A year and a half ago I was treated to a well deserved break before going away to University, I personally think it was my parents way of bribing me to work hard! Whatever their motives behind the break I welcomed it with open arms after having spent the entire summer holiday slaving away in Tesco in an attempt to save up money for the coming academic year. They booked a 2 week all inclusive package at the hotel Riu El Mansour in the Mahdia area of Tunisia for the end of August 2004 and the start of September 2004.
HISTORY & LOCATION OF MAHDIA
Tunisia is located in Northern Africa and boarders the Mediterranean Sea, lying between Algeria and Libya. Our hotel was situated in Mahdia which is a small port town on the east side of Tunisia and about an hour away from the more renowned town of Port El Kantaoui. The nearest airport is located roughly 40 minutes away from the town in Monastir which is where we flew to from the UK, it took roughly 3 hours to fly there which was less than Id previously expected. Mahdia was proclaimed the capital of Tunisia back in 921 and was also a headquarters for battles between pirates and knights in previous decades. There are around 30,000 inhabitants in the town which make it relatively small compared to the other tourist areas in Tunisia so it still retains quite a community feel it. Its still got a great cultural feel to it as well and hasnt been heavily disturbed by overseas developers and large hotel chains which I felt was a refreshing change.
Tunisia consists of two regional climate belts and so feels the influence of both the Mediterranean weather from the north and the Sahara weather from the south. During the months we visited the country is at its hottest with temperatures soaring up to 90 degrees fahrenheit with at least 10 hours sunshine and very little rainfall. The weather was absolutely perfect and although Tunisia remains fairly warm throughout the year Id certainly recommend visiting between May and November to experience the best weather. The currency used in Tunisia is the Tunisian Dinar which has an approximate exchange rate of 1 British Pound to 2.4 Tunisian Dinars. The country is also just 1 hour ahead of GMT so theyll be no jet lag when you arrive!
The hotel itself is located 3.5km from the town centre which makes it a slightly lengthy walk during the hot summer day but we often walked back to the hotel in the evening as we found the cooler air refreshing. While we were staying at the hotel there was a complimentary bus running every hour or so from the hotel to the centre of the town which could be used by all the hotels guests. There was a small shopping centre just 1km from the hotel which housed a supermarket and several gift shops, being on an all inclusive basis we found little use for the supermarket but it did seem to be priced very reasonably. There was also a bus stop just 100m from the hotel which was in an ideal location for when we went to explore other towns close by, although we did wonder about the safety of some of the buses and their lack of air conditioning also!
Upon arriving at the hotel my first impressions were quite positive, from the road side you can see the rather impressive looking reception area which is housed in the 3 storey main building. All the buildings were designed in a typically Andalusia and Arabic style which added to the cultural feel of the holiday. The outsides were all painted a bright white colour which added a sense of cleanliness to the hotel. Situated around the main building are various bungalows which, along with the main building are used to house the guests. Moving to the other side of the hotel which can be accessed through the reception area I was greeted with a large, crystal clear pool surrounded by sun loungers and a brilliant view of the sea.
The reception area was fairly luxuriously fitted out with a large desk behind which the reception staff were situated and plenty of comfortable looking seating along with a marble floor. Our rooms were located in the main building on the third floor although the majority of accommodation for the hotel is located in small bungalows surrounding the main building and pool area; there are 260 guestrooms in total. Our room was of a large size with a cool tiled floor and light blue furnishings. The room contained a built in double wardrobe, a larger than average double bed, several chairs, a desk with a large mirror and lastly a small television on a table. The room looked fairly modern and I imagine it was refurnished only a couple of years ago as there was very little evidence of any damage and all the furniture was in a pristine condition. The room also came with a separate bathroom which was located by the main door which contained all the typical furnishings. In addition to the main furnishings the room also came equipped with a hairdryer, telephone, a mini fridge, satellite TV, a safe and lastly my beloved air conditioning! We were lucky enough in that our rooms overlooked the pool area which gave us a fantastic view of the beach and sea from our small balcony which had 2 chairs and a small table on also. Family rooms were available which meant that a second bedroom was interconnected with single beds in. All in all the room was furnished adequately and certainly met our needs.
We stayed at the hotel on an all inclusive basis which is the main board offered although I believe half board is also available at a cheaper price. The food in all honesty was possibly the best hotel food Ive ever had, and believe me Ive been to some hotels in my time! All the main meals were served in the restaurant area which was housed on the ground floor of the main building and came complete with approximately 120 tables and air conditioning to boot! The restaurant had an incredibly light and airy feel to it with marble and wood counters offering delicious foods and even palm trees to remind you that you were on holiday! All meals were conducted on a self service basis whereby you merely sat at your allocated table each meal time and helped yourself to the variety of foods on offer with no limit on the amount you could eat. Breakfast consisted of a varied buffet of cereals, croissants, bread rolls, various fresh fruits and not to forget a cooked option which was served on the spot by chefs cooking at one of the stations located within the actual restaurant. Lunch was served in a similar fashion and offered soups, salads, freshly cooked meats and fish, pasta and vegetables as well as an array of desserts. During the hours of 3pm until 5pm an afternoon snack was available from the pool side bar which contained a much smaller selection of the lunch time menu. The evening meal was very similar to the lunch time menu in that there was a variety of soups and salads to start with while the on the spot cooking stations offered a different fresh fish and meat every night. Desserts included ice cream, fresh fruit and various cakes and pastries also. Drinks were served in the indoor bistro, the restaurant and the Arabic style pool bar during the day. When it came to drinks there was a huge variety of free beverages including all your typical soft drinks and then locally produced beers, spirits and wines which were served at the hotel bars and restaurants from 9am until midnight each day.
The various attractions boasted by this hotel were unsurpassable and included a huge pool that was never overly busy surrounded by a patio of white mosaic tiles covered in sun beds which were free to use. We were lucky and found that we never had to reserve our sun beds or umbrellas before we reached the pool side at around 11am each day and that there were always plenty to go around. The pool was in a circular shape with two islands in the middle of palm trees and a smaller childrens pool to one side. On several days we ventured down to sun bathe among the sand dunes which separated the hotel from the sea. They consisted of warm, pure golden sand which sloped down softly into the crystal blue waters of the warm sea paradise! There was also a smaller indoor pool which was completely housed in a glass house which made it rather warm to see the least as well as 3 clay tennis courts.
Entertainment wise we were pleasantly surprised as previously wed always found hotel entertainment to be slightly cringe worthy. There was a daytime programme for children running Monday through to Saturday from 11am until early evening consisting of various games and shows as well as a daytime programme for adults of various sports. My younger brother took part in some of the sports including a volleyball match and a tennis tournament and really enjoyed mixing with the other teenagers. Every evening there was a live music show of some sort which actually made for great entertainment and started around 9.30pm each night and continued through to 11.30pm. There were various shoes including stand up comedy and cabaret performances which I have to admit I did actually enjoy!
We had little contact with the majority of the hotel staff during our stay but found our waiter every evening to be a comical man who never failed to crack a joke during our meal! Throughout our holiday the bar staff were of constant entertainment and we found them to be most friendly at all times. Our rooms were cleaned daily and towels were replaced regardless of whether or not they had been used, we even found the cleaners would fold up any clothes that were thrown on the floor for us. Again they always had a smile for us if we ever came back to our room to find them cleaning. I feel I should mention here the impeccable cleanliness of the hotel, each evening and morning the pool areas were all swept and the mosaic patios were washed. The dining room and the pool bar were also spotless and we didnt see one piece of rubbish on the floor at the hotel on any of the days. During our stay we didnt experience a single problem but I am confidant to say that if we had of encountered a problem it would have been sorted as efficiently and quickly as possible.
The majority of the hotel guests were of a similar age to my family and we were relieved to find relatively few younger children. There was a mixture of older and younger couples as well as families with older children which made for a peaceful holiday. The hotel and the resort are particularly geared towards visitors who are looking for a relaxing holiday rather than one full of wild nights out.
SITES TO SEE
When I first began to research our holiday in Mahdia I was slightly worried as there didnt seem to be a great amount of activities to partake in. However after having visited the town itself I can safely say I was wrong! There are some really great sites to see in the town including the Fortress of Bordj El Kebir which is the focal point of the whole town. Theres also the Great Mosque which dates back to the 10th century and was recently restored where we spent a day and gained a really great insight into the culture of Tunisia. The little town itself is a network of little, intricately connected streets which also show evidence of the older port fortresses that were once established. All the little streets near the town centre housed various street sellers and craft shops as well as some larger bazaars which are well worth a visit. We were also lucky enough to visit the old Cape Africa Lighthouse and had a tour around the sailors cemetery which was erected nearby and where some of the graves date back to many centuries ago. A place you really must visit if you ever visit Mahdia is the Friday market which is located right next to the fishing port and contains literally hundreds of stalls selling crafts and all traditional items including clothing and furniture. If you wish to travel outside the town of Mahdia during your stay theres plenty of excursions to choose from including the Sahara Explorer which is an overnight excursion and the Tale of Two Cities where you get to visit Kairoan, El Jem and Monastir over a period of two days.
We booked directly through the Riu company as my dad has shares in it and paid just over £2600 for 2 weeks accommodation for 4 adults. The holiday in total with flights cost just under £4300 which isn't too bad a price for a fortnight for 4 adults although when you are faced with such luxury everyday of the week I think its worth it! I believe that prices for the summer coming start from approximately £890 a week for 2 adults but more up to date information is available from the Riu website at www.riu.com. Thomson Direct also offers holidays to this hotel on a package basis and after a quick search I found that 2 adults could go for 1 week mid August for just under £1000.
I have to say that I had doubts before the holiday, firstly because I was a 20 year old going away with my parents and teenage brother (a reciepe for disaster in my household) and secondly because my original research on Mahdia didnt fill me with confidence. However from the moment I stepped off the plane and felt the heat and saw all the vibrant colours decorating the streets while on the transfer to the hotel my mind changed. The town of Mahdia is still relatively unspoilt by commercialism and retains a hugely cultural feel to it which will really envelop you. We spent about 4 days exploring the town of Mahdia and ate at one of the beach restaurants one evening which served traditional African cuisine and cost us about £15 for a meal for 4! We were looking enough to visit the Sahara on an overnight stay and also the neighbouring towns of Monastir and Port El Kantaoui also which offered another view into the traditionalism of Tunisia. If youre looking for a relaxing break with guaranteed sunshine then Id certainly recommend Mahdia, if you want a bit of luxury thrown in then the Riu El Mansour is definitely a hotel to check out as I cant fault it in the slightest! The food was always delicious, piping hot and plentiful also and the cleanliness of the hotel was one of the best Ive ever visited. So if youre thinking about where to go this summer, why not try Tunisia!
Thanks for reading!