My Wife and I are recently retired, but we had been working hard and needed a quiet break for a week. We chose to follow the sun and look for a good quality hotel with its own beach. We had in mind a repeat of a wonderful holiday we had in 2006 at the Elounda Bay Hotel in Crete, where we just chilled out in the hotel grounds, swam, ate, drank and never felt the need to be adventurous. Marhaba Palace seemed to fit this bill - although it was our first experience of Tunisia and we had heard some very mixed reports of the country's friendliness and culture.
We went by Airtours on 1 October 2008 and had two perfect punctual flights from East Midlands and Monastir with Thomas Cook Airlines. On arrival at the hotel we found that, instead of the high level sea-view room we had ordered, we had been allocated a side sea-view room on the first floor. This was changed after some haggling to a sea-view on the top floor. This was OK, but be aware that sea-view rooms do not get the sun all day. They face north and also catch the prevalent north-westerly winds. At night there is noise from the nearby Rui Hotel's nightclub. We now know the lyrics of "Cabaret" and "New York, New York" perfectly!
On our first morning we got down to the pool at about 10 am to find that 90% of the sun beds had been reserved. This is officially done by paying 2 Dinars per bed to an attendant for a mattress. However, far too many couples (and not just Germans) were slinging towels on the prime sites as early as 7 am. There are signs saying don't do it, but -------.
As to the rooms, they have twin beds and quite reasonable bathrooms with bath and shower fitting. Cleanliness was faultless during our week. The maids come in every morning and do a thorough job very cheerfully. The decor is a bit dark and gloomy. 3 star standard overall. The air conditioning wasn't working (although not important in October) in most rooms. The room doors do not have dead locks. You might like to take a rubber wedge for peace of mind.
Meals: breakfast between 8.30 and 9.30 is manic. Tables could not be packed closer together. Getting around the self service areas requires dexterity and a lot of patience. Coffee is served in filthy thermos flasks. The choice of food, if you are willing to queue is extensive. The range favours the European buffet style. Take bottled water in with you. Dinner is served at flexible hours at a table which is allocated on your first visit. Again, haggle if you don't want to go where you are put. No problem then. We didn't like the food to be honest. If you are vegetarian, you might get fed up with peas and carrots. However, chicken, pork etc are cooked at the serving stations, you can have as much as you like, and my Wife found them tasty. In the bars, drinks are expensive (£6 for G&T and a beer) and the bar staff are surly. There is minimal entertainment in the evening (one pianist and one guitarist). The reception staff tried to persuade us to go to a "Transvestite Show" that was on somewhere one evening, but we politely declined.
The location of the Maharba Palace is superb. This is without doubt its main selling point. A short, pleasant walk takes you into the Port, either along the beach or along the road. We liked the town and enjoyed haggling for "designer" clothing. Top tip: enter these shops with a big smile and bags of confidence. The shopkeepers respond well to a laugh and joke.
So, to summarise: the hotel is better than 3 star, but only just 4 star in our opinion. The location is superb. The place feels in need of refurbishment - chipped paint, worn soft furnishings etc. Most of the staff are very friendly and speak English (as well as French, German and Arabic) fluently. But, do you know, it just lacked that sense of being special. Nothing really made us feel [-] good about being there. But, that of course is the indefinable difference between 4 and 5 star. I guess you do get what you pay for in the end. We wouldn't want to put you off, but don't be seduced by the pictures and travel agent blurb. Would we go back? No.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Wake up across from the golf club, have a walk on the seafront, explore the paved alleys of Port El Kantaoui or simply unwind at the pool: Marhaba Palace is a dream place for an unforgettable stay. In the restaurant, a collection of great wines and local cuisine with the flavours of thyme and basil pamper the palate. This charming hotel, in the heart of the resort of port El Kantaoui, will seduce you with its personalised hospitality and efficient, discrete service.Welcome to MARHABA PALACE ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Hotel Marhaba Palace
- Marhaba Palace Tunisia
- Tunisia Marhaba Palace
- Marhaba Palace Port El Kantaoui
- Marhaba Palace Hotel Tunisia