Mahdia Holidays - The essence of Tunisia
With an ancient culture of fishermen, pirates and sailors, the port town of Mahdia is full of salty charm and laid-back ambiance, making it perfect for a lazy Tunisia holiday. To this day, it has an important fishing industry, as seen by the abundance of colourful boats bobbing in the port and the spectacular site of nocturnal sardine fishing by candlelight. Textiles are another of Mahdia’s mainstays. Stroll the Friday souk along the quay for exquisite embroidery and silk garments, as well as fresh produce and curios such as camel saddles.
The walled city of Mahdia is perched on a headland (known as ‘Cape Africa’) on a stunning stretch of coast approximately halfway between Sousse and Sfax, making it an ideal base from which to explore other destinations on your Tunisia holiday. (One that shouldn’t be missed is El Jem, the world’s sixth largest Roman amphitheatre and still remarkably intact). Most hotels are located a few kilometres from the town centre, though the sites within Mahdia itself are do-able on foot and taxis are plentiful and inexpensive.
Like most beach destinations, Mahdia is busiest (and most expensive) in July-August, when daytime temperatures are plus 30 degrees and rarely drops below the low 20s in the evening. April, May and 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. Going by the travel forums, Mahdia has a fair number of return visitors, so whenever you choose to go, it would be wise to book as far ahead as possible.
Mahdia’s weather is very close to other destinations along the Tunisian coast such as Sousse or Port El Kantaoui. Expect hot, often-humid summer days with and average temperature of 30-plus degrees and cool to mild autumns and winters where the water temperature would be too cold for swimming for most. May and April sees the most rainfall so bring a waterproof jacket and something light for summer evenings as sea breezes cool things down considerably. Early October is generally still beach season and November is a great time to come for some winter sun, with daytime temperatures in the low to mid-twenties.
Compared to other resorts along Tunisia’s Mediterranean coastline such as Hammamet or Djerba, Mahdia is decidedly low-key and perhaps offers more opportunity to witness local life and culture. There are a few hotels and B&Bs within the town itself, and a handful of resort-type places outside the town centre along what many consider to be the most stunning stretch of coast in the country. As Mahdia doesn’t depend on tourism, it would be wise to check exactly what amenities the hotels are offering off-season (roughly November-Easter). Also remember that Mahdia is renowned for its local cuisine - something to keep in mind before booking an all-inclusive holiday in Mahdia.
The closest airport to Mahdia is Monastir – Habib Bourguiba International Airport (MIR) (http://www.habibbourguibaairport.com). From Monastir, you would be able to take a train (http://www.sncft.com.tn/) to Mahdia, or taxi form the airport itself, which should cost around 60 TND for the 50 km (or one hour) trip. In addition, many charters flights from the UK fly to the modern Enfidha-Hammamet airport (NBE) (http://www.enfidhahammametairport.com), from where a taxi should cost around 80 TND to Mahdia.
You could also hire a car at Enfidha-Hammamet airport. (Avis is the only international car hire operator here 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.
Mahdia’s beach has the reputation as the last unspoilt stretch of sand in this part of Tunisia. The water is incredibly warm and benign and watching local fishermen go about their work using artisan methods is part of the appeal. The resort-hotels are situated to the north of the town, and provide many facilities such as sun beds and parasols, though perhaps not as many waterspout services as other more developed Tunisia resort destinations.
Exploring Ancient Medinas
This charming little fishing port was once the capital of Tunisia and a formidable fortress. The medina (or old town) stretches out along a peninsula and is entered by a reconstruction of the huge 16th century gate. Inside the walls, the ‘dark passage’ was built in sections that could be closed off in the event of attack. Today, however, this area feels relaxed despite being full of welcoming merchants selling leatherware, silverware and carpets and other crafts – Mahdia is famed for its weaving. Take a look at the Great Mosque, carefully rebuild from the original plans in the 1960’s, having been almost totally destroyed by the Spaniards in 1554. Nearby Sousse has a medina that is listed as a World Heritage site and there is a museum with extremely well preserved Roman mosaics.
Beaches, Watersports And Diving
The town has glorious white sandy beaches with every kind of water sport available, from jet skiing to parascending, scuba diving to banana boating, and the sparkling turquoise sea makes it all the more enjoyable. There is also a professional diving school offering the chance for beginners to take the plunge or experienced divers to enjoy the colourful marine life or explore one of the WWII wrecks that lie off the coast.
El Jem Amphitheatre
North Africa’s largest colosseum, this incredible amphitheatre is extremely well preserved. Built in the 3rd-century to hold up to 35,000 spectators, performances are still held here, although today they tend to be concerts rather than gladiatorial contests. Visitors can look round the underground passageways which once held fighters, slaves and wild animals. The town also has a museum with an excellent collection of mosaics.
Monastir may be a little over twenty-five miles away, but the Flamingo Golf Course is in a magnificent setting, with lakes, valleys, ancient olive trees and lush greens set off against the sparkling blue sea. The Palm Links Golf Course is a real links course with sandy terrain and wild grasses, again beside the sea, and includes practice bunkers and greens, a driving range and golf school.
Tunis And Ancient Carthage
Although around 125 miles north, Tunis has much to see. The French ville nouvelle, with its elegant boulevards and cafes, contrasts with the medina, a World Heritage site that is a maze of tunnels and alleyways. The Bardo, Tunisia’s greatest museum, should also make the journey worthwhile. Unfortunately, little of ancient Carthage is still above ground but the Carthage Museum has a model of what this incredible city looked like before and after the Romans, as well as ruins, artefacts and a wonderful view of the Gulf of Tunis.