Tunisia, the hidden gem in the Mediterranean By Fern Callister

London Mums' nutritionist Fern Callister went on a discovery trip to Tunisia and found an amazing opportunity for luxurious family getaways on a budget. Here is her diary from the trip. Before travelling to Tunisia I thought it was a land of sand, sun, Souks and camels but Tunisia is actually much more than that and is a holiday destination waiting to be discovered. Emerging from the recent Jasmine Revolution (on 14th January 2011) there is an air of excitement and opportunity as Tunisia prepares itself for its first Democratic government and the freedom that comes with it. The Tunisians are keen to show us that there is a lot more on offer as a holiday destination than beaches and markets. With a rich history of occupation from Roman, Spanish, Arab, Turks and French, you can still see the remnants of these influences in the architecture, language, food and culture.   Known for providing the film set locations for ‘Life of Brian’, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, ‘The English Patient’ and Star Wars, the landscape is actually a lot greener and more fertile land than the film sets suggest with miles of olive and almond trees, fruit trees, vines and lakes. Perhaps surprisingly, Tunisia supplies much of Europe with olive oil.   So why go there now? I would say now it a great time to go, before the word gets out. The people are welcoming and genuinely happy to show you around. Nothing seems to be too much trouble, and you are made to feel relaxed and ready to forget the daily stresses of home life. So if you are looking for a relaxing week or ten days, you are on a budget, and want to have your food cooked for you and watch your kids having fun all day, then this might be the holiday for you. For a family holiday, Tunisia is an excellent choice also thanks to the absence of some of the usual travel niggles. With just a 2.5hr flight and maximum 1 hour time difference you can arrive and enjoy the sunshine and sand without the long flight and jet lag. There is no EU passport holder requirement for a visa, the currency can be changed in the hotel as and when you need it. There is no humidity in Spring and I saw no mosquitoes or other pesky insects, and you can sleep well at night as the sea breeze keeps the temperature comfortable too. There is a soothing sense of space - for the first few hours I kept having to consciously not walk too closely to the people around me as is so normal in London and enjoy regaining my personal space. Looking around the markets and the entertainment centres early in the season it was as if we had the place to ourselves.   Hotel: For a stress-free family stay, Tunisia offers many choices for accommodation. The Holiday Village option is very popular with families being all-inclusive with plenty of activities and entertainment on offer for all ages of child. The Holiday Village Manar, near Hammamet recently reopened after a refurbishment and is now pristine and fresh. The staff are all friendly and helpful, keeping an eye on the swimming pools and sports activities and keeping the noise levels down in some areas to allow for relaxation.   The holiday villages offer day long activities based in the swimming pools and activity areas within the manicured grounds, which include archery, golf, football and water sports. During the evening, entertainers perform for the kids and it is possible to leave them to make friends and have fun for most of the day. The rooms are spacious with family rooms and superior family rooms available.   With enough to eat, drink and do during the day that are included in your stay you can ensure there are no surprise room bills and your kids can grab drinks and snacks without you having to put down your novel. It’s not all just for kids though - there is a spa, gym and indoor pool area too for some pampering, and the bar is open until late too. Other places to stay range from family apartments and boutiques to spa hotels.   Shopping: Locals will try and sell you their wares but they are polite and it is easy to find yourself absorbed in a chat with them about anything from celebrities to politics, not a far cry from visiting a local market at home! If your Arabic or French is not yet up to scratch the Tunisians are happy to try out their English with even the occasional impersonation of a cockney twang. The traders expect you to haggle for things in the market except for food but you can buy your souvenirs from fixed price outlets too. Bargains include ceramics, wooden ornaments, sheesha pipes, spices, bags and clothes. If you can fit them in your luggage, there are many good quality rugs on offer too.   Food: If you are heading out to the towns to eat, the local food is very fresh and varied and you can normally choose whether or not to add extra spiciness. There are also plenty of Italian and French themed restaurants for variety. There are very drinkable local wines and beers on offer in most places but in some more local restaurants alcohol is not permitted.   If you love fish and seafood you will be in your element! The fresh fruit is also excellently flavoursome, especially the melon, strawberries and bananas, and there are also good lamb, chicken and beef options for the meat eaters. There is an abundance of olives and almonds grown on the 3 million trees stretching over land between towns, and there are also many couscous dishes too.   When staying in, the all-inclusive set up in the hotel means that the meals are buffet style with plenty to suit all appetites and palates. Breakfasts include freshly made omelettes and pancakes, continental style fare as well as Tunisian specialities. There are plenty of cereals and sweet treats for the kids, as well as savoury options for those with less of a sweet tooth. Dinners are a choice of self-service or a-la-carte in three restaurants and are excellently presented so that you feel you have to try almost everything on offer. There are always some snacks available during the day for re-fuelling after some energetic swimming and sports activities too.     Things to see and do: Yasmine Hammamet – Carthage Land – entertainment for families. El Sousse – picturesque marina and busy Medina, popular with the British tourists. El Kantaoui – Port town founded in 1977 based on the French Riviera Monastir – pretty town, favoured by brits, you can find Ribat of Harthema an eight century fortress – the site of many film sets and the home town of Habib Bourguiba. Tunis - Bardo Museum - Largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world Medina shopping – el Sousse and Tunis. El Jem – the site of the ruins of a Roman Colosseum which you can explore. Entry to many sites is around 5 Dinar and some charge 1 Dinar for the right to take photographs. (1 dinar is 45p). There is a great focus on spas and wellbeing treatments – ideal opportunity for Mums while the kids are out in the resort. Golf courses are abundant and great for year-round good weather. 4x4 and Quad-bike safaris. Salt lakes for speed sailing.     Getting Around: The road networks are already good and are being improved with faster toll motorways linking many of the major ports and cities. If you are not hiring a car, there are many low cost taxis and local buses as well as horse and carriage within most towns. You can hire a car and driver for a family of four from the hotel Manar for 150 Tunisian Dinars (approx £75). Alternatively, Avis can hire out cars for tariffs starting at 80 Dinars (approx £40) per day. Petrol is much cheaper there at around 50p per litre. Return flights to Tunis Tunisair operate four flights per week from London Heathrow to Tunis, prices start from £170 (inc taxes). For reservations call 020 7734 7644 or go to www.tunisair.com. First Choice Holiday Village Manar First Choice offers a seven night holiday in Tunisia, staying at the 5 Sun Holiday Village Manar on an all-inclusive basis, from £569 per adult, £465 for first child and £545 for second child based on two adults and two children sharing. Departing from London Gatwick Airport on 3rd July 2011, the price includes return flights, accommodation, in-resort transfers and all taxes and surcharges. For more information log on to www.firstchoice.co.uk or call 0871 200 4455. For all your travel needs and for information on what’s happening in Tunisia go to www.cometotunisia.co.uk   The Author: Fern Callister is London Mums' in-house nutritionist. For nutritional consultations please contact me at www.ferncallister.co.uk, fern_callister@yahoo.co.uk. Save Save Save Save

About Monica Costa

Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London http://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums

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