I like a hotel with secrets and the Mondrian Doha has plenty. Consider the mosaics that surround the lifts on every floor. Pretty enough, but random you might think – unless you happen to view them through the lens of your smart camera and like magic, the tiles are pixels, and through the lens they suddenly make perfect, cogent images.
This is a hotel that takes its cues from Alice in Wonderland, and nothing is quite what it seems.
In the West Bay district of Doha, to the north of the city centre and close to The Pearl Qatar, the city's new residential development, popular with expats. Hamad International Airport is 25 kilometres away, about a 30-minute drive. The Lagoona Mall is right on the doorstep but you need a vehicle to get anywhere in Doha, and Uber is a practical solution.
There's fantasy and whimsy at play from the moment you walk in the front door under a giant golden bell, a trademark of the designer. The hologram-like horses in the lifts are from the stables of the hotel's Qatari owner and the pillars in the lobby sport bulbous encrustations.
Dutch designer Marcel Wanders has let his playful imagination run wild. That black spiralling staircase, the chandeliers, the multicolour glass dome above the swimming pool that curtsies to the Tiffany lamp, the supersize furnishings – surprise and delight where you least expect it.
Spacious and bright, the mostly white rooms are all that a hotel room should be while managing to escape the pervasive L-shape. Lighting is sensible, with a master switch that dims all beside the bed and a funk factor in the bulbous, a lace-like hanging lamp and the papered wall that pays homage to the heritage, environment and architecture of the Gulf states. Bathrooms are supersize with a ravishingly deep bath.
The main restaurant is Cut by Wolfgang Puck, which does casual dining throughout the day, slightly riotous when the city's soignee set descend for brunch on Fridays, a modern-day institution throughout the Gulf states.
The menu is international with lip service to the flavours of the Middle East. Morimoto is the hotel's Japanese fine diner by Japan's very own "Iron Chef" Morimoto. There's also a casual burger and pizza bar with craft beers. Alcoholic beverages are available for non-Qataris throughout.
Qatar's Museum of Islamic Art is a standout, the world's finest of the genre, home to a superb collection of jewellery, paintings, ceramics, manuscripts, textiles and weaponry. Another must-see is Souq Waqif, where the locals come to buy spices, honey from Yemen and woollen cloaks for the cold winter nights.
Totally for local consumption, you probably won't see more than a small handful of non-Islamic tourists – and don't miss the falcon souq. Go in the evening and eat at one of the open-air restaurants, and you might even try a puff on a nargileh, otherwise known as a hookah.
Opened in October 2017, this is one of the latest additions to Doha's hotel collection and it's perfect for travellers who want something outside the cookie-cutter experience that is the norm among elite hotels.
Qatar's hotels have suffered a downturn in business following the present stoush with its neighbours, and rates are keen.
West Bay Lagoon Doha, Qatar, tel. +974 4045 5555. Rooms from $240 a night. See morganshotelgroup.com
The Mondrian has a proper hammam, with an ESPA where the treatments are refined, the therapists have hands that play a symphony on your limbs and the potions are chemical free. You'll feel like you've been given a new body, even after the 14-plus hour flight from east coast Australia.
The top-floor swimming pool has an hourglass shape with a low bridge over the middle that makes it impossible to swim through freestyle. A very Australian gripe perhaps but it's annoying when you skin your knuckles.
Michael Gebicki was a guest of the Mondrian Doha and Qatar Airways.