So that’s it for my series on our trip to Mahdia. I just wanted to add this last page with some tips, advice and links to help anyone else who thinks they might want to go.
CHECK YOUR GOVERNMENT TRAVEL ADVISORY WEBSITE
The very first advice I would give is that before you book anything, check your government’s travel advisory page for Tunisia. Ever since the terrorist attack at a tourist hotel in Sousse, Tunisia in 2015 where 38 people were killed, many countries have still not lifted their travel warnings for Tunisia. Many of those travel warnings are for regions far from Mahdia, but you still want to check them out. While we were in Mahdia, it was low season so there were not many tourists…my hubby, our friend and I were the only Westerners there, the majority of tourists were from either Germany or France. We were told that people from the UK are still warned against all travel to Tunisia…you can read the latest updates on the UK Travel advisory page here.
I would be remiss to not mention the continuing terrorist threats in Tunisia…this was the primary reason I was so terrified of travelling to Tunisia in the days prior to boarding our flight. Although the fiery protests in Tunis were not terrorist-related, it seemed to me to still be a dangerous situation to be walking into. One of the things that I did not mention much in my blog was the constant visible presence of armed security police everywhere in Mahdia. Our hotel was heavily guarded, and we often saw armed guards patrolling the beaches, especially after nightfall. All vehicles entering the compound were thoroughly checked. It was something I’m not used to seeing…we don’t see machine guns where we live…and so it was an eerie and constant reminder of the dangers of being in this part of the world. And while Mahdia felt very tranquil and its people very kind, friendly and peaceful, we were constantly reminded that the threat was still real enough to warrant such vigilance. While hubby and our friend barely noticed, for me personally, it did overshadow the beauty and tranquility somewhat. I never felt 100% safe the entire time we were there.
Here is a very recent statement from the UK Travel Advisory page that is disquieting, but you should know before you go…this warning would apply to all travellers.
But terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia. Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other places. You should be vigilant at all times, including around religious sites and festivals. Follow the advice of the Tunisian security authorities and your travel company if you have one.
If you travel to any country that your own government has advised against travelling to, you must realize that you will be travelling at your own risk and that your government may not have the ability to pull you out or respond to any disaster or problems you encounter. The best advice I could give if you do choose to travel to any place included in any travel advisories is to buy the best travel insurance possible, and book through a reputable travel agent (maybe an agent you’ve been dealing with who already knows you and has all of your personal information already) who might be better able to help you get out faster should any problems arise that necessitate quick evacuation.
RESEARCH AIRLINES – TRY TO FLY INTO ENFIDHA-HAMMAMET AIRPORT
When we booked, we did look into Air France and other airlines, and opted for Air France because it had better reviews and a better safety reputation. And the 6-hour overnight flights with Air France from Montreal to Paris (and Paris back to Montreal) WERE very comfortable and we were very well looked after, so we did not for a moment regret our decision. But Air France is only allowed to fly into Tunis, which is over 225km from Mahdia, necessitating the added expense and close to 3 hours of extra travel time….which became even more inconvenient when we had to return to Tunis to retrieve our lost luggage. (BTW, we learned that delayed luggage was actually a very common problem with Air France…something to keep in mind when you book. Leave plenty of time between connecting flights and pack a full change of clothes as well as necessities in your carry-on.)
And as we found out, it’s not that easy to pre-book a reputable comfortable taxi for that 3-hour drive…our own travel agent didn’t know how to do it, so we had to use our friend’s travel agent who had done it for him for many years. Even having “been there and done that”, I honestly don’t know how to tell you to pre-book your own cab…I know the travel agent who did that cab booking for us went through “SellOffVacations” to book with another company called “BedsOnLine” in the US. But there is no name attached to the Tunisian cab company that we used, so I cannot provide that information here. And also note that most airport transfer cabs are “shared-shuttle cab”, which is an upscale version of the Louage, which means that your pre-booked cab potentially could have several other passengers to drop off en route, adding to your travel time.
If you go through a travel agent like Thomas Cook, I believe they do include airport transportation in their packages…they also have an agent right there on site at the El Mansour, which we observed was very handy for the Thomas Cook tourists.
Anyway, if we were to go back to Mahdia, we would look into booking with an airline that can fly us into Enfidha–Hammamet International Airport which is only about a 1.5 hour drive from Mahdia as opposed to the 3-hour drive from the airport in Tunis. We might even look into booking through an agency like Thomas Cook simply for the convenience of having that airport shuttle and an on-site agent.
MAHDIA IN JANUARY WAS COLD
Very cold. In fact, some days I resorted to wearing my long-johns! On one of our first days there, I had four layers of clothing on and was still cold. We were told that the cold and high winds were unusual for Mahdia, even at this time of year, but still, I wouldn’t take the chance…if you go, bring at least one set of warm clothing. The Mahdians were wearing heavy winter jackets. It was sometimes very cold in the hotel lobby as well. When we first got there, WiFi was only available in the lobby areas, but it was often too cold to sit there for very long. By the second week, the hotel had installed wifi in all of the rooms, and we kept our room heated, so that worked much better for us. It was too cold to spend much time on the beach, although near the end of our three weeks, it had warmed up to the point where we could take our socks and shoes off. Some hardy tourists did brave the cold sea waters, but didn’t stay in the water very long. The cold wasn’t so good for the beach, but it was perfect walking weather.
LEAVE SPACE IN YOUR SUITCASE
The exchange rate was definitely in our favour…essentially we received almost double the Dinar for our Canadian dollar. And I don’t know if it was just because it was low season, but prices in Mahdia were very reasonable in our opinion. There were so many beautiful things we would loved to have brought home with us, not just for ourselves but for loved ones as well, and the exchange rate so attractive that we could have snagged some great bargains…but we had overpacked and didn’t have enough space in our suitcase. If we do go back again, we’re either leaving half of each of our suitcases empty, or pre-buying an extra bag for the flight home.
BRING COMFORTABLE WALKING SHOES
Mahdia is a wonderful place to explore, but those crazy sidewalks and steps are not designed for 3-4 hours of walking in high heels or heavy boots or even flimsy sandals. I did wear my Finn-Comfort sandals when the weather permitted, but didn’t bring my walking sneakers, because we didn’t expect it to be so cold and I thought my sandals would be enough. Bring both! (And do bring the dress shoes for those evenings in the hotel.)
WHAT TO WEAR
Boy, did I stew over this issue, i.e., what kind of clothes to pack, since Tunisia is a Muslim country and I wanted to be sure not to offend anyone with my clothing choices. I did extensive research online, reading blogs and forums and anything else I could find that would help me pack my suitcase. The word I kept reading over and over was “modesty”, dress modestly. So I packed accordingly…and when I got there and was walking through Mahdia, I felt downright dowdy. The woman in Mahdia are strong, empowered, elegant and beautifully dressed. At first I felt so dowdy in my “modest” clothing, I almost didn’t want to go anywhere…then I decided it was okay, my dowdiness made the Mahdian women shine all that much more and I was okay with that. Nobody stared, and nobody’s eyes rolled (at least that I could see), and I think that’s because Mahdian women are so strong and empowered that they’re able to live and let live. Still, while I won’t pack mini-skirts, cut-off shorts and skimpy tops for our next trip, I’ll definitely spice my wardrobe up a bit.
LANGUAGE…BRING A FRENCH DICTIONARY
The official language in Tunisia is Arabic, but the second language for most Tunisians is French. My husband speaks fluent French and I speak enough to get by, so we managed very well everywhere we went. I don’t think we met anyone who didn’t speak French. I honestly don’t know how we would have fared without being able to speak French. So if you go, bring a French dictionary to help you, especially with the cab drivers…although many of the cab drivers did speak English, they were clearly more comfortable conversing in French and we learned a lot about the areas we were driving through from the cab drivers. The hotel staff, some of the shopkeepers and vendors in the Medina spoke some English. The hotel staff also speak fluent German.
TAKE THE ALL-INCLUSIVE PACKAGE AT THE HOTEL
It’s very affordable and do-able to “live off of the economy” in Mahdia. You can rent some beautiful fully-furnished tourist apartments, buy groceries in the neighbourhood markets, and get almost anywhere you want to by foot or those little yellow cabs. Our friend and his wife did that for 2-3 months every winter for many years. That might be more appealing to those of you snowbirds who are interested in immersing yourselves in the Mahdian culture. We would probably still opt for the same hotel (The Royal El Mansour), and this time, ask our travel agent to book us with the all-inclusive option which will include most beverages and other assorted amenities. We did miss our afternoon tea, though we could easily have bought a kettle at the store and made our own…and next time, we might just do that….but they do serve those neat little sandwiches and other sweet and savoury Petit Fours at the hotel-hosted afternoon tea…
WHAT I REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO HAVE TO MENTION BUT FEEL I MUST
After all of the wonderful things I’ve written about Mahdia, the hotel and the Mahdian people, I am loathe – but feel obliged – to bring up this one subject which I have been very careful not to mention throughout my blog. If I don’t, and you go, you’ll write back to me and ask me why I never mentioned – the GARBAGE on the streets. UGH! I really did want to focus on all of the good and beautiful sights that we saw in Mahdia. But the truth is that everywhere we walked, we saw garbage. Not stinky food garbage, that kind of garbage is collected regularly. But plastic bags, old construction materials and paper garbage were often painfully visible in the trees and gardens along the roadways and along many of the public sidewalks…almost everywhere except in people’s own yards and gardens…clearly the Mahdians take great care in keeping their own patches of ground and walkways very clean. Once you step in through someone’s gate, the grounds are meticulously clean. And sometimes we could see area residents sweeping up the garbage along their laneways and even the public sidewalks close to their houses and/or shops. In fact, I would say that if we walked through a narrow lane once, and there was garbage strewn around…it was almost always cleaned up by the time we walked through that same lane again. So some people clearly cared. But for the most part, outside of those gates and walls, out in the larger common areas, there clearly is no regular clean-up of this kind of junk. It was the number 1 turn-off for all of us. You could not ignore it. The reason I gave for not taking so many pictures was that most Mahdians didn’t want to have their pictures taken, and that was very true…but there was another reason why many of my pictures could not be displayed here, and that’s because there was too much garbage in the pictures. The plastic bags hanging from beautiful bougainvillea trees were especially hard to take. And I hope that someone from Mahdia is reading this blog and will take my words to heart…all of this plastic and paper garbage needs to be cleaned up because it looks ugly and draws the tourist’s eyes away from the awesome beauty of Mahdia and its people. I worked hard to build Mahdia up in my blog…but the garbage that Mahdia leaves strewn around its city will definitely turn many people off and they won’t be so inclined to write glowing reviews.
Anyway, there now, I’ve told you. I hope that won’t keep you from choosing to travel to Mahdia, because Mahdia truly is a beautiful place worth exploring, filled with beautiful, kind, good people, well worth meeting. Go back and look through my dozens of beautiful photos with NO garbage anywhere in sight. That’s the Mahdia we grew to love.
Did I cover everything anyone would want to know? Probably not. But feel free to send any questions and I’ll try to answer.
Thank you again for following this journey with me. I’m not sure where we’re off to next. We weren’t home much between November and mid-March, so I’m ready to settle in and enjoy being home for awhile. But we’re already talking about maybe Switzerland…who wants to go climb some mountains?! (not me, that was just a rhetorical question).
Anyway, I’m glad for your company and look forward to our next jaunt together. If you ever do go to Mahdia, write and tell me about your experience there. I’d love to hear!