100th Destination Launch
Written by Brian Johnston, Gail Simmons, Tara Stevens and Nick Walton
From Abu Dhabi to Aleppo
Qatar Airways celebrates the launch of its 100th destination
With the launch of Qatar Airways’ new route to Aleppo – its 100th destination – Oryx looks back at some milestones since the start of services in 1994, while celebrating some of the world’s mostvibrant, invigorating, and fascinating cities that are now important parts of the airline’s network.
1 - Abu Dhabi
Once the somewhat overlooked if wealthier cousin of neighbouring Dubai, Abu Dhabi is now stepping out in considerable style – and with impressive cultural confidence.
The capital of the UAE has long been considered the slower, more conservative counterpart to flamboyant Dubai, but ambitious tourism cultural projects are now transforming Abu Dhabi. Its US$27 billion Saadiyat Island project will soon see the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, both unique to the Middle East, as well as various other arts centres and museums. Meanwhile, plenty of cultural attractions can be enjoyed. The city’s lively Cultural Foundation supplies a whole range of classical music, ballet, theatre, dance, and world cinema that make it the best such venue in the Gulf. Abu Dhabi Heritage Village does a fine job of evoking old-style living, with recreations of souks and Bedouin camps, while craftspeople showcase glass-blowing, weaving, and brassware. More handicrafts are featured at the Women’s Handicraft Centre, including basket-weaving, textile-making, and the art of henna. And don’t miss the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the world’s third-largest mosque, a vision in marble and gold open even to non-Muslim visitors.
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Distance: 303 km
Flight Time: 55 minutes
Frequency: 42 flights a week (6 daily)
10 - Beirut
Beirut is a city pulsating with life, a party town par excellence, and back to being one of the liveliest cities on the Mediterranean. It’s also undoubtedly the nightlife capital of the Middle East, so head to happening Gemmayzeh and Achrafieh districts, where bright young things frequent the chic microbars, cosy pubs, and nightclubs where techno music pounds. The more laid back will find venues featuring live jazz, or simply traditional cafés where nargileh smoke drifts.
Distance: 1,818 km
Flight Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes
Frequency: 4 flights a day
20 - Bangkok
Bangkok is packed with palaces and temples, busy restaurants, and throbbing nightclubs, and you could spend quite some time enjoying traditional dances or Thai boxing competitions, strolling the busy streets of Chinatown, or wandering through dozens of museums. These days, the street vibe is increasingly sophisticated and the attitude forward looking: expect upmarket restaurants and interesting local designer clothes in chic boutiques and shopping malls. Indeed, Thais like to think of their capital as the Milan of Asia, a place for cool home-grown fashions such as can be found in the stores of young designers around Siam Centre. The winds of fashionable change have also blown through the dining scene in Bangkok, which now combines top-notch eating with equally memorable street food. Bangkok’s best hotels and restaurants also offer cookery lessons that make for a great alternative to sightseeing.
Distance: 5,268 km
Flight Time: 6 hours, 15 minutes
Frequency: 4 flights a day
30 - Peshawar
Peshawar is the quintessential frontier town, sitting at the foot of ancient trading routes across the Khyber Pass. Elegant merchants’ houses with ornate balconies remain from days gone by, as does a venerable caravanserai at Ghor Khatri. But nowhere can centuries of accumulated trading energy and entrepreneurial spirit be enjoyed better than in the old city’s labyrinthine bazaars, where Afghan merchants converse with Pakistani shopkeepers, and tribesmen from the Himalayas barter goods over tiny cups of tea. Browse the gold shops of the Jewellery Bazaar, the ornate carpets, electronics, and copperware of the Khyber Bazaar, and the warren of women’s shops in the Meena Bazaar – and prepare to bargain hard.
Distance: 2,162 km
Flight Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a week
40 - Hyderabad
Hyderabad has many an imposing relic of its impressive 400-year history, but more recently this booming city has become better known for its high-tech and bio-medical industries. Its successes have given it fine hotels, excellent restaurants, and a vibrant cultural scene to add to its historical credentials. It’s also a great place to shop, renowned in particular for its pearls and fine textiles. With an elegant combination of Hindu and Islamic traditional and contemporary savvy, Hyderabad is one of the finest of modern Indian cities.
Distance: 2,923 km
Flight Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes
50 - Singapore
Singapore once had a reputation for being boring, but this very contemporary city has recently found its groove – and wows locals and visitors alike.
Think Singapore is all about bland modernity? Obviously you’ve missed the many curiosities of this city: religious penitents skewering their tongues with metal rods, shops selling medicine out of snake skin, or street hawkers tossing chilli crab in flaming woks. This is a place of contradictions, getting quite a reputation for celebrity chefs and chic dining, yet still offering some of the best meals at a rickety plastic table in the street. After soaking up the glamorous malls of Orchard Road head to the shopping centres of Chinatown, full of canny local shoppers who expect the best prices, even at the expense of air-conditioning. While you’re there, soak up the modern flair of a much-transformed district. Young, entrepreneurial Singaporeans have moved into Chinatown, filling it with the trendy vibe of New Asia. Head away from the tourist streets and you’ll find suave cafés, publishing companies, and advertising agencies. Stop at the Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble to see performances that push the limits of expression in Singapore. As evening falls, it’s time to move on to Tanjong Pagar, where shophouses have been converted into pubs, karaoke lounges, and chic bars. Check out the drag queens in the nightclubs and the perfume-makers with their hookahs and agar wood imported from Burma: the best of old and new in one very satisfying city.
Distance: 6,196 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Frequency: 2 flights a day
60 - Osaka
Osaka dates back over a millennium and its castle is renowned; but, above all, a visit is a glimpse into an extraordinary urban future.
Japan’s third-largest city feels as though tomorrow has already arrived. Its throbbing, crowded streets are alive with high-tech gadgets, its buildings are a kaleidoscope of neon lights, and districts such as Dotonbori buzz with youthful energy. From architectural minimalism and subterranean clubs to next year’s worldwide fashions and gadgets, Osaka folk have a reputation for being progressive, savvy, and innovative. Check out the extraordinary teenage styles of America-mura and be amazed at the latest in video games, manga, and electronics in Den Den Town. The city’s colossal malls – one even has its own Ferris wheel – are another glimpse into trends that may – or may not – take on elsewhere. Then head down to the Osaka Bay waterfront, which boasts Universal Studios Japan, a very contemporary aquarium, and an ultra-modern and luxurious incarnation of the traditional Japanese bathhouse.
Distance: 8,046 km
Flight Time: 9 hours, 25 minutes
70 - Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, Qatar Airways’ 70th destination, is a metropolis that never sleeps and is one full of colour and a zest for life. A walking tour of the city’s downtown district is the best way to capture some of Saigon’s addictive character through its beautiful, and historic, buildings.
Take the roof garden of the Rex Hotel, for instance. Located in the heart of downtown Saigon, overlooking leafy Le Loi Boulevard and the city’s Opera House, this iconic hotel started life in 1912 as a French-owned garage and auto dealership. By the late 1950s it had tripled in size to its present six storeys, and became home to the US Information Services (USIS), as well as its fair share of generals, journalists, and spooks.
In fact, during the Vietnam War the CIA would give briefings – the famed Five O’Clock Follies – to the press corps on the hotel’s rooftop, where a garden bar filled with brightly coloured tables, cheap local beer, and singing, caged birds remain. Across the street, the Hotel Continental was famed as a home away from home for journalists and foreign correspondents. Its iconic streetside bar – a place to see and be seen – became known as the ‘Continental Shelf’. Despite its historic legacy and prominent roles in both the book and movie renditions of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, it is only now emerging after more than 30 years of being hidden away behind renovation signs and local government red tape.
Another iconic structure at the city’s heart is the Opera House, a stout reminder of the city’s French colonial period. Built in 1897 by French architect Ferret Eugene, the 800-seat theatre was formerly used by the lower house of the city legislator, but was beautifully restored in 1995 and remains one of the most photographed buildings in the city.
Nearby, the spires of Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica still reach for the heavens, even though they have a lot more competition from commercial towers than when they were first erected in 1880. Designer J. Bourad used a revised Roman style with distinctive Gothic elements, and with the basilica’s two bell towers reaching 58m into the air, it remains the largest cathedral in the country. Across the square, have a peek inside the city’s Central Post Office, another beautifully preserved colonial-era building, where journalists would yell their copy down phone lines and mail home film during the conflict. The post office also shares the church’s Gothic design roots, and was built by famed architect Gustave Eiffel.
Finally, visit the Reunification Palace for a step back in time. It was here that a North Vietnamese tank rammed its way through the gates, symbolically declaring an end to the Vietnam War; a similar tank, mocked up to resemble the original, remains as a monument to the battles which raged through the city. The palace, now one of the city’s many museums, is also a symbol of the decadence of the country’s former colonial powers. Covering 12 hectares, more than 800 guests could be accommodated, and it housed French governors and, later, puppet presidents.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Distance: 6,013 km
Flight Time: 9 hours 10 minutes
80 - Amritsar
India is a country not short of extraordinary destinations associated with its age-old philosophies and religions, but Amritsar is perhaps the jewel in the crown.
The spiritual capital of the Sikh religion for over 500 years, Amritsar is home to India’s most magnificent and uplifting temple. Shimmering in gold leaf, marble inlaid with semi-precious stones and copper roofing, the Golden Temple is a masterpiece of architecture and beauty, reflected in its surrounding pool, that some rank more impressive than the Taj Mahal. But this is also where worship takes a central place and an atmosphere of devotion is palpable, especially during the evocative night ceremony. Sikhs welcome visitors – their religion preaches the equality of all creeds – and explanations of the temple’s rituals and the Sikh religion will be offered by friendly turbaned locals, who may also invite you to the temple’s kitchens, which feed 35,000. So inclusive is this religion that the holy temple has even featured in many a Bollywood movie.
Distance: 2,385 km
Flight Time: 3 hours, 40 minutes
90 - Barcelona
The Catalan capital of Barcelona is Qatar AIRWAYS' 90th destination and the most cutting-edge city in Spain for resplendent architecture, dazzling food, and – most recently – its shops.
Start the day in the Barri Gòtic’s pretty Calle Petritxol, famed for its old-fashioned dairies. It’s the ultimate place to fuel up on custardy chocolate con churros (finger-shaped donuts dippedin thick hot chocolate) before exploring the rest of the city’s medieval heart where you’ll find treasures galore. L’Arca de l’Àvia (Banys Nous 20) is unrivalled for antique dresses and richly embroidered mantones (fringed silk shawls); Sombreria Obach (Call 2) stocks carefully constructed hats in every shape and style imaginable, while Caelum (Palla 8) is purveyor of sweet treats galore made by local monks and nuns.
Pick up one-off pieces by local designers in the trendy back streets of the Born. Beatriz Furest (Esparteria 1) is the queen of hand-made, butter-soft handbags and accessories such as passport holders and wallets. Como Agua de Mayo (Argenteria 43) may be small, but it is beautifully formed, offering everything from cutesy dresses and sophisticated workwear to glamorous evening gowns and an array of shoes to match. Custo’s (Plaça de les Olles 7) iconic, brightly coloured T-shirts are a must-have for slouching about in style back home. Break for a classic Catalan lunch of caldereta de bogavante (soupy rice with lobster) on the terrace at Casa Delfin (Passeig del Born 36).
Stroll along Calle Elisabets in the Raval, home to the city’s first Camper (Elisabets 11) store, for quirky shoes so comfortable you could sleep in them. Pop into Llibreria La Central del Raval (Elisabets 6) to browse coffee table tomes on Barcelona’s great creative minds such as Gaudì and Dali, or pick up specialist guides on local design and architecture, before venturing into Blow by Le Swing (Doctor Dou 11) to hunt out modernista accessories to go with your new designer togs. While in the area don’t miss the opportunity for a stroll through the Boqueria food market to eye up edible treats for taking home. Smoked pimentón (Spanish paprika) is a lightweight buy that oozes sunshine flavours when you get it back home.
Hit the Passeig de Gràcia for Spain’s finest designers. Here you’ll find Gonzalo Comella (number 6) for a wide range of the hottest national labels and sky-high stilettos, Loewe (number 35) for luxury luggage, and Vinçon (number 96) for highly covetable interiors items as well as the flagship stores of Spanish staples such as Zara, Mango, and Adolfo Domínguez for more casual day-to-day items brimming with Mediterranean flair. Take in a genuine modernista palace while shopping for art nouveau jewellery at Bagués (number 41). Round off your day with a reviving cup of tea at Patricia Urquiola’s dazzling Mimosa Terrace at the Mandarin Oriental (number 38–40).
Distance: 4,865 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 25 minutes
100 - Aleppo
For much of the past 800 years, anyone approaching Aleppo from afar will have seen the great Citadel rising high above the surrounding plain. Even now, though the city is ringed with the usual suburbs and high-rises, the looming presence of the Citadel still dominates the old town.
This fortified palace was built by Ayyubids and Mamluks between the 13th and 15th centuries, though the hill on which it stands has been inhabited for some three millennia. Legend has it that the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) stopped here to milk his cows, distributing the milk (halib) to Aleppo’s citizens – so giving the city its Arabic name: Haleb.In recent years the Citadel, which for decades was encircled by a busy ring road, has been given a facelift by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which has restored the moat, ramparts, and arched entry bridge, and replaced the ring road with a pedestrian-friendly boulevard lined with palm trees and pavement cafés. The Trust is also renovating residential areas of the historic city, a UNESCO World Heritage site with some 240 historical monuments. Many of the antique courtyard houses, with their distinctive overhanging wooden window boxes, are being transformed into boutique hotels and restaurants for Aleppo’s increasing number of visitors. One of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, Aleppo flourished as a waypoint on the Silk Road: that ancient trade route stretching between the vast deserts to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West. Arab, Circassian, Armenian, and Kurdish merchants all settled here, contributing to the ethnic mix that makes Aleppo one of the most vibrant and genial cities in the Middle East. And alongside the Citadel is the longest covered souq in the Middle East, a maze of teeming alleyways connecting medieval khans (inns), mosques, and hammams (baths). Unlike the famed bazaars of some of the region’s tourist hotspots, this is the authentic thing – Aleppo’s pulsating heart where you can still buy the bay leaf oil soap made here for at least a thousand years.
Just beyond the souq is the Great Mosque, like its Damascene counterpart, founded by the Umayyads in the 8th century on the site of a Byzantine church and an earlier Hellenistic temple. It was razed by marauding Mongols in the 13th century, the present building dating from the Mamluk period and containing the venerated shrine of Zachariah, father of John the Baptist.
But perhaps the most delightful relic of Aleppo’s long history is the Bimaristan Arghan, a medieval psychiatric hospital turned museum. Here you can learn about the enlightened treatment received by the hospital’s patients before they were rehabilitated into the outside world: testament to the early sophistication of this timeless city.
Distance: 1,835 km
Flight Time: 3 hours, 15 mins
Frequency: 4 flights a week - canceled