Strictly modern and functional, the town of Douz acts like a curtain to the wonders just to the south. Driving through the compact narrow streets of the centre, you'll wonder what all the hype is about. But as the sun sets and the streets cool, Douz comes alive, the cafés around the central souq fill up and as you pass through the intervening palmeraie, the sight of the Grand Erg Oriental reveals its magical self, a seeming mirage until you set foot on its sandy shore. People here are naturally open and friendly, accustomed now to the fact that the local economy is largely dependent on large groups of foreigners turning giddy at the prospect of riding a camel. In addition to the Zone Touristique hotels, there are several hotels in the town centre that cater to independent travellers. Every Thursday, the old souq is home to a colourful weekly market; it's worth arranging to be here just to see it. For good reason Douz is the most popular gateway to the Sahara.