I was recently lucky enough to get on one of the first flights to Tunisia from Manchester – one of Monarch’s new routes for summer 2014. I’ve never been to Tunisia before, but as a fan of that part of the world and North African cuisine I was particularly excited.
After an early start in Manchester and a fairly short flight (just under three hours) we touched down at Enfidha airport, where we were met by our enthusiastic guide Hasan and friendly driver Lasad.
We stayed at the beautiful Hasdrubal Thalassa Hotel in the Yasmine Hammamet resort on the Cap Bon Peninsula, and were greeted in the huge lobby area with a refreshing glass of fresh lemonade. Composing myself after my initial ‘wow’ look, I set off to discover the rest of the hotel – only to realise I would just permanently keep that ‘wow’ look on my face!
The hotel is set in expertly manicured gardens and guests can choose between lounging by the large swimming pool with swim up bar or the soft golden sands of the hotel’s own section of beach. The hotel spa is based around Thalassatherapy (the medicinal use of seawater for therapies), and offers a variety of treatments, relaxation rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, sauna and steam rooms.
The Hasdrubal Thalassa is also the proud owner of a Guinness World Record for having the Biggest Hotel Suite! The suite, with its five bedrooms, four living rooms, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools, has been visited by the likes of Saudi Arabian Princes, Hollywood actors such as, Antonia Banderas and Frieda Pinto, singing superstar, Mariah Carey and Lybian ruler, Colonel Gaddafi.
For those whose idea of a perfect holiday is basking in the sunshine by the pool or on the beach then you’d be in your element in one of the fabulous hotels based along the coastline in Yasmine Hammamet. However, if you fancy exploring more of the country and its history then there is plenty to keep you occupied.
Here are just a few suggestions:
The medina: Most of the towns and cities have a medina – this is usually a walled section of the city, free from car traffic with narrow maze-like streets and housing historical palaces and mosques. We visited Yasmine Hammamet, Tunis and Sousse medinas.
Souks: Again the maze-like souks are found in many cities and packed full of traders selling everything from rugs to leather goods to perfumes to tourist souvenirs. The souk in Tunis is a good one to visit and of course practice your haggling skills. It is customary to haggle with vendors in the souks. Go in at half the price you are willing to pay and then negotiate with the vendor and you should get yourself a good deal. Never pay the first price he asks for!
Village of Ken: A commercial and cultural centre, here you can see many traditional Tunisian handicrafts such as woodwork, rugs and traditional costumes. It gives a real flavour for the traditions of the country.
Sidi Bou Said: This picture postcard village was originally a residential settlement but now has also number of shops and traders. Set upon a hilltop, overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, the buildings are all painted blue and white. These two Moorish colours were introduced to Tunisia five centuries ago with blue representing the sea and sky and white representing purity. After strolling down the hill through the village be sure to stop at the donut stand (a traditional Tunisian snack), which you can have with or without sugar and of course don’t forget to take your camera!
There are a number of other main tourist resorts, which are all also worth a visit if you have time, such as; Tunis, with the nearby Carthage packed full of history and ruins; the lively Sousse and its marina; and Monastir, the birth and resting place of the much loved Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba.
I can’t write about Tunisia without a mention of the some of the delicious dishes and local delicacies we tried. Cous Cous is a traditional dish that comes topped with grilled vegetables, such as courgette, peppers and potato and either fish, lamb or chicken. Make sure you have an appetite for this dish and it comes piled high!
Harissa is a hot chilli paste that is served as an accompaniment with most meals. I’d suggested starting with small amount until you know just how hot it is.
A common appetiser is Chorba (soup), often of the fish variety and a traditional snack or lunch meal is a Brik, which is a large stuffed crispy triangle filled with egg, fish or vegetable. Smaller versions also appear as an appetiser.
If you order a selection of Tunisian starters you will likely get something like Harissa, a selection of mini brik’s, squid, egg and tuna salad and ojja, which is mini meatballs, pieces of fish or merguez (spicy lamb sausages) in a tomato sauce with peppers, garlic and an egg – delicious!