Monastir Holidays - Tunisia’s Ancient Showpiece
With its battlements and minarets, cupolas and mosques, Monastir bares testament to Tunisia’s Roman colonisation and the wealth of the country’s successive amans. Situated on beach-capped headland 18kms (11 miles) south of Sousse and a mere 6kms from Skanes, it started as a Phoenician trading post – but its imposing ribat (fortress) dates from the 8th century, and is today the town’s main attraction. (Fans of the Life of Brian may recognise it as one of the film’s main locations). Down by the modern marina there are plenty of seafood restaurants and bars along the promenade as well as excellent water skiing, windsurfing and fishing facilities and a diving school. Whilst most people choose to stay in the resort town of Skanes, a holiday in Monastir will suit those who have culture or water sports high on the agenda.
Like most coastal destinations, Monastir is busiest (and in terms of accommodation, most expensive) in July-August, when daytime temperatures are plus 30 degrees and they rarely drop below the low 20s in the evening, though sea breezes cool down the high humidity. April, May and June are the most enjoyable times, and although great Monastir package holiday deals can be found at Easter, the water is generally too chilly for bathing (though fine for water sports). Being a popular destination with the French, school holidays can get busy but no more so than other holiday destinations in Europe.
Monastir’s weather is very close to other destinations along the Tunisian coast such as Sousse or Hammamet. 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 except in a wetsuit. 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. November is a great time to come, with daytime temperatures in the low to mid-twenties.
Most major providers provide flight and accommodation package holidays to Tunisia and Monastir is on their radar. Holiday portals do have Monastir hotels, though not as many as other resorts such as Hammamet and do check how far the hotel is situated from the city centre. Fly and hotel package holidays may work out to be cheaper for Monastir, though bear in mind the airport is close to the city centre anyway and beware bad feedback on the food in many Monastir hotels.
Monastir – Habib Bourguiba International Airport is only 8kms from Monastir, making it convenient for short trips. From the airport, you can catch a taxi to Monastir city centre, a bus or train. A road ‘train’ also connects Monastir with the major hotels in Skanes.
However, the airport is mainly used by Tunisair and Eastern European carriers. Unless you on a charter, many airlines from the UK fly to the larger Enfidha-Hammamet airport in the north from where you can catch a louage to Skanes and then a taxi.
Facilities at Enfidha-Hammamet include duty free, money exchange facilities and car rental services. 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.
Most major hotels are situated along the beaches that surround the Monastir headland, and they have their own patch of white sand for guests (or a small fee). Abou Nawa - the city beach - boasts clear, shallow water, making it a good spot for little ones, though there have been some reports of over-enthusiastic touts.
From the compact yet picturesque central resort beach to the endless golden sands of nearby Abou Nawas and Hounda, a holiday in Monastir will enjoy some of the finest coastline in Tunisia. Water sports are plentiful yet never distracting from the simple pleasures of sunbathing. With ample shade, pleasant promenade walks and a relatively hawker free environment, pleasant and relaxing days are ensured on the beaches here.
The Ribat of Hartema
The most popular historic attraction here, the Ribat is an extremely well preserved ancient monastery that over the centuries has been continually fortified to protect the town from constant incursions. A stroll along its walls will discover glorious Moorish architecture, colourful mosaics and ancient stone carvings with many artefacts and treasures on display in a well appointed onsite museum. The main focal point of the town, the Ribat of Hartema affords expansive views of the town and coastline.
Enjoy the vast expanses of the Sahara at close hand with an adventurous jeep safari. Salt water lakes, lush oases and towering sand dunes punctuate the route which can be undertaken over a few hours or extensive exploration over several days. Rugged, beautiful and uncompromising, the world's most evocative desert will ensure fabulous scenery and unforgettable memories.
Most visitors regularly frequent the hotel restaurants of Monastir but the town itself is overflowing with food stalls, cafes and restaurants catering to every conceivable palate. Do try some of the famed and spicy local dishes such as the ever popular couscous, Birk - a pastry dish filled with tuna and Makroudh, a sweet honey cake stuffed with dates. Sampling the cuisine in a local hostelry is the most enjoyable way to connect with its local people.
A visit here simply must include a stroll in the Medina - a maze of narrow claustrophobic streets brimming with colourful souks, cafes and very persuasive, yet welcoming street traders. Hone your bargaining skills and revel in friendly banter as you search for that ideal gift - be it ornate copperware, carpets or exotic herbs and spices.
A famous landmark, this is an opulent palace where the body of Tunisia's first president lies in state. Belying its modern construction, it highlights colourful Islamic architecture, fabulous art and furnishings and a sense of regal exuberance. It makes for an interesting look at the life and personal tastes of modern Tunisia's founding father.