On our recent trip to Tunisia, we spent 7 nights at the Royal Azur Thalasso Golf hotel in Hammamet.
It wasn't our first choice of hotel, with our original booking still undergoing building work, and reading a number of reviews online prior to arrival had left me pretty apprehensive about what might greet us. First impressions - arriving on an uncharacteristically windy day after 28 hours of being awake - were that the hotel was as tired and grotty as I felt and I wanted to turn around and go home.
Fortunately, my opinion quickly changed.
As the wind died down and the sun picked up, a sense of life emerged around the place. Sure, some of the upper parts of the building's exterior could do with a lick of paint, but the rest of the hotel's grounds are remarkably well kept, awash with blooming flowers and orange trees and those intricately decorated traditional Tunisian doors.
The hotel boasts three swimming pools, a spa, fitness suite and its own private spot of beach.
We made use of the free indoor pool on our blustery arrival day, but it was the outdoor pool that provided the focal point for much of our holiday. Cleaned daily, surrounded by sun loungers and parasols and with waiter service for drinks, it was the perfect place to sunbathe and cool off at the height of the afternoon. The incongruity of the temperatures on the board and the real temperature in the pool did make me chuckle, though ...once I'd got my breath back!
The third pool, spa and fitness suite were a little beyond our budgeting means, but they were busy all week and the bubbling pools overlooking the beach were particularly tempting.
The 'private beach' itself was, admittedly, a tad disappointing - more rocks and seaweed than golden sands - but, as one of my friends pointed out, growing up on the expansive Scottish coast has made us pretty spoiled. On the plus side, there are plenty of wooden huts and loungers to shade you from the sun; showers right on the beach to wash off all that pesky sand; and the Mediterranean Sea is such a glorious shade of blue that it's impossible to resist swimming in, even if, in May, it isn't as warm as you might have hoped!
The rest of our stay was thoroughly enjoyable. The on-site tour rep office and currency exchange desk, functioning safes in every room, and wireless internet available (at a cost) in the reception area all served us well. The standard and variety of food was good, with breakfast being a particular highlight (made to order crepes, anyone?), though an extra vegetarian option and some better labels on the dinner buffet would have been good... thank goodness for my meat-eating friends! The variety of evening entertainment available in the 'pub' meant we didn't have to venture far (though, after one slightly disturbing encounter with a belly dancer, we opted to spend most nights sipping 'Boga', cocktails or Tunisian rosé in the lobby bar) and Monday evening's free nibbles and Sangria were a very pleasant surprise.
I must say, though, that the staff at the hotel really added to our stay. I'd read, before arrival, that some guests had found them to be unhelpful and demanding, but I found them to be nothing but a delight. From the cleaning team who left our rooms spotless every day; to the repairmen who responded immediately when my friends' bathroom flooded; to the man at reception who put up with our endless difficulties connecting to the web; to our relentlessly cheerful waiter at dinner; to the bar staff who found endless hilarity in our games of 'Who Am I?' (sticking paper to your forehead in a public space will, surprisingly, lead to odd looks and mocking) and our sunburned faces, I could not find fault in the staff team. In a sometimes-intimidating culture, they really made the hotel a safe haven for us - the calm in the proverbial storm.