With its golden beaches and sapphire blue sea, its medieval monuments and its charming marina, Monastir offers one of the most attractive faces of Tunisia. An ideal destination to sun yourself by the sea, but also to visit a fascinating region: from Sousse to Kairouan, from El Jem to Mahdia, you will travel through time. In the countryside, you will get to know the way of life of the Bedouin villages. And along the coast, the fishing ports will enchant you.
What to see ?
Ribat and fishing harbour
Explore the beautiful walk along the seafront: the marina, the esplanade of the Ribat, the cemetery dominated by the narrow minarets and the mausoleum of Bourguiba. Climb the 90 steep steps to the watchtower of the Ribat for a panoramic view of the city and surrounding beaches to take your breath away. Admire the old golden stones of its towers, its battlements and of the neighbouring mosque. Then delve into the cobbled streets of the medina. Comb through the souks where the stalls are full of perfumed spices and beautiful crafts: leather bags, blankets, woven baskets… Pay a visit to the lively quays and the fishing harbour. Next, let yourself be seduced by Monastir’s surroundings. The city is surrounded by farming villages and orchards, while the coastal road follows a string of charming coves and beaches.
What to do ?
Relaxation or heritage
With its beaches, its palm trees and its turquoise sea, Monastir is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Tunisia. Suntan or catamaran, jetski or spa, karting track… there is no shortage of activities. Its also a golfing destination: it has one course by the sea and one on a hillside. The marina and diving centre await those who love the sea. History buffs can pore over the Ribat’s beautiful museum of Islamic art. Around Monastir, they can also find the archaeological site of Lemta and the great historic cities: Sousse, Mahdia and Kairouan. Not to be missed is one of Tunisia’s most fabulous monuments, the great Roman amphitheatre of El Jem. And if you enjoy the traditional arts, you will be blown away by Tunisian wedding garb, made of silk and embroidered with gold, exhibited in the museum of folk art and traditions.
What to eat ?
Fish and seafood
Monastir offers an abundance of fresh produce which is prepared in a variety of ways. You may get the chance to taste a local speciality, couscous with little charkaw fish: seasoned with salt and pepper, they are steamed with the couscous, then garnish the dish with bell peppers and squash. In Monastir, all the produce from the sea is showcased, such as grilled seabass and seabream, fried or stewed octopus or squid… The region is famous for its vegetable crops: enjoy the springtime stew marqet khodra, lamb simmered with broad beans and seasonal vegetables. In the medina, close to the beaches and on the docks of the marina, you will find all manner of restaurants to cater to your every gastronomical taste.
Where to sleep ?
Beachside hotel club, or marina apartment
All along the fine sandy beaches of Skanes, the hotels are abundant. The available choice goes from typical hotel stay to all inclusive vacation. Sports, entertainment, international cuisine… these establishments are perfect for summer holidays as a family or for long stays in the winter sun. In Monastir’s medina, a stone’s throw from the town centre, you have the option of an aparthotel: this choice allows you the independence of staying in a private apartment combined with the services of a hotel establishment.
The city of the Ribat and Bourguiba
The name of Monastir originates from a monastery in the Byzantine era. The spiritual purpose of the site continued, as in the following centuries, a community of Muslim aesthetics settled there. The city developed around its Ribat, a small fort constructed in the 8th century to protect this community. The building was later expanded by the sultans of Tunis then again by the Ottomans. Its primitive seed is now a museum: visitors can see rare artifacts, such as a magnificent astrolabe made in Cordoba in the 10th century. Monastir’s second famous monument is a mausoleum with golden domes, that of Habib Bourguiba. Father of Tunisian independence, born in Monastir, Bourguiba profoundly affected modern Tunisia thanks to his policies of education, social development and female liberation. It is possible to visit his mausoleum-museum as well as his former summer residence, a futuristic palace from the 1960s.
One of the most extraordinary fortresses of the Maghrebian coast, the Ribat of Monastir is a labyrinth of courtyards, of rounded and square towers and crenellated walls. Originally, however, it was nothing but a small fort like all the others that existed along the Tunisian coast; the one in Sousse still retains its original form: These buildings, the ribats, served as a place for spiritual retreat for the Sufi aesthetics. Their guardians prayed, received students and thinkers, and protected the population in the case of an invasion attempt. They played a useful role in surveillance; from the high tower, it was possible to send signals with light to warn of danger coming from the sea. The city of Monastir enjoyed great religious prestige: it was “the gateway to paradise” according to one proverb. In addition, its Ribat reached considerable dimensions over the course of the years, until it became the monument we flock to today with pleasure.
Good to know
Monastir Tourism Board
Tel. : 73 521 089 / 73 520 205 / 73 520 884
Tuesday: Ksar Helal. Wednesday: Moknine. Friday: Jemmel. Saturday: Monastir.
Monastir is served by Habib Bourguiba international airport located just a few minutes from the hotels. A regional train line allows for easy access to Sousse and Mahdia passing through the villages of Moknine (pottery workshops) and Lemta (archaeological sites). It is also possible to get around by louage, and in town, by taxi.
In the souks and boutiques, buy a beautiful carpet from Kairouan, a basket of woven esparto grass, a silver piece of jewellery, a copper platter where your name can be engraved in calligraphy. Stock up on Tunisian products such as olive oil, harissa (spicy condiment), pastries… Pay a visit to Moknine, the potters’ village 20 km away: the great earthenware jars are its speciality, but they also make tableware and trinkets of multicoloured ceramic in the Tunisian style.