and/or just sit and relax …
You can choose to explore the small alleys of centro storico or do the Riviera walk all way round with picturesque sea views guaranteed. You can gaze at the cathedral or hit the shops and definitely don’t miss Blanc, truly thé most wonderful café & living store and for a wonderful lunch with amazing view head to Il Bastione.
Gallipoli definitely has it all, don’t miss out on this gem!
Join me next time for the final part of our trip where we stayed in Conversano and explored both seaside and Trulli-countryside.
If you have a bit of interest for arts or some creativity running through your veins this is the place to be: a succesful marriage of heritage and contemporary arts in a breathtaking setting. Art galleries, festivals, shops, musea, amphitheatre, golden masjid, restaurants, planetarium, too much to mention. Do check out their website for upcoming events if you are planning a visit and would definitely advise to spend at least half a day (if not a whole day) there.
In the Centre of Katara you can find Gandhi’s Three Monkeys by Subodh Gupta, a series of three sculptures with military headgear. Each piece is made of cooking instruments, used pails, traditional Indian lunch boxes and glass bowls. Together, they recall Gandhi’s famous visual metaphor-the three wise monkeys-representing the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ proverb…
Don’t miss the pigeon towers…Poop collection: smelly(probably) but in this case very attractive(definitely) business and another win(g)k to the region’s cultural history. Like in most Middle-Eastern countries, in the past, pigeon’s poop was considered liquid gold as its composition made it an excellent fertilizer.
scyscrapers: tall, taller, tallest
You can find the tallest building in Doha in the Aspire Zone. 300m high this one offers 360-degree panoramic views and a cantilevered pool on the 19th floor in case you want to find out what it feels like to float 80m above ground.
‘Sometimes you gotta zig when eyeryone else is zagging…’
…One (there are two of them) of the ‘Zigzag towers’, or dancing towers. Close to our hotel and Lagoona mall.
Highest and most colourful towers can be found in West Bay area and can best be observed from the water, during a typical dhow boat cruise.
‘all that glitters is not gold…’
Without any doubt jaw-dropping infrastructures, the more reason the extremely dangerous conditions the builders work in and their ridiculously low pay should continue to be brought under attention.
show me your green (and blue) zones
Did you think Doha was only sand? Well Qatar definitely is but its capital tries very hard not to be. The city focusses on implementing green zones with a versatile function: playgrounds for children, picnic areas, green hills, tracks for joggers or cyclists, etc…
Where Aspire Park is Doha’s biggest park (and next to Aspire Zone’s Stadium and Villaggio Mall shopping complex) and has plenty of green zones and even an artificial lake, it is its vastness that may effect the ‘cosy-factor’. All depends on your personal interests. We were rather fond of the Al Bidda Park and walkway. After our visit of MIA (see part 1) we walked part of the Corniche and Corniche Park (7 km waterfront promenade and green zone offering Doha Bay vues) upto Firestation, a creative hub and great place to have lunch. They offer residency projects for upcoming artists. From there we did the walk back to old city centre through Al-Bidda park which runs pretty much parallel with the Corniche.
The Pearl monument and fountain can be found on the Corniche at the entrance of the dhow harbour. Where Qatar nowadays gets its wealth from oil and gas, it used to be from pearl diving and fishing industry.
More green? MIA Park, Dahl Al Hammam Park, Oxygen Park, hotel parks and many more…
and yes, if you insist, some sand too…
From Doha a short drive to Al Wakrah and then further inland plenty of sand dunes await. We drove in the dunes behind Sealine Beach. If you want to go dune bashing yourself and you are not familiar hire an experienced driver (safety first, always) and avoid weekends. Fun road side distraction: camel rides, falcon tête-à-tête and photo opportunities.
Both Sealine Resort and Al Wakrah souq definitely worth a stop, only make sure your visit does not overlap the souq shops’ closing time early afternoon as we found place rather desolated then.
Since early May 2019 Al Wakrah and Doha city centre are connected through red metro line which will make travel between them a lot easier. This is the first line implemented, three more planned to become operational.
Skipped due to lack of time but still on our to do list for when second time around:
visit State Grand Mosque
visit the planetarium at Katara
inland sea Khor Al Adaid
National Museum (that officially opened just after we left)
Banana Island Resort
Al Shaqab tour – breeding and training centre Arabian horses
Like I said in the intro of my first post, Doha, and Qatar in general, has probably not highlighted (yet) on your travel radar and yet it should…though you will find numerous articles telling you there is not that much to see or do, I strongly disagree and hope both my posts helped showing that.
Some practical info:
Doha is the capital of Qatar, located on the Arabian Peninsula. It shares borders with only one country, Saudi Arabia.
Time to go: November upto March (too hot and too humid outside this period)
Currency: Qatari Riyal
Language: Arabic is official language but most people speak English.
We flew Qatar Airways and thumbs up on all levels. Taxi is fastest way to reach city centre. We always used Karwa Taxi and found them reliable and cheap.
Doha is not exactly pedestrian-friendly, so be careful when crossing the street.
The implementation of the state of the art metro system will be a huge jump forward when it comes to connectivity. And of course looking towards FIFA World Cup 2022 all stadiums will be linked.
We stayed at Grand Hyatt Doha, close to Katara and The Pearl. Luxurious rooms with large balcony and a great pool area. One of the capital’s top Thai restaurants, Isaan, is located in the hotel. You can opt for breakfast in the hotel or go to opposite Lagoona Shopping Mall for a quick snack or to get your daily supply on fresh fruits or snacks.
As for food and drinks, know that the only place you can drink or buy alcohol in public is in five star hotels (except Ramadan) and it is very expensive. Opt for one of the tasty mocktails, you won’t regret it. Foodwise, the world will come to your plate, no worries. The choice in restaurants and world cuisine is endless: Armenian, Lebanese, Thai, Italian, Turkish, Persian,…
When I told people a few months ago we were going to Doha, some eyebrows were raised and deep think wrinkles appeared…eeeuuuhm, yes, Doha…and where’s that exactly??? Indeed Doha is not on the average tourist’s travel radar…local tourist board and Qatar Airways have been investing heavily past years as passengers in transit with more than five hours to spend are offered a city tour. However Doha, capital of the richest country in the world, is well worth a full trip on its own with lots of cultural highlights and must sees.
In case you are wondering how Doha lighted up on our travel radar, well I’m lucky to have family living and working all over the world and one of them happens to be a pilot for Qatar Airways. This was a family reunion visit and a heart-warming and very much enjoyable escape to the sun, in what was at that time full Winter season in Belgium (we went early February). The warm embrace of family and an inspiring culture…thé best combination!
Need inspiration yourself or an excuse to plan a trip to the Middle East? Do foreign cultures trigger your enthusiasm to explore? Continue reading to find some top excuses for a trip to Doha!
Excellent as early Spring or Fall break and sun guaranteed!
With temperatures around 25 degrees Celcius, Doha is a great travel destination to plan somewhere between November and end of March. ( too hot and too humid outside this period) Don’t forget to bring a sweater as temperature drops quickly when sun sets and especially near the coastline where there’s always some wind it can become rather chilly.
Ok, enough talking, who wants to see some photos?
Join me in some of what we considered some of the highlights of our trip:
No better place to mingle with the locals and absorb the endless array of flavours and colours! Perfect for souvenir hunting (don’t forget to bargain!) or sit with a cup of coffee or mocktail of your choice and watch the world go by. Plenty of restaurants for lunch or dinner. (as for the mocktails a whole new world opened up: the choice and the powerful flavours make you forget about the no-alcohol rules, I swear) If you are the ‘shop-stroll-sit-absorb-eat-relax-taking your time type’ expect to spend a full day here or like we did a half one and returned for another half. The outdoor part still gives you a sense of direction where the indoor part leads you into a labyrinth where you’ll find everyhing from textile to food, decoration, animals, etc…
Explore The Pearl (incl Porto Arabia and Venice-like Qanat Quartier)
Big, bigger, high, higher, shiny, more shiny, luxurious and then think over-the-top…the world is not enough when it comes to the Pearl. Does it feel artificial? Yes well, let’s not forget it is indeed an actual man-made island!
Explore QQ (Quartier Qanat) on foot or by boat. Try to avoid Fridays and Saturdays, these are the weekend days in Doha and found the Quarter just a bit too desolated then.
And don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the beautiful bronze horse sculpture at the Kempinski hotel. It is designed by a Doha-based Iraqi artist to honour the tradition and cultural importance of the Arabian horses. Not hard to believe it took more than four weeks to install because it weighs over 45t and is almost 60ft tall! If you have the time and/or money to step inside (the hotel, I mean, not the horse) an additional world of heritage and Arabian culture will open up as the interior is said to be absolutely stunning!
MIA, Museum of Islamic Art
As a museum it represents Islamic art from three continents and this over a time period of 1400 years. Admission is free (!) and must say as a non-museum person it is worth the visit, if not for the collections ( beautiful ceramics, sculptures,etc…), then go for the unique architecture and location of the museum itself! Or just relax and have a drink by the stunning ceiling-high window and admire the view on the Gulf and West Bay area. The oculus all the way in the top catches the light which is then diffused by the perforated chandeliers. Unfortunately I am not such a gifted photographer that I can register with my camera the magic and beauty that unfolds before my eyes, though do hope the below shots give a hint….You can find MIA at the end/Beginning of so-called Corniche (Waterfront) and near Souq Waqif so you can easily combine these.
Catch your breath and have it taken away at the same time…
(one of the slogans strolling through the Qatar Airways on-flight tourism commercials. At our outbound flight I was sceptic, later I knew better…)
Join me next time when I tell you more about the Corniche stroll (that is the waterfront walkpath), Katara Cultural village, and some more fun involving sand and a camel. Did I mention we were only 6 days in Doha? Ha, bet you didn’t think there was that much to see and do, right?!
We stayed at Grand Hyatt Doha which I can highly recommend, it is close to The Pearl and Katara Cultural Village. More on the practical stuff to follow with second post.