Hammamet, Tunisia’s original package holiday resort, is still going strong. Karl Cushing reports
Hello, remember me? I’m the chef for your hotel and it’s my day off.”
When you hear those words within hours of arriving in a destination, soon to be followed by all manner of offers, you know you’re in a well established resort.
Such was my arrival last month in Hammamet, the resort whose beaches spawned Tunisia’s package tourism industry back in the 1960s – a market that remains remarkably robust despite the turmoil that followed the country’s Jasmine Revolution of 2011 and the protests of this February.
Indeed, analyst GfK reported trade summer bookings up 18.5% to mid-February, and Thomson’s online bookings to Tunisia are already up by 37% on 2012 levels.
Cosmos Holidays has boosted capacity for 2013 with a new five-times-a-week Heathrow-Tunis service and a twice-weekly Manchester-Tunis service, all with Tunis Air.
“Hammamet is especially suitable for families wanting a good-value beach holiday,” says Cosmos product and commercial manager Gemma Carroll.
“Prices are very reasonable for this summer and we are on par with other family-orientated short haul destinations such as Antalya in Turkey and Tenerife.”
Tunisia specialist Just Sunshine has also seen a strong take-up of its new flights from Glasgow and Newcastle to Enfidha with Tunisian carrier Syphax Airlines, and has added a second weekly Gatwick flight starting on May 25 and running until October to satisfy increased demand.
Meanwhile, the Tunisian National Tourist Office is focusing its efforts on growing golf tourism and attracting more travellers over 50.
SELL: FAMILY-FRIENDLY VALUE
Hammamet won’t be for everyone. Some will prefer sleepier resorts such as Mahdia or Sousse, with its better beaches and upmarket neighbour Port el Kantaoui. However, if fly-and-flop’s the game, family-friendly Hammamet’s the name.
Aside from the enviable climate and glut of great-value product, it makes an excellent base for exploring the north. Plus, it’s an easy transfer from Tunis-Carthage airport, about 40 miles away.
The resort is essentially ‘a game of two halves’. Alongside Hammamet proper, with its traditional whitewashed buildings and old walled medina, is the purpose-built tourist district of Yasmine, or south, Hammamet, with its modern hotels, restaurants, bars and kitsch reproduction medina.
Deals are especially plentiful outside of the main season, which runs from April to late September, although winter months can be chilly and key attractions closed.
STAY: ESTABLISHED CHAINS
Being long-established, the area is awash with serviceable hotels, including several Riu and Iberostar properties. Top picks for luxury spa stays include Eden Yasmine and the Hasdrubal Thalassa & Spa, which has massive suites.
Thomson and First Choice are featuring five properties apiece in Hammamet and Yasmine Hammamet for summer 2013, including three Thomson Platinum Resorts – Club Magic Life Africana Imperial, the recently refurbished Riu Palace Oceana Hammamet, and my own base, the Riu Palace Hammamet Marhaba (pictured below), a solid enough all-inclusive backed by a thalassotherapy centre.
Top family picks include Holiday Village Manar – a five-star First Choice Holiday Village with two big pools, Aqua Park and children’s clubs – and Clubhotel Riu Marco Polo, a First Choice Premier Families product. New for 2013 is the 361-room Khayam Garden Beach & Spa, 10 miles out of town towards Nabeul, with its two outdoor pools and child-friendly fun area complete with four slides.
Alternatively, the all-inclusive Club Med Hammamet boasts a decent spa (treatments are extra) and offers club facilities for kids aged from just four months. Another solid all-inclusive that gets consistently good reviews is Les Orangers, which is featured by Thomas Cook.
SEE: ANCIENT AND PURPOSE-BUILT
Aside from the parasol-festooned beaches and watersports, Hammamet’s top draws include the old fort and medina. Stroll down the alleyways and pick up some souvenir bargains. If you’re game, consider a hammam bath and scrub (gommam).
The biggest draw for kids is the sprawling Carthage Land in Yasmine Hammamet’s medina, with its 5D cinema and Aqua Park. Excursions on glass-bottomed vessels and the Sultan II pirate ship, quad bike tours and now even Segways are well-publicised.
For adults there are horse and cart rides around Yasmine, two golf courses at Citrus and Roman mosaics at Pupput, with after-dark options including a flutter at the casino followed by a shimmy at a club such as Cocoon.
Popular side trips include Friguia park for its zoo, dolphin shows and – rather randomly – themed Zulu entertainment evenings (tickets are sold by operators including Thomson and Thomas Cook). Nabeul, a 20-minute drive north, is a good spot for buying ceramics, while Hergla, to the south, is an interesting village known for its weaving and nearby beaches.
Farther afield, Thomas Cook and Thomson’s offerings include visits to the impressive Roman ruins at Dougga and El Jem.Club Med Hammamet’s tour options include day trips to Tunis and Carthage, and to Sidi Bou Said, the must-see arty centre known for its flower-draped buildings.
Alternatively, Tui’s options include a two-day Simply Sahara/Onk Jemal tour. Overnighting on the desert fringes in Douz, this tour takes in the Roman ruins at El Jem, used in Gladiator, Star Wars locations and the oasis town of Chebika (from £84.99/ £44.50).
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