Girl Travels World – Top Five Long Haul Destinations You Must Visit in 2018

If, like me, you like to pack for a month when you travel then THIS is for you my soul mates! Following on from Girl Travels World Top Five Places to Visit in 2018 where I rounded up must see short-haul destinations here is my long haul list to make your 2018 unforgettable. These treasured places made the cut because they offer travellers more than the average. A winning combination of freshness, culture and cuisine makes these places precious. There’s an elegance about them, which in my opinion, makes them worth packing your bags for.

Thank you all for joining my adventures in 2017. Here’s to happy long hauling in 2018!

1. QatarIMG_3793

Qatar started my love affair with the Middle East. It was the first place where I experienced a desert and the commanding beauty of the arid landscape captivated me. The Qatari desert boasts Khor al Adaid which is an inland sea in the desert. This rare natural wonder adds an undisputed uniqueness to desert travel.

An illustrious fine art scene in the capital Doha, multi cultural cuisine ranging from Qatar International Food Festival to Alan Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East (Idam) at Muesum of Islamic Art makes for a fascinating place.

When the evenings draw in take a trip down to the market Souq Waqif and cross Doha on a Dhow (a traditional sailing boat) as you admire the skyline from a fresh perspective. Qatar is a rare jewel waiting to be discovered in 2018.

2. Abu Dhabi

4. Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy Mohamed Somji
Source: Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre has arrived in Abu Dhabi! Could any travel news headline top this in 2017? I don’t think so. This year, approximately 300 artworks on long-term loans from 13 key French institutions will be displayed here as well as the museum’s permanent collection. In addition, Sheikh Zayed Mosque was voted second place in the Travellers’ Choice Awards (2016) only beaten to the top spot by 16th century Inca citadel Machu Picchu in Peru.

If that is not enough, Abu Dhabi is home to six oases which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites; Al Ain, Al Mutaredh, Al Muwaiji, Al Jimi, Al Qattara and Hilli. Al Ain is the city that they belong to and is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements in the world.

Such a gilded combination is difficult to beat and makes for the most enriching travel experience. Place Abu Dhabi on your 2018 bucket list ASAP!

3. Bahrain bh3

Yes, this is the third Middle Eastern destination on a list of five. For me, the region’s freshness is its allure and each country offers a vastly different experience.

Bahrain is a group of entrancing islands in the Arabian Gulf. The country’s unique relationship with the sea and its tradition of pearl diving and trading is celebrated at the Sea Festival at the end of October and it promises to be as informative as it is entertaining. The festival is aimed at preserving and honouring the crafts which are integral to Bahrain’s culture.

Furthermore, Sheikh Salman Bin Ahmed Al Fateh Fort is a cultural landmark which is important in Bahrain’s history. It chronicles the life and times of the country’s ruling family offering a fascinating insight for travellers and tourists.

One of the most popular places with tourists is Al Dar Islands which are a beach lover’s dream offering a secluded resort of diving, chalets, beach huts and entertainment. With such rich and varied experiences Bahrain caters to the most ardent travellers which is the reason it made it to my list.

4. Iran

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Source: Architectural Digest

Iran has been trending amongst bloggers for a couple of years and it is easy to see why. The country’s architecture in particular, has played a pivotal role in promoting it in the era of Instagram and social media.

Iranian architects began the trend of designing buildings that would be easily recognised by the global media and they succeeded. Leila Araghian’s Tabiat Pedestrian Bridge in Tehran (pictured) won the prestigious 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture award. Of course, the country has a lengthy history of fascinating architecture. An example is Arg-e Bam, a city in southern Iran which is home to the world’s largest brick structure and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Iran offers discerning travellers a fascinating journey to a world that has been cloaked in mystery for many years. During this time when Iran’s doors are open I for one cannot wait to walk through them in 2018.

5. Fort Worth, Texas

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Source: Fortworth.com

The curve ball on my list is Fort Worth, Texas. It came up on my radar after a meeting at The World Travel Market held in London. The culture of cowboys has fascinated me for many years but I’d never done anything about it. So 2018 will be my year to change that.

Fort Worth offers a range of experiences from fine dining to cowboy cuisine and rodeos. The Fort Worth Herd is a cowboy cattle drive through the historic Fort Worth Stockyards on E. Exchange Avenue. It can be viewed along the route in any restaurant with outdoor seating.

Near Southside is an area of historic architecture, restaurants, music venues and galleries. Self-proclaimed Restaurant Row on Magnolia Avenue offers farm-to-table cuisine, working breweries and speciality wine shops. With a chance to sample award-winning Texan barbecues, burgers, vegan food, craft ice cream and locally roasted coffee Fort Worth offers an all-encompassing travel experience.

To wind down those long days there is also Fort Worth’s local hero Leon Bridges who is said to frequent local haunts Lola’s Saloon, The Grotto, and Magnolia Motor Lounge. Now where do I sign up?!

 

Ladies’ Day – Qatar Goodwood Festival

It was a wonderful day of champagne and horse racing at Qatar Goodwood Festival on Thursday 3rd August this year. My fellow bloggers, journalists and I descended upon glorious Goodwood on Ladies’ Day at the kind invitation of Visit Qatar.

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Champagne and Racing

The hospitality was nothing short of what I’ve come to expect from Visit Qatar – WARM, GENEROUS AND SPECTACULAR. Perfectly colour matched lilies coordinated with the decor of the QREC box . Fresh flowers, a festive atmosphere and wonderful food flowed in abundance. Impeccable service was a joy. We enjoyed canapes, lunch and afternoon tea.

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Ladies’ Day

FullSizeRender 150Binny’s Kitchen and I were all smiles in the QREC Box

As it was Ladies’ Day I cannot ignore this great tradition which dates back to the 1800s. Racing has always been and will continue to be associated with the Royal family. As such, the Royal Procession sets the tone for the attire. Hats for men and women are a key element. It’s worth noting that Ladies’ Day dressing is not about falling victim to the latest trends. It is a racing tradition.

I stuck to classic vintage style. Most women also chose to do the same adding to the incredible spectacle of Ladies’ Day at Goodwood. My hat was by the wonderful British milliner Lady Sharma. I changed my outfit it at the last minute but thankfully it still came together and I felt relaxed and comfortable all through the day.

The Sport of Kings (and Queens)

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Goodwood has a history of horse racing which dates back over two centuries. The 3rd Duke of Richmond introduced horse racing to Goodwood in 1801. Other than during WWII, when racing was suspended, Goodwood’s popularity as a racing venue grew rapidly. Goodwood remains one of the most beautiful locations set against the backdrop of Sussex Downs. There still exists a vintage feel about the racecourse.

The Most Beautiful Racecourse in the World

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FullSizeRender 161It was wonderful to watch the fixtures at Goodwood. As each race unfolded the atmosphere became electric. Bets were won and lost in good cheer. The incredible view of the finish line from the box was just magnificent.

The whole day was fun, lively and energetic and it felt as though it ended too quickly. The drive through the beautiful countryside as we headed back to London was a perfect ending to a glorious day. I can hardly wait for next year.

 

 

A Culinary Journey Through Doha.

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Nothing evokes a memory like the taste of good food. The earliest food related memory I can think of is sitting beside my grandmother, while she gracefully moved around her kitchen, making traditional Sri Lankan string hoppers and coconut sambal for breakfast. At a guess I’d say I was around five years old. Preparing and steaming string hoppers was a time consuming business that required waking up before dawn while the rest of the household slept. Such was her devotion to feeding her family.

Now that I can no longer sit beside her, whenever I am around food I like to believe that she is beside me instead. So, it was wonderful to spend an entire week eating and drinking my way around Doha. The undeniable thing I learnt on this trip is that, as it was in my grandmother’s kitchen, traditional Qatari dishes of rice, fish and meat are always shared and you will be served more than you could ever eat. This is a perfect arrangement for me.

Gluttony and tradition aside, Doha itself is a cosmopolitan city with thousands of ex pats from across the globe calling it home. Their influence is everywhere from clothing to art but where it’s most evident is in the variety of food on offer. From Filipino tapa to Peruvian coffee – it’s all here. So it makes perfect sense that Doha would host an international food festival seven years in a row. It came as no surprise that over 20,000 people attended the festival this year. One of them happened to be me.

1. Qatar International Food Festival

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Set against the dramatic sky line and complete with giant watermelon Qatar International Food Festival took place from 29 March to 8 April on grounds of Sheraton Grand Doha. There were no less than 73 stalls ranging from food trolleys to food banks.

Street Food Anyone?

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I started Day One in the central zone because it drew me in with Italian pastries. There was also Turkish baklava, Indian street food and lo and behold – rocket lollies! Judging by the number of people holding them the most popular item appeared to be circle chips on a stick covered in ketchup – I guess you can’t keep a good thing down.

I was especially delighted to find a stall serving Faluda here. It’s a milkshake made of rose water, vanilla and tukmaria seeds served with cubed jelly bits and a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream (it’s all true, I promise) – a childhood favourite from Sri Lanka which, to date, can be bought in any street food shop with, Bombay or Sweet in its name.

Cooking Theatre

At the other end of the scale, there was a cooking theatre at QIFF with live demonstrations by big names such as Chef Marco Arlotti Teatro (Four Seasons, Doha), Chef Elias Gemayel (St. Regis Hotel, Doha) and Chef Erhan Ahacan (Marriott, Doha). The crowds FLOCKED to see the masters in action. For next year’s festival I highly recommend booking your seat early because it’s a free event and was immensely popular.

Hotel Park

The Hotel Park offered taster menus from luxury hotels. Four Seasons, W Hotel and Sheraton Grand took the opportunity to serve their five star dishes in bite size with prices to match. I thought it was a brilliant no frills way to get more people to taste your menu on the go.

The Evening

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All things considered, it was when the sun began to set that QIFF really came into itself. The after work crowd started to arrive in droves carrying mouthwatering picnics with them. The grass was covered in gingham blankets and there were children everywhere. Entertainers on stilts appeared handing out balloons and blowing giant bubbles. Play fountains and lights were turned on and the festival took on a carnival atmosphere. By the time I was ready to retire, around 9.30pm, QIFF was in full swing with no sign of anyone going home any time soon.

Food festivals in general are popular because they offer visitors a chance to experience food in a relaxed setting. QIFF is unique in that it brings together cultures and tastes but more importantly it brings PEOPLE together. They came from all walks of life with just one thing in common – the love of food.  As far as food festivals go, this one is not to be missed.

2. Dinner in the Sky

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The Experience

The second stop on my culinary journey was Dinner in the Sky. This is a 40 minute experience offered through QIFF and courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel. I and 21 other guests were strapped  to our seats using safety harnesses. Then guests and staff were all slowly raised 50 feet in the air as our three course meal was served.

For me at least, this was the best seat in the house. The panoramic view of Doha from this elevated position was unforgettable and the cool night air was a welcome relief from the heat. There was no dress code but everyone had dressed for dinner – formal dresses, crisp shirts and cleans shoes. There’s something to be said for dangling in the air dressed in evening attire. Dinner was served as soon as we began to lift off the ground. The table rotates as it lifts but does so gently that you can feel none of it. It’s surprisingly steady and eating at the same time was no challenge. I don’t suffer from vertigo nor have a fear of heights so I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. It was probably one of the most fun things I have done without risking my life.

The Food

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Four Seasons pulled out all the stops here, starting with a great lounge for pre-drinks on the ground. My smoked salmon tartar with dill cream starter was surreal. The grilled Angus beef tenderloin was served with baby vegetables and tyme jus – delicious! Desert was white chocolate passion fruit mousse with mango and raspberry coulis. I found the food as thrilling as the ride. A word of advice however – don’t drop your cutlery.

3. Idam 

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The final stop on my food journey was Idam. It’s Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East and is headed by Chef Damian Leroux. The Philip Stark designed interiors married French haute-cuisine and Arabic culture effortlessly. If great a view and food are your thing well, this is it. The Doha skyline flickered across the sea in the distance like a silent movie while we unfolded embroidered white linen across our laps ready for a sublime array of delights from the menu.

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The blue crab and mango salad starter followed by small spelt with asparagus was unforgettable. Mains of quick seared bonito fish, aubergines and cumin was a palatial dream. I savoured every bite and didn’t want it to end. Iranian pistachio souffle and pistachio ice cream followed. Every luxurious mouthful was akin to a breath of fresh air; light as a feather and divine on the tongue. If you are in Doha you must visit Idam. It is a triumph.

 

 

You can find more information on QIFF atQatar International Food Festival

Idam is located within the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. You can find more information here – www.alain-ducasse.com

 

 

Desert Safari – Qatar.

Desert Safari

As if everything in Qatar wasn’t already cool enough, it is also here that I discovered the incredible adventure that is the desert safari.

So, on a Sunday morning, I joined a group of my fellow bloggers and travel writers to wait eagerly for Falcon Tours to carry us to our next adventure. We headed south, out of Doha, in two 4×4 vehicles accompanied by experienced desert drivers. After a quick mandatory stop to deflate tyres, in preparation for the conditions, we drove out and entered the desert.

(www.falcontoursqatar.com)

Landscape

As the landscape began to change dramatically the scenery overwhelmed me. The dunes rose above our heads and stood majestically against the horizon. There was little else as far as the eye could see. The sand curved, dipped and rose without warning. At times, the drops were near vertical and our 4×4 slid downwards, almost sideways.

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Trying to capture everything around me.

In some places, salt had deposited over the surface and glistened a shiny white. Elsewhere, rain from previous days had nurtured plants which burst through the sand. Then we hit an unforgivingly rocky surface and the jeep jolted over each rock. When I climbed outside, the coolness of the sand under my feet seemed contradictory against the lack of humidity in the air. By this point, I had felt waves of different emotions and we had spent less than an hour in the desert!

Camels Everywhere!

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Camel love.
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Wild camels

If that wasn’t enough, we then drove around scouring the horizon for wild camels. It was wonderful to watch our experienced guide navigate this harsh landscape which had no roads, signs or landmarks. Eventually, we spotted wild camels in the distance grazing peacefully. We drove up so close that we could almost touch one. In Arabic culture camels symbolise patience, tolerance and endurance. When you see these creatures in the wild it’s easy to understand why.

Desert Plants

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Recent rain had changed the landscape. Plants such as these covered large areas with still more tender shoots peeking out of the sand.

The Inland Sea.

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The Qatari desert also boasts an inland sea. If the desert is Qatar’s heart beat then THIS surely must be the jewel in its crown. It’s a hauntingly beautiful yet little known natural wonder. The desert and dunes surround the sea where Qatar separates from Saudi Arabia. It’s a beach like no other that I have ever seen. It will require all your energy to get here but I promise it will be worth it.

Regency Sealine Camp

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Our final stop was the Regency Sealine camp. It’s a beautiful place to rest and relax – a metaphorical oasis in the desert with tented cabanas, a restaurant and great staff. The restaurant served a mouth watering buffet of grilled meats and kabsa accompanied by vegetables, breads and fresh salads with dips. Sweet deserts and fresh fruit followed with plenty of Qatari sweet coffee – qahwa helw. Everything was colourful and full of flavour. The service was impeccable.

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After lunch, I did little but relax and take in the spectacular views. Most of all, following the bumpy ride and the intense experience in the desert it felt good to slow the pace down. The beach here is private so it was possible to walk along it in peaceful serenity.

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So, if I must conclude, this safari went beyond expectations. An intense 4×4 adventure combined with a sighting of wild camels and a mesmerising inland sea are more than I could have hoped for in the space of 2 hours! Finally arriving at an oasis of luxury where I could shower, eat, change and stroll along a quiet white sandy beach for the rest of the afternoon was the icing on the cake. It felt like I had kept my cake and eaten it too and when you get here you will know exactly what I mean.

(www.regencysealinecamp.com)