A Weekend at Al Gassar Resort

Sunday, 14 May 2017

What do you look for when searching for a place to call home?

As a travel blogger, I'm no stranger to nosing around hotels (including dozens of other travel bloggers' hotel rooms on a daily basis on their Insta Stories!) and making decisions about what makes a perfect holiday, but it is not often that I get the opportunity to have a snoop into someone else's living accommodation and decide on the perfect combination of ingredients to make a place a home. So when Alfardan Properties approached me to ask whether our family would like to leave our apartment behind for a weekend to find out what it would be like to be a resident of Al Gassar Resort, I was intrigued about what I would discover.

Al Gassar Resort is a luxury and exclusive sea-front residence set within the grounds of the iconic St Regis Doha (one of our favourite places in Doha for a staycation), and the luxurious and elite look and feel of the five star hotel extends to the three towers of executive apartments.

Despite already being privy to the exclusive service provided by the resort, I was still taken aback as our taxi pulled into the forecourt, and we were greeted warmly by name, firstly by security, and then by the staff at the front desk. The receptionist, Lovely, genuinely lives up to her name and turned out to be a friendly breath of fresh air throughout our entire stay.

The Apartment


We were staying in a two bedroom sea-view apartment, which looked out across The Corniche to the city skyline beyond.  There aren't many clearer, uninterrupted views of the city anywhere else in Doha.


When I managed to tear myself away from the window, I found myself in a well-appointed, fully-furnished apartment, with contemporary decor and exemplary attention to detail. The rooms were all large and family-friendly, with plenty of seating and soft furnishings, and spaces for socialising and lounging alike.


Much like the furniture and layout, the interior design was elegant and well-considered. Monochrome prints and fabrics were punctuated by splashes of colour in the artwork and ornamentation.



The kitchen included all of the white goods that you would expect, and was fully kitted out with pots, pans, crockery and cutlery. I couldn't stop thinking about how easy this place would have been to move into when we first arrived in Qatar with nothing but a couple of suitcases of belongings to our name.


I was excited to discover that the apartment also housed not one, not two but THREE bathrooms (one each!): a guest closet off the living room and two others with walk-in rain showers. 

My favourite rooms, however, were the bedrooms - the smaller of the two contained twin beds and the master had floor to ceiling windows which looked out over 'that view',  as well as comfy armchairs, a flat screen TV, and a huge, comfy yet luxurious leather king sized bed. 

 

By the time we'd finished exploring, it was well past Sophia's bed time, and when she refused to go down in the cot that they had kindly set up for us in the master bedroom, we allowed her to climb beneath the sheets of the king sized bed in between us, which she much preferred (let's face it, with a mattress as comfy as that, who could blame her?!) and she soon drifted off into peaceful slumbers.
 

The Services and Facilities

 

The next two days were spent exploring all that Al Gassar has to offer, and making the most of every moment. We had decided to treat the weekend as we would any staycation, and the free internet, concierge and housekeeping service certainly helped us to feel as though we were staying in a five star hotel rather than a normal place of residence. Satish and his team who came to clean our room each day were incredibly efficient and accommodating, and graciously accepted us adjusting the time that we'd asked them to come and clean the room on several occasions because we juuuust needed an extra half an hour in bed.

The communal pool on the second floor was top of our list of facilities to make use of during our stay. We met a group of friends down there and for a few blissful hours, Sophia enjoyed splashing around with the other toddlers in the children's pool, while I enjoyed a few rare moments soaking up the rays from one of the many loungers that were dotted about.

 
 


The pool area is spacious, and designed around relaxation and family life, with two pools, a jacuzzi, a BBQ area and picnic tables. Next to the pool terrace is the Terrace Restaurant, which has a pub-like feel and serves excellent bar food and alcoholic beverages - a handy place to grab a poolside snack or to meet friends for a game of pool.


Outside Tower 1, there is also a fun, animal-themed children's playground which Sophia loved! Bar the swings at nursery, it was actually her first experience of a proper little park and once we'd introduced her to it, it was rather difficult to tear her away! Of course, we had to return at least two more times over the weekend to visit the 'baa baa!' again!

 
Besides the pool and playground, there are several other facilities which we weren't able to take advantage of during our stay, including:

  • Private tennis courts
  • Fully-equipped gym and changing rooms, with personal trainer and regular yoga and fitness classes
  • Steam room 
  • Limousine and golf cart services 

The Icing on the Cake  

 

Probably the most exciting thing about Al Gassar Resort is the exclusive, FREE access that tenants receive to the facilities of the St Regis. We headed over there to lounge beside the huge, luxury swimming pool and ordered snacks...

 


We sat and watched the sun go down from the white, sandy beach..


 


We ate supper at Astor Bar & Grill, one of our favourite St Regis restaurants, where the staff are super friendly, the steaks juicy and soft as butter and, like all of the St Regis' restaurants, all Al Gassar residents receive 10% off their bill. 


The Concierge App which I downloaded on my phone kept me up to date with exclusive entertainment and wellness offers such as spa day discounts and cut price meals, and I could even reserve a table at one of several restaurants around Doha using the App. I tried it out and received a call back from the restaurant within two minutes, asking for my table requirements. I was blown away by the efficiency of it all!   

In summary, the whole package was perfect. A weekend that started off as an opportunity to snoop into the life of someone else became so much more to us - a retreat; a holiday; a couple of days of pure luxury and pampering.

This video summarises the kinds of things that all three of us will be looking from now on in any future home:




I have a feeling that Al Gassar will be difficult to beat.

The Details:

Al Gassar Resort, West Bay, 2999 Doha
For enquiries & viewings, call: (+974) 4440 8908, or email: afpleasing@alfardan.com.qa

We were guests of Al Fardan Properties this time, but as always all views are my own.

Qatar's Best Family-Friendly Restaurants According to 7 Parent Bloggers

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Deciding where to eat in Qatar with a young family in tow has not always been an easy task. In the past, it seemed that the more 'child-friendly' the restaurant choice, the less appetising the food, and vice versa. Luckily, this trend is gradually changing and restaurants are starting to become more accommodating to the needs of a variety of age groups. 

Finally, an appreciation for food is no longer a pastime reserved exclusively for the adults in Doha. 

So, where can these elusive family friendly restaurants be found and why are they worth a visit? I asked those in the know, the Instagram-snapping, delightfully discerning expert eaters - the parent bloggers of Qatar.

Karen from Clumsy Chic: W Cafe



Naomi and I go on a mommy and daughter date once a week and W Cafe is one of our favorite places to go to. The cafe is small and cosy with a lovely quiet atmosphere and friendly staff. They all know Naomi and I by now and are always so attentive and accommodating to our requests. Full-fat yogurt instead of low-fat one? no problem! No salt? noted. 

W Cafe is definitely one of my top go-to restaurants as I know there are a number of child-friendly, healthy Baby Led Weaning approved menu items like their egg avocado, and Naomi's favorite yogurt with fresh berry compote. I also love the fact that the place is carpeted and you'll often find Naomi running around the cafe, while I sit back and watch her from a far with a cup of tea and scones on hand.
 
 
 
Becoming a parent of 3 kids (who are now 8, 5 and 4 years old) caused a lot of changes in our lifestyle including our choices of places to dine out. Frankly, there was a time when we actually stopped going to restaurants AT ALL, because eating out with 3 kids meant chaos rather than fun! This changed when Noodle House opened its branch at Porto Arabia. Now, our weekend stroll and kids cycling at the Marina always ends up with a family meal at Noodle House.
 
The kids love having their Prawn Crackers and Chicken Satay for starters, followed by Tempura Fish Fingers (Kids Meal). While my husband and I enjoy their Thai Curries, Wok Fried Noodles and other specialities but our all time favourite is their spicy Black Pepper Beef along with Bakmie Goreng Noodles. When the kids are done with their meals, they go back to riding their bicycles while we enjoy our drinks and dessert, sitting on the patio while watching them at the same time.
The location of the restaurant is not the only reason, but also their food quality, flavorful dishes, a lovely kids menu, friendly staff and the value for money, which makes it one of our most favourite restaurants as a family.

Zeke from Best Life Qatar: Max's Restaurant


 
When asked about our family’s top restaurant picks, our answers are varied and it shows each one’s favorite - and by favorite, we mean having visited it several times already. With three highly opinionated members in our family (good thing our little girl still couldn’t participate in the poll), each one has his/her own preference. But the choice also depends on where we are going and every time we go out to eat, we make sure it is a happy compromise.

We would go to Tofu House if we want something Korean, we go to Chilli’s if we are craving for stake, we go to Buffalo’s whenever we are at Ezdan Mall, or IHop when we are at Gulf Mall. But generally, our family’s go-to restaurant would be Max’s Restaurant in B-Ring. It’s not only a family’s choice but also our friend’s usual hangout every Friday night. We might have bias for some Filipino food but definitely, it’s something that’s not debatable. 

Aside from the location, which is close to our house in Mansoura, the familiar ambiance always makes us feel we’re home. They have a wide selection of menu but our standard orders would usually go with their classic spring chicken, ox’s tail stew in peanut sauce, and sizzling cubed tofu and mayo dressing. Surprisingly, there are also non-Filipinos who are dropping by this restaurant and it’s a comfortable place to have practically any celebration.

Fazeelah from Dhillon Deeds: Asia Live!




Dining out with our little girl can get trying at times and I've gotten a few nasty stares in my short time being a mum. So it's not surprising that I keep my eyes peeled for places to have a nice sit down dinner with my little family and not always having to settle for the food court, it doesn't quite scream "fine dining experience". 

We discovered Asia Live while looking for a quiet place to catch up with a friend who had jetted over for a quick visit from Dubai. This little restaurant is situated inside the Marriott Hotel and serves mainly Asian-fusion cuisine. We didn't need a reservation which was great! Our daughter is 7 months old so she doesn't need much in terms of food and really just eats whatever we eat but she really enjoyed chewing away on the prawn crackers they served as a complimentary dish that they kept filled for our eating pleasure. 

I loved that they had high chairs on hand and that there were other families enjoying their dinner there too. The interior was lightly lit up and had a very romantic laid-back ambiance which made rocking her to sleep so easy. There was also enough space for our stroller right next to our table. I also breastfed her and I wasn't make to feel uncomfortable about it. 

The service was flawless, friendly and welcoming. The waiters deserve an extra cheer for being so patient as our little girl threw her food all over the place - the best and worst of baby led weaning. I also loved that the hotel offered valet parking making the drop off and pick up really quick and efficient. Having to circle around a parking lot with a crying baby isn't always the best feeling just before dinner. The restaurant is open for dinner every night except Sunday. Our mission for the evening was to find a child-friendly restaurant that served gluten-free food  for our friend. I believe we did well. We will definitely be going back again.

Leona from Wandermust Family: La Veranda 



We eat out a lot but the one place that stands out as our family favourite has to be La Veranda! We love their brunch and have sampled it on a couple of occasions. They have the most amazing outdoor seating area which is great for little ones to run around on between courses. The staff are always super helpful ensuring that families have a good table - not too close to the band and ensuring adequate shading, and the high chairs are of a good quality!

Unfortunately there are no changing facilities at La Veranda but the staff always open up the changing rooms and create an area with multiple towels to make sure the little one is comfortable. But most importantly the food is great. Although not the range of other brunches, this brunch is all about quality over quantity and they have lots of child friendly options! Pasta, vegetables, pizza and a variety of meat and fish dishes are available. My little one always eats amazingly well at La Veranda and we will keep returning!

Kiren from Yummy Mummy On Duty: Carluccio's



Well what can I say, Carluccio's is hands down the best breakfast in town.  WHY?  It's got variety, it's fresh, it's healthy and naughty both at the same time!  For kids it's just perfect, a simple menu offering that kids and parents can both relate to.

And finally...

My top picks: Eggspectation and the Superhero Picnic Brunch at the Ritz Carlton


There are three things that make a restaurant family-friendly to me: good basic baby facilities (high chairs and a changing table are a must), child-friendly menu options (or the option to tailor the menu to your childs dietary requirements and tastes) and staff that like children. Both Eggspectation and the Lagoon at The Ritz Carlton where the Picnic Brunch is held fulfil these requirements in spades.


The restaurants are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways: Eggspectation is a fantastic everyday diner, where a group of mums and I met every Thursday for weeks over the long, hot summer months during our maternity leave last year. Over several weeks, the staff learned all of our names, plus our babies names (not an easy task - they all looked practically identical at that stage in their development!). They gave us our own space away from the main restaurant where the crawlers could roam free. They didn't bat an eyelid at spilled drinks, broken crockery or noise. And best of all, their coffee and eggs saved my days following many a sleepless night.


The Superhero Picnic Brunch on the other hand, is the ideal location to celebrate a special occasion with kids. It's light-hearted, entertaining and chock-a-block with exciting and fun food to entice even the fussiest of eaters to enjoy their meal (if you can tear them away from the bouncy castle that is!).

So there we have it, not just one or two, but EIGHT family-friendly restaurants in Qatar which are very different but equally deserving of a mention. 

Over to you - what makes a restaurant family-friendly to you and which ones have we missed?

If Travel Was a Menu...

Monday, 1 May 2017

I loved the theme suggested by Binny a few weeks ago for this month’s travel link-up so much that I started planning my post right away (this is unusual for me, as I am so pushed for time these days that I rarely get a chance to start thinking about it prior to the night before the post is due to go live). However, this one gave me a lot of food for thought (‘scuse the pun!). If travel was a menu, what place is your starter (short haul), main (long haul) and dessert (lasting impression)?

The answer, for me, was easy. There are three places I have visited that I believe are able to satisfy even the most insatiable wanderlust.

My starter (short haul)


From Qatar, the cities of the UAE are only a short 40-50 minute flight away, opening up a plethora of travel opportunities which are practically on my doorstep.


I have spoken before about the magnetic draw of Dubai. It’s a crazy 24-hour city, viewed by many as brash and vulgar, but if you resolve not to take it too seriously, it also offers its visitors a lot, without them having to dig too deep or to use too much imagination. Unlike most tourists heading to Dubai, the main draw for my desert-dwelling family is not the year-round sunshine, and we are no longer able to take full advantage of the nightlife on offer. Dubai, for us, is more about expanding our opportunities for entertainment, shopping, relaxation and most importantly, eating.


The UAE destination that I feel more passionate about is Abu Dhabi. With a few glimpses of the heady, cosmopolitan vibe of Dubai down the road, Abu Dhabi is, on the whole, a quieter, less congested, less polluted and far more laid back and family-friendly city. I was delighted to spot cycle lanes along the main routes through the city; the first time I have seen them in the Middle East. I was even more delighted to find that the Emirati culture of the UAE capital lives on, despite the influx of foreign labour from all over the world.



Top hotel choices: Anantara The Palm Jumeirah, Raffles Dubai, Emirates Palace

Look out for an upcoming post on: the Palace Hotel, Downtown Dubai

My main (long haul)


We decided to go slightly further afield for our latest travels, and headed to Norway to visit family in Oslo and spend some time in the Western fjords. Despite the cost of the trip (Norway is not a cheap country to visit!) it was a decision I will never regret, as it was the start of what I think might develop into a lifetime love affair with one of the most beautiful countries in the world.


6.5 hours away from our desert home, we found ourselves breathing in crisp air, immersed in nature, and surrounded by mountains. It was good for the soul.


We fell in love with Oslo and its Scandi sophistication. But that was nothing compared to how we felt when we drove out of Alesund airport in the west, and were confronted by historic settlements and the wild and dramatic glacial landscape of the western fjords.

 
Top hotel choices: Continental Hotel Oslo, Storfjord Hotel

Look out for upcoming blog posts on: Storfjord Hotel; 10 things you must do in the Western Fjords.

My dessert (lasting impression)


I remember rounding a bend in the road as the stunning Positano came into view in the middle of our honeymoon travels across Italy, and Mr Sunshine saying, "I already know that I'm going to love this place". That's just the feeling that the Amalfi Coast gives you as soon as you catch a glimpse of it for the first time. It's a beguiling combination of breathtaking beauty and theatrical romance: steep cliffs which plunge into the sea; small, pastel-coloured settlements that cling to hillsides; cobbled walkways which take you back in time.


Of course, it helps that the region is well-known for its world class hotels and restaurants, with the kind of service and ambience which makes you feel instantly at home and at ease. It helps that there is so much to see and do in towns like bustling Positano, and that villages like Praiano have so many hidden gems.


It's a place that lives on in your memory for a long time after you have left.

Not only was it our honeymoon destination, but it was also where I first started to realise that I might be pregnant with Baby Sunshine - and nothing leaves more of a lasting impression than that.


Top hotel choices: Monastero Santa Rosa, Casa Angelina, Le Sireunuse, Belmond Caruso

Look out for upcoming blog posts:  Le Sirenuse, Belmond Caruso, what to do with two days in Ravello, 10 reasons to visit Capri



10 Things You Must Do In Norway, Pt. 1: Oslo

Friday, 28 April 2017

Norway is one of the most beautiful countries on earth (it's not just me that thinks this, my trusty Lonely Planet agrees!). It's a once-in-a-lifetime travel destination for one simple reason: apart from a dearth of all-year-round sunshine, it is a country that has it all.

But when visiting a country that offers its visitors so much, how do you decide which activities and sights to cram into your ever-so-precious-and-always-too-scarce vacation time? Cue this little series of guides containing must-do things to do and see in Norway, starting with the country's spectacular capital city.

1. Visit Oslo


Unlike its well-frequented Scandi neighbours in Denmark and Sweden, Norway's capital has received considerably less interest from the throngs of tourists that flock to Europe every year, and within hours of my arrival I felt like I could take a reasonable guess as to why. Take Oslo at face value, and at first it can seem quiet and grey, and dare I say it, even a little dull! But scratch beneath the surface, and allow yourself to explore and you'll soon discover a city that is overflowing with art, character and history.


Its main allure, of course, is its proximity to nature. Surrounded by hills and forests, scattered with green spaces, and permeated by the beautiful Oslofjord, this city offers its visitors ample opportunities to enjoy natural landscapes and stunning vistas, and partake in associated leisure pursuits.

While you are there, you must...

2. Visit the Royal Palace



Oslo's Royal Palace sits proudly at the top of a hill overlooking the city centre, and happily, unlike most royal residences around the world, you can walk right up to the front door. There are guided tours of the interior in the summer months, but a walk around the pretty exterior of the palace can be just as agreeable.

3. Have a stroll around one of the city's pretty parks


 
While you're at the Palace, the Slottsparken (Palace Park) is one of the best of the city's green spaces, with hills, duck ponds, and, if you happen to visit in spring like we did, carpets of spring flowers and canopies of pink blossom.



Alternatively, the views of the city from the top of Ekebergparken are exquisite.


I'm also reliably informed that the sculptures in Vigelandsparken are well-worth seeing...but hey, we had to save something for next time!

4. Visit the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet


 
This modern, minimalistic piece of architecture juts out of the ground like a shard of glass...or ice if you will. Tourists throng to it to enjoy the pretty city reflections on its glass exterior and to hike up the steep incline either side of the building to its roof, from which spectacular views of the city can be seen.

5. Take a trip to the Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Ski Jump


 
The 4000-year Nordic history of skiing (and skis!) can be discovered in this well-curated museum, but take some time to admire the impressive ski jump first, which was used in the 1952 Winter Olympics, and still draws crowds for the annual ski festival in March.

6. Have lunch in Aker Brygge



This trendy, upmarket neighbourhood fringes the Oslofjord, with direct access to Oslo's harbourfront and the ferries which regularly frequent the islands of the fjord. The area has a seaside feel, with a wooden cladding promenade and pier, several boutique shops and restaurants which are constantly bustling with Oslo's socialites.

Our top restaurant picks include Lekter'n, which is built out into the fjord, with a bridge across to a permanently-moored boat...


And Louise Restaurant & Bar, which combines chic al-fresco dining with contrasting cosy and characterful interiors.




7. Visit Akershus Festning 



According to my brother-in-law, this medieval castle and fortress is one of Norway's archtectural highlights. Built in 1299, it has a grim history which can be discovered within the museums inside.

8. Get a boat to Hoved√łya


 
The Oslofjord island which is closest to the city also happens to be one of the best for discovering nature, exploring beaches and uncovering an exciting cultural history. A five minute ferry ride from the harbour, and measuring only 800 metres across in any direction, it's possible to explore the island with time to spare before lunch.

9. Stay in a historic hotel



Hotel Continental, Oslo has been owned by the same family for four generations, and they have built it into one of Norway's finest luxury five star hotels. With a prime city centre location, lavish breakfast spreads and luxuriously comfy beds, it's my top pick of places to stay within the city.

10. Have a drink in an Oslo institution 



Attached to the hotel, and just across the road from the National Theatre, this restaurant has been a favourite with families and tourists alike for several decades. The Viennese interiors, Norwegian-inspired food and immaculate service make it a place that has to be visited, if only for a glass or two of prosecco to celebrate your time in this wonderful city.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and as we are lucky enough to have family in Oslo, we will definitely be back to explore more of the city in due course.

Have you visited Oslo? What can I add to my to do list for next time?
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