Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel, Doha: Like a scene out of the Arabian Nights

If, like me, you arrived at Souq Waqif jet-lagged and exhausted, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a scene out of the Arabian Nights.

Where's Aladdin when you need him? Or his gentile genie when you're wheeling your modern suitcase over ancient cobble stones?

Give me a break. I've only been here for seven hours and I've already taken the airport excursion into the desert, ridden a camel and witnessed crazy dudes whizzing those Mad Max-like vehicles across the sand dunes.

It's now midday, and the temperature is way into the 40s. I need to sleep for a couple of hours.

But my taxi driver has dropped me at the wrong Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel (there are nine of them in the souq, each lovingly converted from an existing building, and all run by the Avanti hotel chain).

So an extremely helpful doorman escorts me to the correct one, Al Najada, converted from three 1930s Qatari homes to form an atmospheric Arabian hotel with 21 rooms and one designer suite.

The check-in is one of the best I've ever encountered. While they prepare my room (I'm two hours early) I'm offered a soothing face towel, a couple of glasses of aromatic tea, a few dates and some olives. Fifteen minutes later, I have just enough concentration left to favourably glance over my spacious and elegantly furnished first floor room before I crash fully clothed onto the kingsize bed fall instantly into a two-hour slumber.

At 2pm it's even hotter than it was at midday. In the ten minutes it takes me to walk along the Corniche and arrive at Doha's excellent (and airconditioned!) Museum of Islamic Art, my shirt is wet with perspiration. I give up my original plan of walking to Doha's massive shopping mall (the largest in the Middle East) and head back to the comfort of my room.

By the time I rewake, I've missed the sunset. This time when I leave Al Najada, I'm instantly captivated. This is Arabia as it should be seen. Vibrant, colourful, exotic, inclusive.

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The streets of the souq – which had seemed so lifeless from noon to 4pm, with most stalls shut and many stall owners crashed out on their barrows – are now electric with excitement.

In these early evening hours it's obvious why Souq Waqif has become – along with the desert – Doha's greatest tourist attraction. And the beauty of staying at one of the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels is that it all on your doorstep.

Souq Waqif means "standing market", and refers to the nomadic Bedouin traders who stood on this site for centuries selling animals, birds, carpets, clothes and handicrafts – all spread out at their feet as the themselves stood for hours hawking their wares.

Until 80 years ago, much of the souq would be under water at high tide. Today the main thoroughfare of the souq – bordered on each side by bustling cafes, restaurants, ice-cream parlours and hookah pipe outlets – used to the riverbed which once divided the then tiny village of Doha in two.

The rabbit warren of buildings began to look very rundown in the 1990s, but in 2004 the Qatari government took the decision to clear away the worst of the sheds and stalls. The area was recast with buildings containing all the modern amenities but looking as if it hadn't changed in centuries.

What makes it authentic is that it genuinely is a market for locals as well as tourists. You only need to visit the part of it devoted to song birds, rabbits and other pets, or the Falcon Souq, or the stalls selling every type of spice to appreciate that.

The nine Avanti hotels – Arumaila, Al Jasra, Musheireb, Najd, Al Mirqab, Al Bidda, Bismillah and Al Jomrok as well as Al Najada – are an essential part of the souq's charms. If you stay at one, you are able to use the facilities at the others (all within a five-minute walk of each other).

One (Al Mirqab) has a gym and an outdoor swimming pool. Al Jasra has a spa. Al Bidda has a games room. Arumaila has a very popular rooftop grill, while Al Jomrok has an Arabic lounge.

All have free  Wi-Fi and delicacies available via room service. In all there are 183 rooms and suites – for no more than it will cost you to stay at an anonymous, western-style international hotel.

So if you've ever wondered what it's like to spend a night like Scheherazade, seek out the souq.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/qatar

qatartourism.gov.qa

FLY

Qatar Airways flies from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth to Doha, with connecting flights to Europe, North and South America and Africa. See qatarairways.com

STAY

Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel Doha has a nest of nine hotels in historic properties inside the souq; see avanihotels.com

Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Captain's Choice, see captainschoice.com.au

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