Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

In search of the authentic


Published on

Viability's Guy Wilkinson writes a monthly column for Hotelier Middle East Magazine. This article originally appeared in February 2010.
For more information about Viability, please visit or

Published in: Business, Sports
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

In search of the authentic

  1. 1. 18COMMENT In search of the authentic Viability director Guy Wilkinson turns tourist for a day in Dubai and heads to Sharjah, Nizwa and Doha to explore the accessibility of history, tradition and culture to the region’s visitors working souq in a mish-mash of architectural styles dating mainly from the 1960s and ‘70s, has been ingeniously refurbished back to what might have been its appear- ance when the original souq there was founded 100 years ago. Faced with a similar demographic imbalance to that experienced in Dubai, the Qataris have wisely invited Arab traders from Oman and other neighbouring countries to set up shop there, rather than turn- COLUMNIST ing the souq into a little India or an outpost of Manila, and for tourists, hether resident expatri- this really makes a difference. W ates or week-long holi- It will be interesting to see if any Image: Guy Wilkinson daymakers, visitors to of Doha’s intrepid entrepreneurs the Gulf often seek an will attempt to develop a boutique authentic experience of local his- hotel in the Souq Waqif. It’s a proj- tory. In some places, it’s either dif- ect that’s begging to be undertaken. ficult to find, or ironically, hard to For a still more authentic experi- tell when you do find it. Pottery in the Nizwa Souk in Oman, one of the authentic attractions encountered by Wilkinson on his travels. ence, head for Nizwa in Adh Dakh- My wife and I broke the habit of iliyah, the heartland of Oman. a lifetime and decided to be tourists Nizwa was once the capital of Oman in Dubai the other day. We spent a IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE IF ANY in the 6th and 7th centuries AH (13th pleasant enough couple of hours in OF DOHA’S INTREPID ENTREPRENEURS century AD) and is now a delight- Dubai’s Bastakiyah district, where fully quiet market town about an the government has restored a block WILL ATTEMPT TO DEVELOP A hour and a half from Muscat, and of old Iranian wind tower houses BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN THE SOUQ WAQIF five to six hours’ drive from Dubai. and filled them with galleries, muse- To the casual visitor, Nizwa’s ums, cafés, restaurants and gift class, expat arty types very alluring. industrial areas. The Arts and Her- souq and fort look a lot like other shops. There are a couple of guest But somehow we felt there was an itage Areas work so well, I believe, areas of the Gulf that have been houses there too, including the XVA important missing link to the past because they are not isolated from ‘over-restored’. But give Nizwa Gallery, a historic courtyard house of the place itself. The 10-room Ori- the ‘real’ Sharjah, and not restored a chance and it will reveal itself to which combines a contemporary art ent Guest House, another delightful so pristinely as to appear unreal. you. It was not only the country’s gallery with a vegetarian café and courtyard property there, proudly The district includes the restored capital, but also the crucible of sil- seven petite guest rooms, each fea- displayed a sign saying ‘Starbucks Souk Al Arsah, where you can still ver-smithing in the Sultanate and turing different interiors done up by coffee served here’ on its outside get a cup of tea for a couple of dir- true historic treasures can still be local artists. wall, which seemed to sum it all up. hams and where the shops are dusty found. And when the tourists expe- It’s a very welcome contrast to Similar historic downtown dis- and affordable. And the art galler- rience these attractions at the hands Dubai’s pervasive mirror-glass tricts have been restored in Sharjah ies and museums there, including of their ever-friendly and attentive towers, international buffets and and Doha, and thanks to their delib- the Sharjah Art Museum and Shar- Omani guides, they know they have blaring discos, but is it authentic? erately rustic approach to finishing, jah Museum of Islamic Arts and found the authentic Gulf historical I hate to downplay such a worthy they are arguably more successful. Culture, are genuinely worth a visit. experience they were always look- endeavour, but the restoration All these attractions are surrounded ing for. HME work was so cleanly done through- STEP TO SHARJAH by hotels and serviced apartments, out the district that one could hardly Sharjah is a city of contrasts and including most notably the Radis- believe the original houses had been mixes some very attractive parts son Blu and Rotana. built a century before. The paint- such as its Khaled and Al Khan In Doha, the equivalent is the ings and sculptures were great and lagoon Corniches, the Qasba Canal, Souq Waqif, adjacent to Grand Guy Wilkinson is a director of Viability, a hospitality and property consulting firm in Dubai. I personally find the whole rarefied the Blue Souq and its Islamic- Hamad Street and the CBD, where For more information, email: ambience of cafés filled with middle style university campus, with drab what was until recently a dirty February 2010 • Hotelier Middle East