* Prices may differ from that shown
Warning - long review :).
We traveled to Yasmin Hammamet in June 2009. We booked flights through British Airways (direct from Gatwick to Tunis), and booked the hotel with an independent travel agent. We stayed in a brand new Riu hotel (separate review, will post it right after this one!) in Yasmin Hammamet. They were in the midst of building a new airport in Monastir, which might cater to tourists now.
On arrival at Tunis airport we had to walk through a metal detector, only it was not a metal detector, just looked like one! Turns out they measured our temperature. Let's just say that different countries deal with the swine flu in many different ways! I don't know if they would have stopped us from entering the country if we'd had a fever?.. Anyway, as we were fit and healthy, and did not cough ;) we entered the country without any delays.
Transport to hotel:
Most hotels offer pick up service from the airport, but I soon found out that their prices were extremely high. We booked transport to Hammamet through the internet based company www.transfers4u.com, and this saved us £££. On arrival we were approached by many men eager to take us to our destination, however, we only showed them our booking. One man led us over to a counter where we where told to wait until the other passengers would arrive. We explained that we had booked private transfers, and we were immediately escorted out by an old man. The car was definitely not up to European standards, but what can you expect?...
The driver drove like a mad-man to Hammamet, and thankfully, we arrived safe after just less than one hour. We stayed in the Riu Marco Polo hotel (please read separate review on the hotel).
3 day trip in Tunisia:
We had booked an excursion prior to leaving from home, so after only one night in the hotel we packed up and were ready to leave at 6 am. We were picked up by a chauffeur and a guide in a 4x4. It was very interesting to see the way they interacted. As a European I am not used to the distinct difference between people, but they were obviously from different backgrounds. The chauffeur never looked at us, nor tried to communicate with us. The guide on the other hand, had a limited English vocabulary, but did a good job albeit. He had rehearsed many stories, but once we asked questions, his English fell through, and he had a hard time understanding the question as well as answering it.
We had booked 3 day tour, and traveled due south. The first stop was the roman theater El Djem. If you have ever been to Rome, it will remind you of the Colosseum. Outside the entrance there is a street with plenty of street vendors. Feel free to shop, but be aware that if your product is wrapped..you might not get the item you thought you bought! I bought a very nice scarf (or so I thought). The reason I got it was because of the nice quality. However, I got one that was wrapped in plastic, and once I unwrapped it the quality of the fabric was nowhere close to the one I had been admiring. And once we on the topic of shopping: do remember to haggle...
Next stop was Gabes. We only drove through, and stopped at a coffee house, so I can't really comment on this place.
I'm afraid I don't recall the exact order we saw the sights in anymore, but I will take you through the next ones in order of impact on myself and my husband :).
Along the road there was the Tunisian kind of fast food. Be aware that there is no MacDonalds (or similar) in Tunisia. Their kind of fast food is a sheep that stands in front of a small coffee shop. At about 10 am he/she is killed, and prepared over the grill. Between 12-14 people come and have lunch, or fast food as they call it! You'd think this was a joke, but they had about 40 of these coffee houses lined up along the highway!
Gas sold on black market:
Further south you could see people standing along the road, not to sell fast food, but gas! It was quite common for people to drive over to Libya, buy cheap gas, and sell it in Jerry cans along the road. Some of them did not even have cans, but had a homemade system that remotely resembled a pump. This was illegal, but no one did anything to stop them.
We got some fresh almonds from our guide - and they are very different from the dried almonds we are used to! I recommend you try them if you have the chance! I believe they are boiled so should be safe in terms of germs. They are soft, and don't really taste as much as we're used to.
The Chott El Jerid offered magnificent views of the salt lakes. It was cool for a while, but eventually you get tired of looking at it...
We visited the mountain villages of Tamerza, Chebika and Mides. According to our guide this is where you should do your shopping, as the people here are very poor. The prices are higher than in Hammamet, but the sellers are much nicer. I did some shopping both places...!
I thought the drive through the mountains was pretty nice. It was very scenic, and they stopped at designated areas where people could take awesome photos. In Chebika there was a water oasis. Some other tourists went for a swim. I on the other hand had more than enough with looking out for snakes...!
On our way to Matmata we stopped at one of the inhabited caves. A very old woman lived there, and showed us her home. She was a troglodyte, and our guide explained that her people live very differently from other Tunisians. She even let me help her prepare couscous (!), and I'll tell you, it was hard! I can't believe a woman her age could manage. It was very interesting, and I would totally recommend visiting a cave like this. The way they are made, as well as the architecture and design of it is very intriguing. I wont say anymore to spoil the joy if you go there!
Matmata is the place Star Wars was filmed (the place where Luke Skywalker is from). We didn't actually see the film location, but apparently Luke's family home is now a hotel.
We spent one night in Tozeur and one night in Douz. Douz is called the gateway to Sahara. We went on a camel trek for a couple of hours. It was simple amazing! I could not stop smiling! If you go to Tunisia, this is a must!
Along the long stretches of road we saw on this trip there where extremely many olive trees. According to our guide, only Greece produces more olive oil than Tunisia.
The last stop before Hammamet:
Kairouan is the most sacred city in Tunisia and Islam's fourth most important center after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Within the city there are more than 50 mosques, the Great Mosque of Sidi Oqba being the main attraction. Originally constructed in AD 671, the existing building was built by the Aghlabids in AD 863. Sadly, non-Muslims are barred from entering the prayer hall with its 400 marble pillars and one of the world's oldest pulpits with 250 carved wooden panels. You get to see pictures on the outside though...
As well as being a spiritual center, Kairouan is also a frenetic market town and the epicenter of Tunisia's cut-throat carpet-making industry. Our guide took us to a shop. It caught us by surprise as we had no intention of buying a handmade carpet. Because of this it became a bit odd, because the people in the shop thought we would be big buyers. I suggest you inform your guide on beforehand whether you are interested in purchasing anything or not.
The trip ended back at our hotel, where we stayed for the next week. Yasmine Hammamet is all that you expect from a charter vacation, nothing more and nothing less. Some people had warned us that I, as a female, could not wear bare shoulders or knees. I respected this on our 3 day trip as I did not want to offend anyone. Oddly, it only brought confusion! On day 3 our guide asked me and my husband if we were brother and sister. When we told him we were married he exclaimed: but then you should cuddle and kiss! In Hammamet this is definitely nothing to worry about, you will not receive any extra attention for wearing a short skirt, or whatever, it is what they are used to. As a side note: this might be different if you a not traveling with a male companion.
Yasmin Hammamet consists of a series of hotels, bars, restaurants and a marina.
Would I go back? Probably not as we never go back to a place twice. But I would not mind going back to Tunisia, and I have friends who are return customers (though different places in Tunisia, like Djerba). You doubtlessly get a lot from your money if you decide to visit Tunisia.
Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions!
Hotel: Les Citronniers
Board: B&B only
Dates: 26th sept - 3rd Oct 07
Okay, I've been thinking about how I should write this and I'm going to try and portray our holiday as much as possible. So I'll start at the beginning. I hope you manage to read all of this if you plan on staying at this hotel or even visiting hammamet because I wish I'd read a review like this before our visit! I've titled the paragraphs so that you can slide and skip bits if you want to.
We booked on a late deal from Sept 26th - Oct 3rd. We arrived very tired as we had got a 7am flight from Gatwick (check in at 3.25) and didn't realise quite how long the baggage reclaim and transfer would take. We arrived at the airport early at 10.30 instead of 11am, but didn't all get on the coach until 12.30, then proceeded to drop everyone off, we were one of the last and got to the hotel at about 2pm ish. By then we were tired of being given things to fill out and very thirsty from the hot journey.
THE FACLITIES AND THE ROOM
We arrived to a smoke filled reception / lounge / bar with horrible black leather seats and a very stern gentleman on reception instructing us to fill in yet another lengthy form. We reluctantly perched on one of the leather seats engulfed by the smoke and filled them in. The porter then took our suitcases up to our room, which we were pleased with, as it was clean, looked like it did in the pictures! And they had done their best to give us a sea view room as requested (in the far distance, over the road and through the tree's we could see the hammamet walls and 5cm of sea!). I would like to add that the staff became more helpful and it turned out to be the language barrier that made them seem rude inititially. Whilst we're on the subject, the language is an issue and ideally you need basic french at least if you want to eat what you ask for in any of the restaurants.
When we arrived in our room, I was surprised there were no tea / coffee making facilities, also seeing as we can't really drink the water, having no fridg meant warm water most of the time. So as lovely as the room was and the balcony too, it felt a bit restricted when we were in there as we couldn't order room service or enjoy a drink etc without going downstairs.
The breakfast is simply either plain croissants or chocolate ones, sliced baguette and some jam and butter choices, there is canisters of tea or coffee and juice, it's served between 6.30 - 9.30 am. My husband enjoyed this more than me and loved the warm fresh baked ones first thing. In the end he just brought me up a couple while I slept a little longer!
MOSQUITO'S OR INSECTS ETC
We didn't have any problems with insects of mosquito's etc although we did have a plug in at night so that could have helped. I didn't see any creepy crawlys in our room or even on the balcony which was a bonus!!
The pool was nothing like I expected. The picture makes it look like an open space and a large pool, it's actually and gap between two buildings and the pool is no bigger than a childrens sized swimming pool at a leisure centre. It's very enclosed and there is no view, even tree's to take in whilst you relax, also the pool bar wasn't open at all and the dress code for the bar inside was no swimming costumes. But I relaxed and decided not to care for a couple of the days taking a dip or too and forcing myself to lounge.
This was the best bit! There is a private section for the hotel, the bar spreads out with old wooden benches in the sand so that you can chill with a beer with the sand in your toes, the breeze in your hair and the sea, lovely! The umbrellas stopped going out after a couple of days though due to a heavier breeze which meant us white English people couldn't eat there much and had to go in the sheltered bit. But still a lovely view. We enjoyed lunch almost every day at the beach snack bar, anything from burgers to fried calamari, it was lovely! We'd recommend the steak sandwich! yum!
Now it took us a while to get the hang of the resort of hammamet itself. We missed our rep welcome meeting because frankly it was our first day we were at the beach and couldnt be bothered to de-sand ourselves and return to the hotel! But we were left a list of excursions and through the 24-hour hotline booked 2 at the last minute. (Onto those in a moment).
Hammamet is basically made up of 3 parts in a way, you've got Yasmine - beautiful Californian type boulevard with palm tree's and a long stretch of beech with posh hotels and restaurants on the other side of the road, this is also where the port is and any boat trips will go from here. Then there's a stretch of wide spread hotels and sporadic shops or restaurants for tourists and the other end Hammamet centre. This is where the pretty walls are, which is in fact a medina and due to it being Ramadan (not sure of spelling) only tourist restaurants were open etc. Taxis are approx 4-7 diners to yasmine from Les Citronniers and Hammamet centre is about 5 - 6 diners. Please remember to negotiate your taxi fair before you get in! We forgot every time! Also they are only allowed up to 3 passengers in their taxi, if you end up sharing with other people don't let them squeeze more in, the police can stop them or they will drop you off if they see police.
This was a whole other thing we would have liked to have known about!! Who knew the entire country was fasting! So anywhere that isn't high on tourists was closed. We trusted a taxi driver who said we should go to Nabuel! Big mistake, only the market was open and after avoiding all the hagglers and touts we realised that we were hungry with nowhere to go, no pubs, no restaurants, nothing!! And we paid 15 diners to get there! Only the restaurants surrounding Les Citronniers, Yasmine and Hammamet centre had restaurants open.
TOUTS! SALES SALES SALES!!!
Oh my lordy! We were so tired of saying 'no thank you' by the end of the holiday. And it wasn't just them, everyone! Restaurants, "you come eat, we look after you, free ice cream?" every single one you pass. Shops "you buy now! We have good things you like?" and the medina or the market! arrgh! Not relaxing at all, we were scared to look as we were immediately attacked with forceful sales pitches! And then on the beach, there you are bikini straps down, not really in a flattering position on your sun lounger (which you pay for with 2 diners on the beach) and again "Donuts, donuts" or "lovely rugs" or "shoe's" or "camels, necklace" blimey!!. I even got woken out of a nap at one point to say "no thank you!!".
Although I have to say there is one guy that does donuts, the guys that work at the beach snack bar seemed to know him, these donuts were amazing!! Lovely chocolate real freshly made massive donuts! but don't take the ones from the guy who almost hymns "doooonuts, dooooooooooonuts, anybody want dooooooooonuts".
DRINKS / ALCOHOL
Firstly, don't drink the tap water, the local shop has a large 1.5 litre bottle 0,500 diner each, (1 diner for 2 bottles).
Right now, more importantly - alcohol, everyone has a drink they like. I think hot sunny holiday, I see myself lazing by the pool with a lovely cocktail. My husband, although partial to beer, likes a good whisky and coke. Okay it was probably mainly due to our lack of funds that we didn't get to enjoy this. A beer from the hotel was the cheapest we found at about 2,400 diners (about £1), a cocktail (restricted choice mainly vodka, I managed to persuade them to put Malibu in a couple of times!) is 10,000 diners (about £4.50) but tiny!!! I took about 2 gulps, maybe 3. Whisky was again 10,000 but only for 1 shot. There is a pub called The Queen Victoria part of le Hammamet hotel that had beer for 4,400 diner!!! Exactly the same beer, dont go there!
So anyway, we resorted to beer, bloated tummies and a slow sleepy lull of tiredness rather than the nice high we get from our spirits. So we thought, it's okay we'll find an off-licence and put some spirits in our room, then we can buy soft drinks and mix them, chill on the balcony and be happy. Nooooooooooooooo. Spirits? What are they?! Nowhere, no off-licence, we asked these young guys at a market stall in Nabuel and they said no one drinks because of religion so very expensive and elusive. A bottle of whisky is over 100 diners there! Thats like 40 / 50 quid! And we're talking normal whisky, JD etc.
We went on the Camel Caravan & Anchors Away excursions, Friday and Saturday.
ANCHORS AWAY - Le Sultan - Friday.
The coach trip did the usual rounds of picking people up and was a little long but bearable. The boat looked amazing! Proper pirate ship with sails and oh you know what I mean, I don't know the right words. We were quickly all rubbing our sun cream on ready to set sail and began to be surrounded by some young pirates with no tops, dark tans, eye patches and rugged clothes on. One of the more clothed pirates had an eagle and proceeded to perch it quickly on each persons shoulder then take a photo and moving on to the next. The eagle looked a bit fed up and irritated but did as it was told. We all knew that this meant they would be selling the photos and a couple of people managed to sneak some snap shots of their own. I'd recommend everyone swapping cameras before and taking each others picture!
Then as the ship set sail very scary and exciting pirate music played and the pirates began swinging from the sails and ropes, climbing to the tops of the masts and shrieking in pirate form. It was very exciting! I stood high and looked out to sea pretending I was that lady in the movie (whatever its called). All seemed well, lovely view relaxing, the music was playing the background Tunisian / belly dancing type music. Then there was a show apparently. We were most of us forcefully pushed onto the centre of the ship and they proceeded to make us do silly dance moves to le bomba! I enjoyed that but my husband was not impressed! I also was not prepared wearing a bikini top with not much support and being told to shake it! Apparently this was enough to impress them as I was then surrounded by all 4 of them and they jokingly (yet quite rudely) pushed my husband away from me and told me I had been chosen as Miss Pirate and the prettiest woman on the ship. As much as I could see they were playing a part, shoving my South African husband repeatedly was not really the best move. Luckily he smiled through is annoyance. We also had a pirate attacking us one by one for photos again. Then we were given a tiny break, but the music got louder. We took the opportunity to stare out to sea and try and have a nice moment. But every now and then the pirates would bite one of our bottoms, or whip us with their plastic sword or just make a silly comment. What was funny began to get annoying!!!
Then we stopped and got the chance to swim in the sea, this was nice, but I did feel a little more wary of bearing into my full bikini as they kept making a spectacle of me calling me miss pirate etc. However, we enjoyed it, had a nice dip and they provided some light snacks, which was basically either sausages or fish and some salad & bread. Then some coke. After that, back onto the deck and just when we thought we could enjoy the view, another show! They tried to drag me up and I refused this time, they took 3 girls up and it was kind of a pain inflicting show. This guy basically stuck spikes and metal things in himself to entertain us and the girls were there to push in the spikes or stand on him etc!! So I was glad I didn't go up! The rest of the trip was a mixture of trying to avoid them, loud music and some nice moments looking out to sea. I have to admit when they began the belly dancing I did want to join in, but my husband was so wound up by then I decided to stay with him for a bit. At the very end of the trip I did join in and show them how to do it! What they didn't know is that this English girl does belly dancing lessons! ha! so it was fun seeing their shocked faces.
Lovely. This was great. The first bit not so, we got dropped off at a market in the middle of nowhere for 1 and half hours, Way too long we were round the market in 20 minutes and there was nowhere to sit, drink or eat or even go to the loo. But after that on the camels was great fun and then back for a little dancing, dressing up as Arabs and eating some of their bread they make in pots etc. The mint tea was delish too! We loved this excursion. Although wear some repellent and be careful to cover up your feet, I had flip flops and now have a worrying looking rash on my ankle I'm going to get checked out at the doctors tomorrow.
So to sum up, if we were to return to Tunisia, we would make sure we had at least a fridge in our room or go self-catering for some independence. We would take a couple of bottles of spirits or buy them in duty free before departing the airport etc. We would probably not go to les citronniers and much prefer somewhere with a pool that went onto the beach or at least was open, large and had a view and probably look for a higher star hotel that may have measure in place to prevent as many touts approaching you on the beach. Yasmine is probably the best place to stay. We would also take more money!!! :)
Once you are in departures there is no way to get money and some of the places do accept diners (despite what the rep told us on the coach!!) The best thing to do is keep at least £10 sterling on you from the beginning of the holiday to have on your return. We ended up having to go back through customs get cash out in diners and getting it changed to sterling which they changed as £3 per 10 diner, which is well, quite shite frankly! The cash point is on the right hand side of the escalator on your way up to the departure lounge for those that need it.
Our advice - if you or anyone travelling with you likes to be left alone or gets irritated by pushy people (or men!) then don't go OR go to a high or 5 star resort that will stop these people getting to you. But for late September it was hot and for my South African husband he was able to get a visa on entry within 10 minutes for only 10 diners, which allowed us to get the late deal.
We wish you a happy holiday and hope you have a more prepared time than we did :)
Jennifer & Roelof
The reason I chose Tunisia for a holiday was that I was thinking about taking more adventurous holidays but wanted to test the water first and try somewhere a little bit different from my usual destinations - the Greek Islands, Canaries, Spain, etc. I wanted to see how I would fare in a country with customs quite different to those I was used to. Tunisia seemed to fit the bill - a Muslim country on a continent I had never visited before and one I thought might be quite different from previous holiday destinations.
We booked a package through Panorama/Manos having seen very good prices on the internet and then made the actual booking by phone - 230 Pounds each, bed and breakfast basis for one week to be allocated on arrival(Prices have changed little since the end of 2003. A bit more than I would have paid for a last minute week in Spain or the Canaries but I was desperate for a holiday and wanted to try Tunisia.
Flights from the UK to Tunisia last about 4 hours on average and we flew from Newcastle to Monastir with My Travel - the food was OK, the service fine - not much more to add (and besides I'm reviewing Tunisia here!) I do have to say, though, that there was a thrilling moment as we approched Monastir and the plane turned and swooped down for landing - the view of the beach and the sea was gorgeous - shimmering blue ocean and golden beaches - perfect!
There was quite a wait to get through arrivals and it the heat hit you as soon as you got off the plane (I'm just remarking, not complaining!). Luckily I had foreseen this and was wearing a vest top under my sweatshirt so I was soon dressed for the heat. While queueing I had to go to the loo and here I got my introduction to Tunisian toilets. There was no toilet paper to use - either it had all been used because the toilets were overflowing because they were stuffed with it, or people had stuffed their own tissues (not suitable for these toilets) down the toilet and thus blocked it. The floor was swimming with water and, in short, it was horrible.
I hoped that perhaps this was a one off but sadly my experience of Tunisian toilets did not improve over the week. I found them, on the whole, dirty, lacking toilet paper, lacking privacy (one toilet in a restaurant was unisex and the cubicle had a saloon type door and the Tunisian men would peer over the top as you were sitting there using the toilet. I understand fully that other countries have different customs to ours but I was surprised that in a country where women are meant to be chaste and modest, there would be no privacy in such matters. The attitude of Tunisian men is one I shall mention again later.
The coach transfer to Hammamet takes roughly an hour depending on which part of the resort you are staying in. Hammamet is basically made up of three distinct areas - Hammamet Yassmine (or Hammamet Sud), Hammamet Plage and Hammamet centre (confusingly, this is not in the middle, it is just the town centre!)
Hammamet Yaassmine is the first part you hit and this is the vey new part of town, massive hotel complexes, high rises and quite glitzy. The biggest hotel here opened just before we visited and the rep told us that it had already made it's way into the top fifty hotels in the world. However, they couldn't fill the hotel and most of it's visitors had just been guests from more modest hotels going in for a look around. This hotel is designed to look like a huge, white North African fortress or casbah - I hated it!
There didn't seem to be many restaurants in this area - I wondered whether it was because most of the hotels here are offering fully inclusive packages. There is a small area on the edge of Hammamet Yassmine as you approach Hammamet Plage with a few bars and restaurants. While not particularly great or even Tunisian in style, it seems to be quite lively. There are plans to build an airport at Hammamet and our rep pointed out where this is likely to be - right next to Hammamet Yassmine!
Hammamet Plage (plage being the French word for beach), is the next part of the resort and this is where we stayed. The area is quiet and there are enough restaurants and cafe-bars to serve the cluster of hotels without making the area too busy and spoilt. There are some pizza/pasta places which also do steaks and other international dishes and there are a few restaurants that, amongst a wide international menu, also do good Tunisian fish dishes.
There are a series of larger hotels here which have their own access to the beach and some have their own roped off area with private sun-loungers. However, there is still plenty of beach to enjoy and these private areas are quite small.
However, we were not in one of those hotels - our hotel faced the row of those on the beach, so we were not far away from the beach - about a minutes walk down a sheltered footpath.
The beach at Hammamet Plage is lovely - clean, golden sand, wide expanses and you can walk for miles. Locals young men walk up and down the beach trying to sell soft drinks and fruit but they don't seem to pester you that much.
A word of warning - I manged to get stung by a jellyfish - it hurts more than any pain I've experienced before! Apparently the weather was even hotter than usual for the time of year and this brought the jellyfish. Some local guys who were working on the beach advised me to return to the hotel and ask for a tomato, cut in half, to rub on the stings. It worked!! OK, it still hurt for a couple of days but it did help reduce the intense pain. Please do not think that this is common here - the hotel staff and the guys on the beach said it happens mainly in August - this was September so it was quite unusual.
The water is shallow for a fair distance and then becomes steeper so is good for both adults wanting to swim and families with children. There are no toilets along the beach, you would have to ask to use them at one of the hotels or come away from the beach and use the ones in a cafe.
Our hotel, les Citronniers, was a medium sized family run affair on a pleasant quiet street, close to a selection of cafes and restaurants and a small convenience store very close - good for buying stocks of bottled water! Most hotels serve a continental breakfast - croissants, juice and coffee - ours was no different. The pool was clean and well-maintained and there were plenty of sun-loungers for guests.
Les Citronniers has a bar/TV room which is open to the public and guests of other hotels and was quite lively in the evenings, although when we arrived everyone was sitting indoors watching the omnibus edition of Eastenders! Why????
It is possible to walk from Hammamet Plage to the main centre of Hammamet in about twenty-five minutes; buses are cheap but not as regular as you might expect and taxis are very cheap. If you walk you pass some nice restaurants but the pavements are not great - they can be uneven and at times disappear at the worst point when there are no places to cross the busy road into town. Coming into town you go through quite a dirty aprt of town but keep going. We thought we were going to be very disppointed with Hammamet but kept walking a bit further and eventually we could see the lights of the town centre up ahead.
Walking also allows you to pop in to some of the larger hotels for a pre-dinner drink - I would recomend Hotel Sinbad - lovely surroundings, a beautiful outdoor seating area and lots of complimentary nibbles with your drinks.
The casbah and the medina on the little headland by the small harbour (not really a harbour, more a small pebbly beach where fisherman leave their boats overnight) are the first thing you spot. The minaret of the town's main mosque looms up out of the medina and at night it is lit up beautifully and looks very pretty. You get a great view from the little park/square next to the medina which has a delightful modern fountain. (There are often young Tunisian men round here trying to sell you hash; smoking marijuana is not common in Tunisia, it is not tolerated by the police and you are more than likely going to be sold some legal kind of herbal mixture. Refuse politely and they will be OK).
The medina is the centre of most Tunisian towns and is much more than just a market. The medina is a town in side gated walls and Hammamet's is just another smaller version of the one in Tunis. There are usually young men approaching you as soon as you get anywhere near the medina, offering to show you round. They will not expect any money for doing so and they will tell you as much. They are usually quite helpful, telling you all sorts of interesting things about life inside the medina (several hundred people live inside the medina in Hammamet) but eventually they will want you to browse round the souk belonging to one of their relatives.
Most of the goods are low quality tourist items (toy camels, painted ceramics, etc) but there are one or two nice jewellery stalls. You will be expected to haggle - the sellers usually know if it's your first time and will help you along, without trying to rip you off. Remember not to offer any price you are not willing to pay (it is bad form to offer a price and then withdraw it), think about what you would be willing to pay at home and don't try to be too clever thinking that you can cheat the seller - remember he has a living to make. Finally, enjoy it - it's meant to be fun!
To be honest, there's not really much to see or do in Hammamet itself. The shops are nothing to write home about, although we did find an interesting little gallery/shop run by a German (if I remember rightly) who was selling his own paintings and small sculptures which we loved. The paintings were vibrant, bright canvasses which seemed very much influenced by the sea and the light at Hammamet.
Hammamet can give the impression of being slighty run down but, from what I saw of other towns and the capital, it's really no worse than anywhere else. The attitude seems to be "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" - you have to remember not to impose your conceptions of how things should look, based on how we expect our towns to be maintained at home.
Looking at Hammamet now, it is hard to imagine that in the 1920s and 30s, Hammamet had a reputation as an intellectual resort and it attracted literary, bohemian types. One such person was the Romanian millionnaire, George Sebastian. He commissioned the building of a specatular villa above the beach, designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The house is open for viewing (Tues - Sun 9am - 6pm, 1.1Tunisian Dinar) but the gardens can be accessed outside these hours and it's worth a visit to see the mock Greek theatre and the rather splendid arcaded swimming pool next to which sits an amazingly glamorous black marble poolside table.
And that, really, is all there is to see/do - there is a small municpal museum in town but the Rough Guide wasn't very enthusiastic about it so we gave it a miss.
Trips offered by tour companies tend to be to Sousse (the next resort to the south), to Nabeul (a market town half an hour north, we did it independently by bus and saved about 17 quid) and the trip out into the Sahara to see the locations used in the Star Wars films - this trip lasts three days so can only really be done on a two week holiday). We also ventured independently to Tunis. Independent travel in Tunisia is fairly easy and very cheap; it costs alot less than going on organised tours and you get the satisfaction of having done it yourself.
Hammamet is really a place to relax and enjoy the sun - whether that be on the beach or by the side of your hotel pool. Unless you venture out of town, there's not much to occupy you. Children will be happy on the beach or by the pool but it can get very hot so it may not be the best resort for children since there is not much for children to do out of the sun.
Hammamet centre has a fair selection of restaurants clustered around the Avenue Bourguibba, close to the medina. I would especially recommend the Belle Vue - for good food, pleasant staff and excellent entertainment from the band who play a selection of popular Tunisian songs. Most places offer a few fish dishes and then the usual international fare - steaks, pizzas, risotto, etc. It's best to ask what fish is available rather than go by the menu - if you try to order fish from the menu you will normally be told they don't have it and they will bring a platter of fish they do have and ask you to choose from that instead.
Cous cous, of course, is the dish most associated with North Africa, but many restaurants say that they require notice that you want this dish. If you see a place you would like to eat and they do cous cous, it may be worth booking earlier in the day (or the day before) and telling them you want the cous cous. Otherwise you will either be refused or have a long wait. The cous cous you get here will be steamed fully - it's not the simple to prepare "just add water" stuff we buy from the supermarket at home. A popular Tunisian snack is the "brik" or "brik a l'oeuf" - it's a traingle of pastry containing either cheese, ham, prawns or tuna (usually) and an egg - it is deep fried which reults in the patry being lovely and crisp but it leaves the egg still lovely and runny inside. Eating a brik without getting egg everywhere isa real challenge but a delicious one!
The local firewater is "boukkha" and is made from figs ( - don't try it neat - it's lethal! ) and is best drunk with coke.You can buy most other spirits but as they are imported they are fairly expensive compared to boukkha. The local beer is OK but a little watery, however it is fairly cheap.
And finally, I come to practicalities and realities.
Tunisia is a Muslim country and although it has a reputation of being one of the most liberal in attitudes, you should always remember that it has customs quite different to those of other countries who receive lots of holiday makers.
Some hotels may allow topless sunbathing but you should bear in mind that hotels ae staffed almost exclusively by Tunisian men who are very keen to ogle European holiday makers. They may construe your relaxed attitudes as "easiness" and think you are offering yourself to them. In the medina and obviously in mosques woman should have shoulders covered and ideally wear along skirt. Men should not wear shorts in the medina or in a mosque.
Some of the young men in the medina tried to hold my hand and I made it quite plain that I did not want this- this was partly because I did not want them to hold my hand and partly because if one person does this, all the young men flock around and want to do it too.
The Tunisian currency is the Dinar and cannot be bought or sold outside the country so you need to change travellers cheques when you get there. As the end of your stay approaches, be careful how much money you change because you can take no more than 2 Dinar through the airport (this is sufficient to make one phone call from departures if necessary). Cheques can be changed in banks and at hotels.
Most people in the resorts (cafes, restaurants, hotels) speak English otherwise basic French will get you buy.
To sum up I would say that Hammamet is a pleasant place for a weeks holiday - any longer and you would have to plan some trips, unless you are happy just to sun yourself continually.
If I returned to Tunisia it would certainly be to a different resort.
Fishing port and beach resort, northeastern Tunisia, on Al-Hammamat Gulf. It is referred to as the Tunisian Riviera, because of its sandy beaches, mild winters, and pleasant summers.