The Mahdians say that their beaches are the most beautiful in Tunisia. They are in any case among the least busy. Sand the colour of flour, turquoise sea, no unwanted algae and a summer breeze that cools nicely. A significant asset, especially since Mahdia also offers the advantage of not being too developed as far as tourism is concerned. The hotels, around twenty, are grouped outside of the city, along the beach that stretches over a band of several miles.
Another advantage of Mahdia is its 'photogenic' allure, for its pier (its downtown area with small squares shaded by trees) and for its buildings (its café along the corniche, which recalls that of Sidi Bou Said, its old façades on the seafront, the marine cemetery, its ancient ruins).
You can easily spend a week here (without renting a car), by wandering down the beach to get in town (within 20 to 45 minutes of walk depending on the location of hotels) or taking a taxi (2 to 3 dinars for the journey). In the direction of the Sidi Salem café (Route de la Falaise) for pleasure-seeking and contemplative guests; you can stay here for several hours without realising the time has passed, on one of the staircase terraces that seem to be suspended just above the Mediterranean.
Have thalassotherapy treatment by staying at Thalassa Mahdia or Vincci Nour Palace which both have a thalassotherapy centre. Choosing this option allows for lower premiums (by buying the treatment and the hotel stay at the same time). The spa centres, under the independent management of the hotel, are still open to outside clients. Care treatments are achievable a la carte or in packages. Rates are on average 30% less than those in Europe.
See Borj El Kebir, along the 'route de la Falaise' (cliff road) offering a breathtaking view of the medina on one side and the Gulf of Mahdia on the other. Also visit the Old City via the covered souk (where costumes of traditional marriage are exhibited), the 'place du Caire' (Cairo square), the market which overlooks the harbour. Finish at the marine cemetery and the ruins of the ancient city, near the Borj El Kebir. The location of the city recalls Carthage a little, but the ruins are less spectacular.
Surface area : 163.6 km2
Population : 1021600 inhabitants
Archaeology enthusiasts should not fail to visit the Colosseum of El Jem (within an hours drive from Mahdia). It is the largest in the world after the one in Rome. You should know that the price of an admission ticket (6 dinars) includes access to the archaeological museum (750 yards from the Colosseum, where part of the ancient city stretches). Do not forget to take a look around: you will see the Africa villa with its 2nd century mosaics.
Also avoid planning a seaside stay in Mahdia before June or after September; with the wind, it won't be warm enough to stay on the beach.
Couscous (with chicken or lamb). You can find buffets in the major hotels more and more (offered as a speciality or during Tunisian evenings). Try also other recipes of the country such as the fingers of Fatma (pastry stuffed with white chicken, potatoes and capers), tajine (omelette with meat and potatoes) and the brick (triangle of dough filled with tuna and a half-cooked egg).
Pottery, 'mergoum' carpets (the size of a bedside rug), spices, dates, watercolours and sculptures made from wood (to be discovered in the small art gallery on the Cairo square) are the specialities here. If you want to bring back an embroidered jacket, try it first (they are heavy to wear) and check their finishings. You can also find traditional silver jewellery, but a lot less than in Morocco.
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