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When considering a beach vacation, few people will immediately think of North Africa, but maybe it's time to look beyond the Caribbean and the South Pacific for a touch of African sun and surf.

On the North African Mediterranean coast alone, you have dozens of pristine and largely uncrowded beach resorts to choose from in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, or you could venture to Egypt's Red Sea or Morocco's Atlantic coastline. The weather is consistently superb all year round and you have the added advantage of being able to indulge in the history, culture and lifestyle of some of the most exotic destinations in the world.

Tunisia

Tunisia combines the enticement of stunning Islamic architecture, historic archaeological sites and colorful marketplaces, with miles of idyllic beaches. Hammamet ("the Garden Resort") has been Tunisia's main vacation destination since the 1960s so if you are after a lively vacation rather than remote seclusion, this is the resort for you. Located on the beautiful Cap Bon Peninsula, it combines low-rise beachfront hotels, whitewashed, bougainvillea-adorned buildings, and scores of nightclubs, restaurants and colorful shops. It is a unique blend of western and North African cultures where you can play golf, visit nearby vineyards or search for bargains in the labyrinth of the souk. To the south of Hammamet, the town of Monastir boasts stunning Islamic architecture, an ancient walled medina, a restaurant-lined marina and beachside hotels. Port el Kantaoui is Tunisia's version of Europe's Mediterranean marina resorts. This cosmopolitan resort is a quiet yet sophisticated. Up-market yachts, golf courses, exclusive restaurants and shopping abound. Sousse is Tunisia's third-largest city with a modern resort built around an 8th century epicenter (a fortified monastery and the Great Mosque). It's one of the country's most popular beach destinations, retaining a strong North African tradition, but with many western touches, including a casino, fine French restaurants and a beachfront esplanade.

Round-trip airfares to Tunis from New York start as low as $571 plus taxes on British Airways through Travelocity (tel. 888/709-5983; www.travelocity.com) until June 1, 2005. For further information about these beach towns and other Tunisian tourism destinations, visit www.tourismtunisia.com.

Algeria

Not widely regarded as a tourism destination, Algeria has great potential to change that notion when you consider its many natural and historical attractions. Within easy reach of Algiers (the capital city) along the Mediterranean coast, lie some beautiful beach resorts. Up and coming resort towns include Zeralda and Tipasa with its exceptional Roman, Punic and Christian ruins. To the east of Algiers, the Turquoise Coast offers rocky coves and long white sandy beaches. Hotels and more intimate bed and breakfasts offer various water sports, cruises and western style facilities. The Sidi Fredj Peninsula has a marina, an open-air theatre and water sports facilities. The west coast around Oran, Algeria's second largest city, has a similar range of beaches, historic remains and imposing mosques. There are a number of world-class resorts on secluded beaches including Les Andalouses, Ain El Turk, Mostaganem, Canastel, Kristel, and Sablettes.

Airfares to Algiers are in the same price range as those to Tunis. Travelocity offers a round-trip flight to Algiers via London on British Airways from $571 plus taxes. They can also provide airfares via Italy or Germany on Alitalia or Lufthansa from $582 plus taxes.

Egypt

Egypt's most enticing tourism destination may not be the pyramids after all. The beach resorts of the Red Sea promise sun, white sand and underwater adventures. With two main areas, the Red Sea offers some of the world's finest diving, with certified dive schools and inviting water temperatures throughout the year. What Sharm el Sheikh lacks in charm and beauty, is certainly compensated for with its incredible diving on the reefs at Ras Umm Sidd. This former Israeli beach town has several up market hotels, a vibrant nightlife and is a much cheaper base than the nearby luxury resort town of Na'ama Bay. Na'ama Bay resembles a glamorous Mediterranean coastal resort, with an immaculate beach divided into private hotel-owned sectors, five-star hotels, dive centers and shopping malls. Tourist villages now line the coast between Sharm and Na'ama providing a plethora of accommodation and dive site options, including the once-secluded Shark Bay with its large resorts and magnificent beach. An hour north of Sharm airport, Dahab offers a magnificent mountain backdrop and more great diving. Named after the Arabic word for "gold", it comprises two sections -- El Qura Bay with its international style resorts and the Bedouin village of Asilah, where younger budget travelers and serious divers tend to congregate.

Other up and coming beach resorts on the Red Sea include El Gouna, which is located on a cluster of islands surrounded by turquoise lagoons about one hour north of Hurghada airport. Much of the resort is built in traditional Egyptian inner courtyard style with a lively downtown area filled with pastel-colored houses, shops, galleries, cafes, bars and nightclubs. Three hours' drive south of Hurghada, and only just opening up for tourism, is the resort town of Marsa Alam, which offers unspoiled natural surroundings, a handful of hotels and world class diving.

With two airports servicing the Red Sea coastline, accessibility is quite easy. There are direct flights from the UK to both Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada, or you can fly via Cairo. For departures between now and June 1, 2005, Travelocity (tel. 888/709-5983; www.travelocity.com) can get you to Cairo on Alitalia from as low as $580 plus taxes for a round-trip from New York. For a more adventurous route, you can also choose to fly via Israel and cross the border through the Sinai desert by bus. For further information about beach resorts and diving in Egypt visit www.egypttourism.org/New%20Site/frm_diving.htm.

Morocco

Morocco is a country steeped in history with so much to offer the visitor. Attractions include luxurious palaces, exotic kasbahs, casinos, golf courses, the stunning Atlas mountains, lush oases, delicious cuisine and fabulous marketplaces. All this and the lure of beautiful beaches too. Essaouira is certainly Morocco's most charming coastal resort. Largely a fishing port with fortified walls and golden sand beaches, its labyrinth style medina is bursting with boutiques, traditional workshops, art galleries and fresh seafood stalls. Essaouira is famous for being the windy city of Africa and is the perfect destination for surfing and windsurfing. Despite increasing numbers of package-deal tourists and new hotels, this laid-back town maintains its authentic mystique with traditional Moroccan inns and whitewashed, blue-shuttered houses. Agadir is considered Morocco's main beach resort and is largely patronized by European visitors on package-deal vacations. You are far more likely to meet British or German tourists here than Moroccans. Six miles of breezy golden beach border a modern, well-planned resort, offering water sports, camel rides and golf. Agadir has a unique, western influenced layout, with palm-lined boulevards, open squares, beachfront bars and fixed-price shops.

Flights to Agadir from now until April 2005 start as low as $589 plus taxes for a round-trip airfare from New York through 1-800 Fly Europe (tel. 800/289-2725; www.1800flyeurope.com). Alternatively you could fly into Marrakech for the same price, or as low as $523 with Airline Consolidator (tel. 888/468-5385; www.airlineconsolidator.com).

If it is resort luxury you after, visit Resorts Online (www.resortsonline.com), which features listings of the leading luxury beach resorts throughout North Africa.

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