Hammamet Holidays - The glittering prize of Tunisia.
Hammamet means both ‘bathing place’ and ‘doves’ and certainly this exotic, romantic walled town and its surrounds encapsulates the best of the Tunisia’s manmade and natural beauty, despite the hotels and touristic developments that have mushroomed around its periphery. Sitting at the base of the Cap Bon Peninsula, which juts boldly northeast across the Mediterranean towards Sicily, the upmarket resorts, jazzy shops, galleries and refined villas of Hammamet feel more European than North African. It was the preferred settlement of the dignitaries of the French Protectorate, who built roads, magnificent homes and fine gardens. One has become the International Cultural Centre, a whitewashed retreat complete with amphitheatre (which hosts concerts in the summer) that Frank Lloyd Wright declared ‘the most beautiful house I know.’
The hills that cradle the curving bay of Hammamet are flecked with orange and olive groves and vineyards (a wine festival is held every September) whilst beach lovers are spoilt for choice at either the well-heeled private enclaves or Hammamet’s long arc of golden sand.
Like most Mediterranean destinations, Hammamet is busiest (and in terms of accommodation, most expensive) in July-August, when daytime temperatures are plus 30 degrees, though sea-breezes cool down the evenings, May-June are the most enjoyable times, and although great package holiday deals can be found at Easter, the water is generally too chilly for bathing. Being a popular destination with the French, school holidays can get busy but no more so than other holiday destinations in Europe. Hammamet was Tunisia’s first foray in tourism and you’ll find it open for business all year round. The exception maybe some smaller expat run establishments that close shop off-season.
Hammamet enjoys a southern Mediterranean climate, with average temperatures ranging from 15 degrees in winter to a hot and humid 33 degrees in high summer, dropping to a balmy 20 degrees at night. October and even November are warm enough for beach activities, with temperatures in the low twenties, though bring a sweater for the evenings and light jacket for frequent late autumn rainfalls. December-February is better for cultural activities (or shopping in the medina!) though winter sun is pretty much always assured.
Most major providers provide flight and accommodation package holidays to Tunisia and Hammamet is one of their most popular destinations. They fly to either Tunis-Carthage airport, from where you can get a louage (shared taxi) or the newer Enfidha-Hammamet airport. Being Tunisia’s oldest and most established tourist destination, holiday portals have lots of Hammamet hotels, often at enticing rates even for July-August. Fly and hotel package holidays can often work out better, and will include transfers and often meals (Hammamet’s restaurants are upmarket and pricey).
Major airlines travel to the Tunis-Carthage International Airport (8kms from the city centre) but if you book a package deal you will more than likely arrive at the modern Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport. Situated 40 kms (25 miles) southwest of Hammamet and opened in 2009 to accommodate visitors to the coastal resorts, it has duty free, money exchange facilities and car rental services. Taxis from the airport are metered and the average price to Hammamet is about 60 TND. From Tunis airport, which is 60kms from Hammamet, you’d be better off getting a louage (shared taxi) or train from Tunis’ main station. Avis is the only international car hire operator in the airport should you choose to drive. Some travel forums have good reports on driving in Tunisia (except for the capital Tunis) and roads between the major resorts tend to be acceptable. Plenty of motor scooter traffic, lack of traffic lights, (roundabouts are used instead) and pedestrians crossing roads at any point are the main pitfalls.
Hammamet boasts a beautiful crescent of palm-lined, golden sand stretching south, and getting away from the crowds rarely proves difficult, even in high season. Some of the more luxurious hotels have fenced-off private beaches with all the facilities and vestiges of Hammamet's old fishing community can be seen in the colourful wooden boats that dot the coastline. Boat facilities and a modern marina are situated at Hammamet Yasmine.
Perhaps the most essential excursion on a Hammamet holiday is a visit to the ancient ruins of Carthage; a truly inspiring place of immense historic significance. A stroll around this vast site will encounter wonderfully romantic examples of Romanesque architecture and early Islamic art. Admire temples, thermal baths and theatres in amazing condition offering a vivid glimpse of the past surrounded by dramatic and rugged scenery.
Enjoy the relaxing sensuous benefits of warm sea water treatments thought to have originated during the golden era of ancient Carthage many centuries ago. Several hotels here offer a full range of thalassotherapy treatments known to alleviate many ailments and relieve stress. A day of indulgence will do wonders for personal wellbeing and the perfect boost after a day in the blazing sun.
Journey into the heart of the desert by jeep to the remote mountain oases of Tamerza and Mides for a magical tour of ancient Berber villages, waterfalls and lush gardens - a world away from the parched, rugged surrounding desert. Savour the most vibrant sunset imaginable during a feast of local cuisine for the perfect end to an adventurous day.
Safe and shallow blue waters provide perfect days of windsurfing, water skiing and a host of other worthwhile activities to enjoy on the ocean during a beach holiday here. For the less active, take a pleasure cruise around the coastline in search of dolphins or explore the vivid colours underwater with a spot of rewarding snorkelling.
Hammamet is blessed with a host of inviting golf courses of the very highest quality, beautifully manicured and boasting wonderful natural scenery. Test your skills on windswept links courses or inland through rugged desert terrain and lush undergrowth. A day of golf can be enjoyed on both undemanding public and professionally designed exclusive championship courses in the area.
Kasbah of Hammamet
This is best enjoyed from the outside because it looks over the ocean and the beach. Or just walk along its base in the medina. There isn’t much inside worth viewing. The Kasbah dates back to the 12th century, and has been extensively restored. Go for the views and look down on the beautiful Cafe Sidi Bou Hdid, one of the most used images in Tunisian tourist brochures.