Our home for our three week stay in Mahdia was the Iberostar Royal El Mansour. (Since we were so well treated there, I decided to devote one whole episode of my blog to the hotel itself.) Since we were there in off-season (January), this 5-star luxury hotel was not only affordable, it was also very tranquil and pretty much one of the only hotels open at this time of year. Our room was spacious, with a balcony overlooking a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean Sea as well as a sprawling vista of Mahida and other small towns stretching as far as the eye could see along the coastline.
Over our three weeks there, two things emerged as the stars of the hotel…the staff – everyone from front desk to housekeeping to restaurant staff – were top-notch; but I have to give a special nod of recognition and appreciation to the restaurant staff…and the food…the food at the buffet restaurant (officially called the Principal Restaurant) was consistently amazing. Plentiful and diverse in both colour and the vast variety of foods being offered, each meal was a feast for both the eyes and the palate. I have to admit that one of the highlights of my entire day was walking in and seeing each evening’s dessert display. I apologize in advance because perhaps my pictures a) won’t do the dessert table justice, and b) might make your mouth water and cause significant drooling all over your screens and keyboards. Please don’t lick the screen.
I have to make a special note of one morning when we came in for breakfast and I ended up chatting with the waiter for awhile…by the time I got to the omelette station, the chef had already made my omelette exactly the way he knew from previous mornings I liked it. It was the multitude of kind little touches like that that made our stay at this hotel so special and the staff so endearing.
One thing we regretted the entire time we were there was that we had not taken the “all-inclusive” option, but had chosen the option that only included breakfast and supper. I’m including that tidbit of regret here in case any readers are tempted to look into Mahdia as a future vacation choice…my advice – go for the all-inclusive! The all-inclusive included bottled water, tea, coffee, most wines and various other perks. Without the all-inclusive band around our wrists, we had to pay for all water at all meals (which is the only big negative I have about this hotel) as well as tea and coffee in the afternoons or after supper in the coffee bar.
We managed okay, though, because just a few blocks from the hotel there was a large Carrefore grocery store where we bought fresh croissants, sliced meat, occasionally a whole rotisserie chicken (which was incredibly tasty), local cheese, yogurt and large bottles of water. In addition, we quickly mastered the art of spying bakeries everywhere we went, and would often spend 20-30 minutes in each bakery trying to decide which treats to buy to take home to add to our lunches (I’ll be including photos of some of those bakery treats in a later segment). We enjoyed our DIY lunches out on the balcony on warmer days or at the little table in our room each day.
Living on the local economy was very affordable for us, not only because almost everything in Mahdia (except bananas) was relatively inexpensive in the first place, but since our Canadian dollar bought us almost double the Dinar, everything we bought was essentially half-price for us. Still, if we do ever decide to go back, and there’s a good chance we will, we would definitely book with the all-inclusive option this time around. We could have upgraded to the all-inclusive bracelet, but it was significantly more expensive than if we had booked it through our travel agency, so we opted to continue enjoying our forays into the local shops for our lunches.
Aside from the amazing staff and mouth-watering food, the hotel offered an enthusiastic entertainment/activity staff and a wide array of daily activities such as archery, bocce ball and tennis, and featured a well-equipped gym, heated pools as well as three outdoor pools, a very popular in-house spa and fun activities in the evenings. In fact, there was so much to do there, we didn’t have time to try them all out. One of the neat things the hotel did during low season that we all enjoyed was to lower its weekend prices so that the local Tunisians could come with their families…it was so much fun watching the children (usually under the attentive eyes of the hotel’s entertainment staff) oohing and aahing over the buffet displays…and then watching even the tiniest toddlers dance and sing crazy songs at the children’s mini-disco in the early evenings.
While hubby did indulge in a few rounds of archery in the afternoons, our favourite activity quickly became the morning walks through various parts of Mahdia. Between the crazy traffic and the even crazier sidewalk system, it was quite an adventure learning to walk through Mahdia. We soon learned that the best route was to take the beautiful boardwalk that ran right beside the Mediterranean Sea. I’ll be featuring more stories and photos from those walks, including the sidewalks, colourful markets and yes, the cats, in future segments of this series. Tomorrow’s segment will take us back to Tunis to get our long-lost luggage.
For now, I’ll leave you with some pictures of the views from our balcony, the hotel itself and some of the tantalizing dessert displays.