In the words of Sophia Loren:

Sex appeal is

fifty percent what you've got

and fifty percent

what people think you've got.

Hammamet once had it, but it is now a construct of tourism brochures extolling its past, when in that past it was a place of simplicity and beauty – a place that inspired artists of every sort.

It was Hammamet that inspired Paul Klee in 1914 to say:

Colour and I are both one:

I am a painter!

Now cheap flights and package hotels obscure much of what inspired the location as a tourism mecca – but Hammamet still has its beauty.

We arrived late at night by sea to the Yasmine Marina, and the morning gave a favourable first view.

It is difficult to not have a good first view when one has been rocked to sleep on a gentle harbour swell and awakes to the comforting kling and klang of the rigging and the seagulls call.

Hammamet Tunisia Yasmine Marina yachts

The original settlement of what is now Hammamet was called Pupput in the 1st century, coming under Roman domination in the 2nd century, and later under Spanish and Turkish rule.

The Spanish called Hammamet 'La Mahometa' and in 1605 a mysterious call to retreat in the midst of what was until then a successful attack on the city saw a disorderly retreat. Over 1200 men were stranded on the beaches and unable to get back to their galleons and were summarily slaughtered en masse by a much smaller contingent of Moors.

It was therefore with some wonder that I saw a Spanish galleon sail past in the marina.

I was not hallucinating. It was not one of the lost fleet, but instead a regular tourism voyage.

Spanish galleon in Hammamet Tunisia

The Yasmine Marina has low fees that attract many 'yachties' to winter their yachts here, and it is worth just walking around and savouring the quality of the vessels in dock.

Yachts in Yasmine Marina Hammamet Tunisia

The variety of yachts ranges from ocean-going catamarans through to beautiful classic wooden schooners.

Classic-Schooner in Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

This one was exceptional.

Schooner in Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

The Yasmine Marina is a luxury development where you can moor your boat close to your condominium...

Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

…and close by within the park which flanks the harbour.

ark beside Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

There are plenty of excellent restaurants.

Restaurants beside Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

One is a floating restaurant right on the marina.

Floating restaurant Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

On land we were shown all the tempting, fresh seafood…

Fresh seafood restaurants Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

…and good wine, although in Ramadan it is wise to check before heading out, as not all places will serve alcohol until the end of Ramadan.

Wine display in restaurants Yasmine Marina Hammamet, Tunisia

The fish looked a little more substantial than our catch while sailing towards Hamammet.

Freshly caught fish in Tunisia

Nearby, the Kathargo hotel has been designed to replicate a great ocean-going liner, with rounded balconies….

Balconies of Kathargo hotel in Hammamet Tunisia

… huge foyer windows...

Foyer of Kathargo hotel in Hammamet Tunisia

…and all the fittings in keeping with the theme.

Bar of Kathargo hotel in Hammamet Tunisia

The medina in Hammamet is the only medina of those I have visited where, when separated from my friends, I actually felt quite anxious.

The shop-sellers are really forceful. When I was alone I felt more vulnerable than I had ever done in other medinas or souks. Salesmen grabbed my arm, insisting that I come and see their wares - something I politely resisted, trying to appear calm and unruffled.

On my return, I read that this is a sentiment shared by other travellers – so a word of warning to be equally definite about your route.

But there are many interesting things to find within the shops.

Hanging items in Medina Hammamet Tunisia

The narrow routes through the old town are more authentic than the tourist hotels and their enclosed grounds.

Alleyway in old town of Hammamet, Tunisia

Walking through them…

Narrow street in old town of Hammamet, Tunisia

…we came across the Clothing Museum, which is just a modified house with various displays of traditional costumes.

Clothing Museum in old town of Hammamet, Tunisia

On the roof was the opportunity to gain a good insight into the rooftop balcony life of the houses of the old town.

Rooftops of old town of Hammamet, Tunisia

If, like me, you are less than charmed by all the tourist 'attractions' that are the antithesis of the real place, then step onto Hammamet’s Avenue de la République and just stroll around.

Avenue de la République in Hammamet Tunisia

Here, are charming villas resting in the sun…

Villa in Hammamet Tunisia

…a beautifully laid out Post Office…

Hammamet Post Office Tunisia

…traditional mosaic and carved entrances, their doors with patterns in black studs…

Mosaics, carvings, and black studded door in entrance in Hammamet, Tunisia

…and more humble entrances with wooden carved doors.

Entrance in Hammamet, Tunisia

There are traditional, non-tourist cafés …

Entrance to restaurant in Hammamet Tunisia

…and restaurants.

Brightly covered entrance Hammamet Tunisia

These shops are for locals, selling an array of day-to-day goods, like spices…

Spices in baskets

..nuts and lentils…

Nuts and lentils in baskets

…pickles of all colours and varieties…

Pickled vegetables in blue tubs

..or dried flowers - the whole shop a mixture of fragrance and colour.

Dried flowers in baskets

Further along, you could choose from an array of fresh vegetables, or fruits - all beautifully displayed.

Fresh vegetables displayed in Tunisia

The non-tourist cuisine can be savoured in the locals cafes along the beach.

Here, sitting at colourful tiled tables, it is easy to still see some of the simplicity and beauty that in the early 1900s attracted the rich and famous from all over the world to have summer villas here.

Mosaic table top in beachside restaurant in Hammamet Tunisia

For me, Hammamet is a metaphor for how we come somewhere to enjoy a special beauty – and through over-developing the place into a tourist mecca, destroy what we came to enjoy.

But there is still a lot of charm and loveliness to be enjoyed in Hammamet for, as the famous Persian poet Moslih Eddin Saadi, or Saadi as he is usually known, said:

A traveller without observation

is a bird without wings

Behind every door there is a story - and a curious traveller seeks them out, the better to know the place.

Villa entrance door Tunisia

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