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The Association of Independent Tour Operators recently tipped Tunisia the hottest destination of 2010, and with a fascinating history and culture, a stunning coastline, year-round sunny climate and spa resorts facing the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisia makes an excellent choice for a thalassotherapy holiday. Sarah Dawson checks into three of the country’s...

Thalasso – Tunisian Style

The Association of Independent Tour Operators recently tipped Tunisia the hottest destination of 2010, and with a fascinating history and culture, a stunning coastline, year-round sunny climate and spa resorts facing the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisia makes an excellent choice for a thalassotherapy holiday. Sarah Dawson checks into three of the country’s finest spas. 

Tunisia is situated between Algeria and Libya and boasts the second largest range of Roman archaeological ruins in Africa. Its capital, Tunis, is a lively and fascinating city where Parisian styled boulevards blend with the ancient walls of the Medina and bustling souks. In the south, on the island of Djerba, you’ll find white sand beaches and desert-dune landscape punctuated by endless date palms and olive trees, domed buildings and mosques, and more thalassotherapy spas than you can shake an exfoliating kessa glove at. 

In Tunis the Residence Hotel and Spa is the place to stay for the sophisticated spa goer. Refined elegance meets Moorish architecture and secures the hotel’s position as one of the Leading Hotels of the World and the only member in Tunisia. 

Designed and styled in the shape of a Kasbah (historically, to avoid prying eyes) the hotel blends Tunisian tradition with contemporary chic; all cream, brown and orange hues, wrought iron gates and calming fountains with souk paintings and lanterns decorating the walls.

The hotel has 155 luxuriously appointed rooms and nine suites. My sea-facing double room was understated yet welcoming, blending luxury and comfort with traditional touches like the ornate shuttered window, and a bottle of the Residence’s signature neroli oil (produced from local orange blossoms for centuries) to spray on my pillow for restful sleep.

Occupying over 4,000 square metres, with 30 treatment rooms and 20 dry/seawater based treatments, six Darphin beauty rooms overlooking gorgeous gardens, an oriental (mixed sex) hammam, separate sex saunas, a sea-water swimming pool and gym, the hotel’s Thermes Marins de Carthage Spa sounded impressive and didn’t disappoint. 

The design is very smart and inspired by ancient Rome and traditional Turkish hammams, with marble pillars and flooring, warm orange tones, soothing water features and welcoming archways leading to patios. Unfortunately, the spa was fully booked when I visited so it wasn’t possible to have any thalassotherapy, but they found a free slot for me for a 50-minute Massage Relaxante. 

My female therapist had a soothing, gentle and calming technique, using rose oil on my body and rose cream on my face, and afterwards, I felt a deep sense of wellbeing, especially because my robe had been warmed on the radiator for that extra pampering element. 

The indoor thalasso pool had plenty of attentive staff to hand me a towel or some tesan (healthy herbal tea with flavours like basil, camomile, mint or fennel), and the seawater pool had some very invigorating jets. On sunny days guests can relax beside the outdoor pool’s tranquil setting among palm trees, bright flowers and leafy foliage, or take the path leading down to the beautiful sandy beach and the Mediterranean Sea. 

I joined a mixed crowd in the steamy hammam, which was a circular shape, and quite spacious so it didn’t feel intimidating and after a cooling shower in the (separate sex) area I chilled out in the sauna, enjoying the tropical rainforest sounds. Overall I was impressed with the Residence Spa, my massage was excellent and the spa experience relaxing. 

The hotel offers six dining, a private beach, tennis courts, and many other activities such as camel rides and golf – the hotel’s 72,000 metre-long golf course is in the heart of a natural reserve. 

This is a truly stylish and sophisticated spa hotel, ideally located for visiting Tunis, the ruins of Carthage and the smart seaside resort of Sidi Bou Said. The Residence is located just 20 minutes from the Tunis Medina (a UNESCO World Heritage centre) and the archaeological site of Carthage. There is another Residence hotel in Mauritius.

Hasdrubal Prestige Thalassa & Spa Hotel, Djerba 
Just an hour’s flight south of Tunis is the laid-back sun-drenched island of Djerba, which, according to Greek mythology, is the land of the seductive lotus eaters in Homer’s Odyssey. Palatial spa hotels are set on white sand beaches among infinite date palms and olive trees. Among its many aesthetic attributes, the island boasts the country’s largest thalassotherapy spa within the impressive and majestic Hasdrubal Prestige Thalassa & Spa Hotel. 

Opening in 2009, the Hasdrubal Prestige has 219 suites (199 junior, 7 luxury, 11 higher luxury and two royal suites) over a total surface area of 11,000 square metres. My junior suite was large, sumptuously decorated and classic in design, with a large terrace overlooking the pretty palm and flowered gardens, lagoon and glorious sandy Sidi Mehrez beach. The spacious and luxurious bathroom (complete with two basins) had a centrally positioned bathtub with intricate ornate tiling and a superb walk in wardrobe/dressing room. 

From the plush red carpet, which lines the hotel entrance to the elegant architecture, this is a spa hotel for the distinguished traveller. The Hasdrubal even has its own in-house gallery showcasing five very unique artists such as Amraoui Hassene, an Algerian artist who uses extraordinary balancing techniques to create sand dunes with oil. 

I was very impressed with my suite, the service and the hotel’s cuisine in the four restaurants, so I was eagerly anticipating my visit to the country’s largest and most revered thalassotherapy venue, the Trois Eaux Thalassotherapy Centre. 

The spa has four hydro massage cabins, four affusion shower cabins, four algotherapy cabins and one jet shower cabin and is decorated with artistically arranged petals and lots of leafy palms throughout. Guests usually spend half a day having treatments and relaxing in between and afterwards in 13 private spa treatment rooms each with three pools (normal, seawater and thermal water). There is also a gym and tennis courts. 

The staff had arranged two treatments for me to sample. First, was the Massage Relaxant à L’Huile de Lavendar with Rifik, one of their top male therapists. His expertise and professionalism was top class, but I would have felt more relaxed with a female masseur as my body wasn’t covered while my front was massaged. 

My second treatment was the Massage Pluie De Mer with Algae serum (seawater massage). The massage was nice, but the water temperature felt lukewarm and apparently couldn’t be increased. Unfortunately, this affected my enjoyment as well as the benefits of the massage and rather than relaxing into the treatment, I was glad when it finished. 

Afterwards, I was ushered onto a recliner, where I hoped I could snuggle up and get warm, but I was interrupted a couple of times by spa staff wanting to see my spa card to assign me to my next treatment (which I didn’t have). I gave up trying to relax in the spa area and warmed up instead in the lovely eucalyptus-scented hammam, before heading back to my suite for a warm soak in the tub. 

The outdoor lagoon is undoubtedly stunning, the therapists are first class and there is great attention to detail in the Centre des trios Eaux with its attractive tiles, marble floors, antique pillars, large vases, leafy foliage and decorative flowers but the centre did somehow lack ambience. If you like sumptuous, large and regal then the palatial Hasdrubal Prestige will definitely appeal. 

The Hasdrubal Prestige Thalassa & Spa Hotel is located on Plage Sidi Mehrez (a stunning sandy beach), close to the bustling town of Houmt-Souk (Djerba’s capital), one of the most picturesque urban centres in Tunisia with lots of interesting souks where you can shop for leather bags, scarves, tajine pots, native orange blossom flowers (from which the essential oil/fragrance, neroli comes from) and of course those traditional slippers known as baboosh. There is a casino opposite the hotel, and close by is Djerba’s golf club. 

The Athenee Thalasso at the Radisson Blu, Resort and Thalasso, Djerba 
The third spa I visited in Djerba was the Athenee Thalasso at the Radisson Blu, and the hotel’s uber cool and laid-back ambience is very appealing. The hotel prides itself on being located on the best sandy beach of Djerba amid palm trees and greenery. There are 276 rooms, 14 junior suites and six Ambassador suites all with sea or garden views. 

We joined a crowd in the central bar area, chatting and drinking mint tea on plush cushioned seating with oriental chill-out sounds playing in the background then headed to the Athenee Thalasso Spa. Faultlessly designed by a female French architect, the spa is stylish, modern and situated over two organised floors, covering over 3,000 square metres, with large bay windows overlooking the sea. Marble complements wood, with an oriental twist to inspire a Zen-like calm. 

There are two indoor heated seawater treatment pools, one for supervised aqua therapy and the other for leisure with a glass separator to swim outdoors. As well as marine and beauty (Thalgo and Décleor) treatments, the spa offers Eastern styled energy treatments in 60 treatment cabins, and signature treatments like the Berber massage, an 80-minute massage inspired by the traditions of the Berber tribes.

My first treatment was the Hammam Gommage. Entering the hammam I couldn’t see a thing, but once I’d acclimatised to the intense steamy atmosphere I located the central cooling plunge pool. I sat on its platform with my feet dangling in the deliciously cool water, which is very stimulating and great for the circulation. 

After 15 minutes I was collected by my therapist and taken into a private treatment room. She scrubbed my body all over with a special mitt lathered in olive oil called a kessa glove. I’d had a similar treatment in Marrakesh that had been so harsh my skin practically fell off, but at the Radisson Spa it was a softer more relaxing experience.

I was then directed upstairs for my post-hammam body massage. The treatment only lasted 25 minutes but my female therapist managed to massage my entire body, including a blissful face massage that felt like it was permanently ironing away tension from my face. It was the perfect finale to the steam room and scrub.

Afterwards I indulged in the lovely warm infinity seawater pool and swam beneath partition into the fresh air to gaze at the views of hills, dome shaped houses and the Mediterranean Sea. I then sipped a herbal tea from the Tisanerie. The spa experience at the Athenee from start to finish was exceptional and my favourite of the three. As well as being a top class therapeutic spa, the Athenee Thalasso Djerba also has the pampering and wellbeing element down to AT. 

The Radisson SAS Resort and Thalasso is located just 20 minutes from the bustling town of Houmt-Souk (Djerba’s capital) and its lively souks. It is also close to a casino and Djerba’s golf club. There are four restaurants including Seafood and Italian cuisine and, for night owls, five bars to enjoy socialising till the early hours. The hotel also has tennis courts, a fitness centre, and Club Mistral for water sports enthusiasts. 

The Residence, Tunis. A double sea view room in the high season costs €467 (€335 in the low season) per night. The hotel’s Thermes Marins de Carthage Spa offers an extensive à la carte spa menu with many different packages such as anti-ageing, slimming, and thalassotherapy. Individually, the Modelage sous Affusion (relaxing sea water massage) costs 65 DT (€35) and the 50-min relaxing or tonic massage 110 DT (€58).
Visit for more information.The Hasdrubal Prestige Thalassa & Spa. A junior suite (double occupancy) costs 600 DT (€324) per night. The Trois Eaux Thalassotherapy Centre’s extensive à la carte spa menu includes hammam rituals, treatment packages and locally inspired treatments such as the Carthage Massage using hot lava stones. Prices range from as little as 15 DT (€8) to 130DT (€70).
Visit for more information.Radisson Resort and Thalasso, Djerba. A double occupancy deluxe room with sea view and balcony in the high season costs €211 (down to €102 in the low season). Treatment packages at the Athenee Thalasso including classic cures, beauty and energy treatments, which can also be taken à la carte. Individually, the fine mist shower with massage costs €50, the Berber massage, €59 and the traditional gommage, €24.
Visit for more information.

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