The Mediterranean is an unusual colour off Tunisia, almost a Caribbean blue rather than the deeper blue when looking upon it from the European side. With the soft white sand of the beach at Les Orangers sparkling next to it, it looks even prettier.
I’m stretched out on my chaise longue in front of my beachfront bungalow at Les Orangers, gazing at the sea. But I realise I’m not in the Caribbean when a camel walks by the beach. Yes, you can ride a camel (well, technically a dromedary — one hump, not two) here! You can also fulfil the more common dream of riding a horse on the beach.
This is an all-inclusive beach resort, one of the original resorts in Hammamet. It caters largely to young couples, families with young children and older couples from the UK and Germany. There’s an indoor pool and an outdoor one, sauna, hammam, gym, tennis and many other sports, plus a kids club and kids activities.
The luxe option here is the bungalows, where you’ll be treated like a VIP. Just let your butler know what you’d like to eat and drink at your next meal, and it will be brought right to you. Choose to dine on your terrace overlooking the sea or in the dining area of your massive bungalow. Your butler will subtlely check in on you several times a day to make sure your every need is addressed.
The bungalows are in their own area near the edge of the property, offering more privacy from the somewhat crowded rest of the resort. Each bungalow is a large room with separate areas for your king size bed, for dining, and for relaxing on your couch beside the wood-burning fireplace. There’s a small desk, fridge, and amenities including a music player, large TV and a Nespresso machine. The bathroom has one of the biggest bathtubs I’ve ever seen.
The shaded and curtained terrace has a dining table and two chaise longues which you can move into the sun, as well as a hammock built for two. Big windows let you admire the sea view from everywhere.
An even more exclusive choice — villas — is coming in 2016. Sister resorts nearby (all have Azur in their name) are another luxe option.
There are times in your life when you want a holiday when the most difficult thing to decide is what to have for dinner. Les Orangers delivers.
I stepped into the pool just after the sun set, at the beginning of blue hour. With each lap I watched the sky slowly darken to match the colour of the sea. I was surrounded by beautiful blues — the greenish blue of the pool, the sapphire sky and the azure of the sea. The bright white columns reflected the shimmering water. This might be the most beautiful swim I’ve ever had. It was only when the stars and bright moon popped out of the now black sky that I thought it might be time to go to bed.
There are three spectacular pools at the 5-star La Badira, the indoor-outdoor one near the spa, where I had my evening swim; an outdoor one near the restaurant; and another with views of the sea in two directions (the hotel is on a point, meaning that every room has a sea view, and security is tighter given the limited access).
La Badira is a member of Leading Hotels of the World, and its name means “luminous as the full moon”. The hotel is brand new, and was still adding the finishing touches during my stay in April 2015. Some procedures were not yet perfected, but they should be up to 5-star level at time of writing.
There’s a choice of three types of rooms. Beautifully similar are the all-white regular rooms (called Fell and Yasmine suites, $240), with stunning views from both bed and balcony, some with bathtub and some without. There are also a variety of larger suites. Noor suites ($365) are on the top floor with two private jacuzzis (one outdoors across the hall), and, showing high design originality, there are six Legend suites with a fireplace and private pool ($530). Each of these Legend suites is designed after the style of a famous Hammamet visitor from the early 20th century, when this beach town was famous in the art world for the quality of its light. Fancy a stay in the Wallace Simpson or August Macke room? They’re waiting for you.
I was treated to a hammam in the beautiful spa. While the temperature was not quite high enough during my treatment, I felt relaxed and shiny new afterward. The large spa features Thémaé products from Paris, and you can gaze out at the sea while you sip your post-treatment tea. There’s also a gym and conference rooms on site.
The breakfast is a buffet, with eggs made to order, and more pastries than you could ever hope to sample. You can eat indoors or outdoors. There are three other restauarants, led by French chef Sébastien Bontour and executive chef Slim Bettaieb. If you’d like to dine elsewhere, note that the hotel is a short drive or long walk outside of the town of Hammamet.
Dar El Marsa is exactly what you want in a boutique hotel. Great location, arty vibe, cool rooms, helpful staff, a popular bar, a restaurant with fantastic food, and a superb spa.
This luxury boutique hotel is right across the street from the wide beach in the La Marsa suburb of Tunis, next door to famous Sidi Bou Said. The neighbourhood has a beachy vibe and a selection of restaurants and shops to make you feel welcome.
The hotel features an ever-changing roster of artists. During my visit the paintings of Anna Latreille Ladoux, of Polish background but living in El Marsa, were featured in the lobby. The clean lines of her beach and ocean scenes were the perfect match for both the sleek design of Dar El Marsa and the sandy beach below it.
Sitting on your balcony you can admire the view of the beautiful sea. While not huge, the rooms are well-designed and well-equipped. They feature a super comfortable king size bed, a small desk area, and a chair and low table near the glass balcony doors. The TV is a smart one (though the internet connection wasn’t strong enough to watch YouTube without delays). The Sony Music player is of the 30-pin variety. Rooms have lots of closet space. There’s a Nespresso machine for excellent coffee. Bathrooms are bright and mirror-filled, and have an extra deep bathtub (up to my neck sitting up!). Showers are by Grohe, my favourite. The toilet is in a separate room.
A buffet breakfast (included in rates) with eggs made to order is served in the lobby bar. Throughout the day and evening the lobby bar is very popular with guests, locals and expats for hanging out, admiring the art, chats, meetings, and enjoying drinks and snacks. Deeper into the hotel is a top notch restaurant where I had one of my best meals in Tunisia.
There’s a lot to do in Tunis, but it is difficult to leave Dar El Marsa. You’ll want to lounge around their rooftop pool and there’s a spa which can’t be missed. In fact, you should make plans to visit more than once.
The Golden Tulip Carthage was my perfect introduction to Tunisia. The hotel prides itself on its international standards with local flavours. It had just the right mix to make me feel comfortable in my first days in a new country (particularly as my visit was one month after the attack at the Bardo museum), but also introduce me to the charms and wonderful people of this beautiful Mediterranean country.
The hotel is located in a forested area near the sea, with complete security which controls not only who enters the complex, but what they bring with them (via metal detectors, x-ray machines and under-vehicle screening). No, this was not a response to the terrorism attacks in Tunisia, but was put in place at the time of the revolution. As the complex also houses the homes of many of Tunisia’s ambassadorial community, more security makes sense.
The setting for the Golden Tulip Carthage is beautiful. The complex overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, which takes on an almost Caribbean blue colour here. Catering primarily to the upscale business traveler, you don’t need to leave the hotel complex if you don’t want to.
On-site are several restaurants, one with international cuisine, a great Italian, an Irish pub, and a top-notch Indian one (I’m still craving the lamb and was impressed with the chef’s ability to get my desired level of spice in my chicken exactly perfect). Drinks, snacks and teas can be taken in different areas, you can choose your pool bar, and there’s even a hookah lounge. The complex has a full spa with a wonderful hammam, a large indoor pool, huge health club with individualized fitness programs, a dance/yoga studio, tennis, and several outdoor pools too. Having a meeting? The Golden Tulip has lots of space to meet your needs.
If you need a service, the Golden Tulip can provide it or arrange for it. I was particularly appreciative of the currency exchange desk, which provided good rates — so useful in a country with a closed currency (i.e. you can’t bring Tunisian money out of the country or exchange it abroad). The Carthage Executive Lounge is the place to go for breakfast and snacks throughout the day (especially Tunisian pastries).
Whether you’re in Tunis for business or relaxation, the Golden Tulip Carthage’s 243 rooms and 21 suites and its very hospitable staff will suit your every need.