Beach Hotel, Tunisia, 2010
Holly Anthony, Far and Ride
During April 2010, my partner and I took a short trip to the Beach Hotel in Tunisia where I enjoyed some riding and we both took advantage of the wonderful hotel facilities. This is a great destination, both for tuition and for the trail ride, which would suit families with non-riders as well as small groups or single travellers.
Upon late arrival at Tunis airport (late thanks to flight delays), we were greeted by a driver with the hotel sign who led us the short walk to the van and loaded our luggage for us. It was a simple drive of about an hour to the hotel and although the driver entertained us with his choice of music rather than with conversation, this suited us tired travellers well and he took great delight in declaring “welcome to Hammamet!” as we drove through the tourist town. The hotel was welcoming but secure, with large gates and security at the entrance but a warm and inviting feel to it with well maintained flower beds around the car park and a jolly porter at the door. As we checked in at the reception, we were provided with a welcome cocktail and had to fill in small cards with basic information about ourselves. The receptionist gave us a meal card which detailed the dining times and then we were shown to our wonderful room – spacious, clean and comfortable. The porter explained the air conditioning before leaving us in privacy.
You will notice here that all the staff are dressed according to a naval theme, something which I thought was quite charming and certainly made them easy to identify. They all speak French and good English – sometimes when my partner spoke to them in his native French, they replied in English anyway! They are more than willing to bring you the change, whether you order a drink in the bar or from around the pool, and they are appreciative of the smallest tip. We tipped all the staff and were rewarded with consistently excellent service, a friendly smile and staff who went that extra measure such as saving us the nicest seats by the window and remembering our favourite drinks.
I found the mealtimes here to be a brilliant part of the holiday and I took great delight in piling my plate high with traditional dishes and other tasty delights… sometimes going back for seconds! The African style lamb was always tender and delicious, well matched with the freshly made Tunisian flatbreads, fresh vegetables and rice. There were always at least four or five main dishes on offer with a whole host of accompaniments which would suit children, fussy eaters or vegetarians… or just foodies like myself! Dessert was a lavish affair and the tarts, cakes, pastries, mousses, sorbets and fruits brought each meal to a wonderful end. I loved watching the chefs make crêpes at breakfast, particularly before I smothered mine in chocolate sauce and followed it up with a warm buttered croissant (yes, I put on a few pounds in just a few days).
Now, to get to the important part… the horses! There were 15 horses and 2 ponies at the stables during my visit, all of which are stallions and in excellent health with strong feet (shod), shiny coats and spacious stables in which to relax. The horses are Arab and Barb Crosses, particularly good looking and some of which have been featured in films. They each excel in different disciplines and there are more experienced, quiet, sensible horses for the less confident riders and some with more spirit for those who desire it. I joined for what was effectively the first day of the trail ride, the assessment morning where riders are observed in the school before heading out for a little ride in the countryside. Unless you are a beginner, you will be expected to groom and tack-up your own horse in its stable, something which can be quite daunting if you, like me and many English riders, have never had much experience with stallions. However, the horses are sensible to handle and guidance is available from the stable manager/instructor Hedi, and his helper and guide.
I led my horse, the beautiful black Coup de Coeur, out into the arena where Hedi helped me to mount. I then was instructed to walk around the school to loosen him up, whilst the other riders joined me, and each of us carried a crop. At first I found Coup de Coeur’s walk to feel of a strange pace, as I am used to heavier set horses with larger strides, but I soon warmed to him and found that he was a quiet horse and suitable for me to ride during this short visit. He had a comfortable trot, the speed of which was easy for a rusty rider like me to control, though I did find it hard to sit for canter at first (mostly due to my own shortcomings I think!) but as the arena time progressed, I settled with my mount more. Be warned, Hedi’s instruction is not the gentle kind, he takes no prisoners, but he will improve your riding and has a lot of experience. After we had all had plenty of walk, trot and canter on both reins, a guide named Khamel (or more affectionately, Kimo) took us off the hotel grounds, up the street and into the countryside. Like many of the North African countries, you will sometimes find that the countryside is littered in places or that building works are happening, though the fertile lands, views and the interesting terrain made it an enjoyable ride, especially when we reached our destination… the beach. This nearby beach is only short but it is empty and great for a short gallop. For safety reasons, this gallop is taken one at a time (but you do get to do it a few times) and I found the horses to be very safe and sane – the lively ones waited for their turn and then really went for it on their run but still had brakes. Coup de Coeur, being a little older and calmer, needed a little more encouragement but offered a sensible slow gallop which would be great for someone more nervous of riding in open spaces.
When we had returned to the hotel, we were instructed to line our horses up in the middle, give each a good pat and then dismount, leading them into their stables to be untacked. The bits are all rinsed before being stored in the tack room which also holds the hats, crops, boots, jodhpurs and chaps which can be borrowed. You each then lead your horse out into the school for a welcome roll in the sand before taking them back to their stable for a final groom and goodbye. Having finished the ride, Hedi showed me books that previous riders on the trail had created of their photos. Although I didn’t have the chance to ride the trail myself, the photos showed a variety of landscapes such as salt lakes, mountains and traditional villages and my fellow riders, who would be starting the actual trail the next day, we filled with excitement for it. The group consisted of German ladies who had already enjoyed the stationary programme at the hotel twice before and had now returned to try the trail for themselves. Hedi spoke to them in fluent German and he can provide tuition in Arabic, French, German and English, as well as some Italian when necessary.
There were a variety of ways to relax after my ride, my partner and I choosing to relax by the outdoor pool on one of the many sun loungers available. Although the beach was open and accessible direct from the hotel grounds, it is not so well maintained outside of the summer months and you will encounter locals trying to sell you souvenirs. During the warmer months, the hotel has staff dedicated to keeping the beach clean and peaceful for the guests. This didn’t bother us as we preferred to lie in the grassy gardens, enjoying being close to the pool but also with a view of the sea and easy access to the bar staff! After a dip in the jacuzzi and a warm shower, it was time for another sumptuous dinner before winding down in one of the bars. Children’s entertainment goes on until around 9 or 9.30, with the entertainment staff bringing smiles to all the youngsters’ faces. After this, the entertainment becomes geared towards the adult guests with karaoke, dancing and other activities. Although maybe not for everyone, I found that guests seemed to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and I certainly appreciated it, there being plenty of other options if I hadn’t.
Our transfer back to the ranch was efficient and as we had the same driver as before, we could tip him to show our gratitude. Tunisian Dinar are a restricted currency and you will not be able to get them in the UK – luckily the hotel has an excellent bureau de change where they give you a great rate. This also means that you can change any remaining money back before you head home, leaving just enough to tip your driver and to buy a snack in the airport. This trip, although short, was a great sunny getaway with lovely horses (also very beautiful!) and tuition from a man of real experience. I would recommend this destination particularly for the trail ride or for those who wish to have a short lesson each day with the rest of the time to relax by the pool.
Read more about the ride here: Beach Hotel, Tunisia.