Souks and sights in the Tunisian sun
STEPPING into the souk and amid the hustle of Tunis town it is hard to believe the country has undergone the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in three decades.
But the signs are there. Before the revolution people lived and worked under the stern, watchful gaze of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose picture adorned the walls of homes, offices and shops.
His portraits have now all been torn down.
Following the Jasmine Revolution the country is slowly welcoming back tourists and ready to embark on a more liberal and open country.
I had stepped off the plane and out into the North African balmy night air, amid the hustle of a Tunisian arrivals lounge our guide met our group and after a short bus ride we arrived at the 5 star Regency Hotel.
Situated on the coast of Carthage, the hotel is in a great location for day trips and those wanting to enjoy the glistening beaches which are adjoined to the hotel.
Carthage, once the great Phoenician port on the Gulf of Tunis, which has lain in poignant ruins for the past 2,000 years, is a well trodden tourist trail.
As I walk among the ruins it is practically deserted and a far cry from the once a bustling trading empire throughout the Mediterranean.
In 146BC, the original Carthage was destroyed by the Romans who established a second namesake city, Roman Carthage, on the ruins of the first.
The Carthage Museum at Mount Byrsa has some fascinating exhibits, including a set of dice and a baby’s drinking bottle from 200BC. Combined entry to all the Carthage sites costs £3.
But with a packed schedule we move on to the prettiest of Tunisia’s villages Sidi Bou Said. The village is made up of cobbled streets and blue and white painted houses that could have been airlifted straight from a Greek island.
We escape the heat of the midday sun by walking through a large arched double-door to discover the restaurant Au Bon Vieux Temps.
The decor is minimalist Arab style but we opt to sit in the restaurant’s verdant inner courtyard giving us the chance to soak up the views of the Bay of Tunis.
After a hearty lunch of couscous, the national dish of steamed semolina topped with chunks of lamb and vegetables in a spicy sauce, and the local delicacy of brik (a crisp, flaky pastry stuffed with tuna and egg), we embark on an afternoon’s sightseeing.
No trip to Tunisia would be complete without a visit to the Medina, where you can buy everything from books, pictures, antiques, gold and silverware, clothing and foodstuffs – but shopping around is essential.
Traders are keen to barter and I embrace the inner child and purchase a cuddly camel to the amusement of my travel companions.
I wander further through the dim corridors and brush shoulders with a women veiled in ankle-length sefsaris, haggling for glimmering brass and copper plates.
Although French and Arabic are primarily spoken in Tunisia, most vendors speak in English.
They are also keen to invite you into their shops for mint tea and conversation if it means sealing the deal.
The local people have a sense of optimism that is encouraging and they are generally all happy to be part of a new free, Tunisia.
After a hard afternoon’s haggling we retire to our hotel at Sousse.
The Movenpick Resort is a marbled palaciously style hotel.
Located on the waterfront of the Sousse Corniche district, the endless beach drifts into the hotel complex and its array of kidney shaped swimming pools.
The somewhat unusual highlight of the hotel for me came in the form of a Japanese restaurant, which is on the ground floor of the hotel.
The meal both entertained and fuelled as we watched our chef juggle eggs and dice our meat on a huge fire induced grill.
The hotel also boosts its own wine tastings with an impressive dining area leaving us in no doubt of a good night’s sleep before our imminent departure back home.
The capital Tunis is only two and a half hours from London providing a European distance to a North African travel destination.
While even pre-revolution Tunisia did not attract the delights of its Moroccan and Egyptian cousins, it does offer glorious beaches, impressive ruins and reliable sunshine.
With free elections in sight and a more open and liberal government Tunisians are now optimistic about the future.
The tourist resorts were never at the heart of the protests, and Tunisians in these areas are looking forward to getting back to work and making sure visitors sample the best of their country.
l Return flights to Tunis –
Tunisair operate four flights per week from London Heathrow to Tunis, prices start from £180, including taxes. For reservations call 020 7734 7644 or go to www.tunisair.com.
l Rooms at the 5 star Regency Hotel in Tunis start from £175 per night based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis. For more information or to book go to www.regencytunis.com/en/
l Rooms at the Mövenpick Resort and Marina Spa in Sousse start from £230 per night based on two sharing on a bed and breakfast basis. For more information or to book go to www.moevenpickhotels.com/en/
l For more information on what’s happening in Tunisia go to www.cometotunisia.co.uk.