Our party gathered at Heathrow only to learn that our Tunis Air flight to Tunis would be an hour delayed. However the extra time flew by and once boarded our evening flight proceeded smoothly with passable airline food, laced with a modicum of alcohol. Our bus then took us east across the Cap Bon peninsula to Hammamet. Despite the lateness of the hour we had a full welcoming committee when we arrived at our hotel, the 5 star Riu Palace Oceana bordering the Mediterranean at Hammamet Sud. After showing us to our spacious “junior suites”, they kept the bar was open for our sole benefit enabling us to cast off our travel fatigue by indulging in the odd nightcap or two. This excellent level of service was maintained throughout our stay
Daylight revealed wonderful beach and sea views from our rooms, a cavernous bar and reception area, excellent breakfast and dining areas and food plus sumptuous indoor pool and spa facilities, all of which we took full advantage of during our 4 night stay.
Although golf in the sun away from an English January was our principal objective, we did manage to squeeze in a trip to Carthage to inspect the Punic and Roman ruins found in the lee of theTunisian President’s splendid palace grounds. It was fascinating to learn from our guide, Ahmed, and to see evidence of some of the sophisticated techniques used to build the Roman town and the earlier Punic city, then the largest in the world, that the Romans destroyed after winning the third Punic War. It was equally extraordinary to see the magnificent seascape that surrounds the old city on all sides save for the peninsula leading back to Tunis.
Before returning to the east coast we visited the pretty artist’s village of Sidi Bou Said. Founded by a Muslim mystic of the same name in the 12th century and subsequently colonised by generations of artists, the narrow streets encased by white walls and blue painted windows and doors to ward off mosquitos are inevitably a major attraction in the summer months. Happily in January neither mosquitos nor tourists were greatly in evidence and better still the street sellers who would usually pursue you ruthlessly for the sale of even the smallest of their local items mostly stayed away.
The white and blue architecture, including some wonderful play-pen window cages, was also a feature of our subsequent trip to the medina in Hammamet. Our guide, Mehir, led us into this maze of alleyways and narrow streets and without him some of us might still be there seeking a way out. Remarkably he managed to show us a sea view with the sun apparently setting in the east before introducing us to a house which had been owned by his parents. Built in Arabic style the house had a central open courtyard around which the living accommodation, comprising many tiny rooms, was scattered on two floors. Mehir, boasting splendid moustachios, then introduced us to the local carpet factory where we viewed a carpet weaver at work, apparently for a wage of less than £3 per day. Some of us inevitably succumbed to the usual sale techniques and are now the proud owners of hand woven carpets purchased at unbeatable prices! No wonder our guide was not charging or even seeking a tip.
Our golf was played in pleasantly warm and sunny weather on two of the three local Hammamet courses built on each side of the Tunis road. It is enough to say that both the courses and most of our golf were modest although the last 9 holes of Citrus Les Oliviers proved quite testing, particularly when the Levant wind got up on our last day.
Our journey home was marred by a strike at Tunis airport; this not only caused our Tunis Air flight to be delayed but meant that no food or drink was served on the plane. Such problems paled into insignificance when we got back into English airspace where we were greeted by fierce winds and rain necessitating a frustrating 30 minutes of stacking before the weather moderated. It was a relief when disembarking to discover that the cabin crew were still on board as they had been conspicuous by their absence throughout the flight.
One final thought about Tunisia prompted by our Carthage guide, Ahmed. When asked why there were so many half-built houses and apartment blocks, he replied that it is the custom in Tunisia that you only build what you can afford. As a consequence houses tend to take 5 or more years to build and there is no expectation that you should seek prior funding before starting. It’s strange therefore that Tunisians, rather than the British, should have as one of their principal banks a bank called the Amen Bank!