One of the countries on my list of places to go was Tunisia, so when we found a reasonable deal on a trip there we decided it was time to pack our suitcases and go. Our base in Tunisia was Port El Kantauoi, a purpose built leisure port close to the city of Sousse, on the north west coast of the country.
Port El Kantauoi
Port El Kantaoui was built in the 1970's with financial help from Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and the World Bank. It hosts the "first Mediterranean garden port" : a 10 acre, 340 berth marina with arched, cobbled alleys, garden squares and lamplit quays. Our hotel was situated a twenty minute walk away on the beach from the port. During our stay there we played tennis, went scuba diving and swam in the sea (although it was still a little cold in April). One day we went for a walk into the nearby hills with a local guide and met locals who baked their own bread in a tagine oven and a local potter who used a foot operated potters wheel to fashion clay pots.
Another time we went horse riding in the nearby countryside which was a little nerve racking as I had limited experience riding horses. The local guides were not aware of this so I had to learn in the spot. After 30 minutes we found ourselves riding with the horses on the beach which was a magical experience. I finished up with bruises on my legs and fond memories of the outing.
We also got to ride on quad bikes in the surrounding countryside which was a great experience. Although the yamaha bikes didn't appear to be well maintained, they managed to get us over hills and tough terrain for a couple of hours so that was fine by us.
Sousse's history dates back to Phoenician times and is a holiday resort and a city in its own right. We visited here a couple of times in a local taxi to check out the medina and the suqs. We'd spent some time in Morocco previously and knew we'd have to haggle and batter to get whatever we wanted so it didn't come as a surprise to us when we were told that everything was "Asda price" and "lovely chubbly". One or two tactics from the locals did surprise us however such as when Laura, my eldest daughter, was stopped by a local shopkeeper and told "you have broken something". Laura looked concerned, only to be told "you have broken my heart!"
On our second trip to Sousse, it rained a lot but luckily a lot of the medina was covered so it didn't affect us too much . The smell of spices and freshly cut flowers in the suqs was quite overwhelming and it was an amazing atmosphere with people and motorbikes jostling with each other in pathways only created for two people wide. We also went into the Grand Mosque in Sousse which was built in 851 and were able to see the prayer rooms. My wife, Sue, and my children, Laura and Lucy, all had to put on both dresses and head dresses before they were allowed to step inside the building.
One day we got a taxi into Monastir which has its own airport and is famous for being the birth place of ex-president Bourguiba. The mausoleum of the Bourguiba family is the unmistakable focal point in the city and we spent some time visiting this marvelous shrine with its four "gadrooned" domes.
Later we walked around the marina and went to the Ribat; a monastery fortress where we later found out that part of the "Life Of Brian" was filmed.
Our taxi driver had offered to wait for us for a few dinars so we took advantage of this and boarded our ride back to Port El Kantaoui.
We hired out a guide for the day who was a local of El Jem and he took us to visit the world's sixth largest Roman amphitheatre which is based here and is where the film Gladiator was shot. The amphitheatre was built in AD230 and is 148m long by 123m wide by 36m high and is said to have seated 30,000 people. We walked in and around the amphitheatre and explored the dungeons and tunnels below the arena where the gladiators and lions once walked and where you can still see the lion's paw marks in the walls.
We spent two weeks in Tunisia and I had planned to go across to Algeria during this time but the UK government website had advised against travel to Algeria so we had to heed their warning. There was a large police presence on the roads in Tunisia. The locals said that this had been introduced after the civil unrest a few years ago but they were happy about this and didn't have a problem with being stopped all the time as this was better than the alternative.