I’ve travelled to Tunisia a couple of times as I (with four other travel bloggers) was working with the Tunisian National Tourist Office to share some of the many attractions of this fascinating Mediterranean country. Following our trips, the five of us produced a free ebook, Tunisia Beyond The Beach, which you can download via the link at the end of this post.
Here’s a taste of the book’s contents….
The dazzling colours of Tunisia…
Whatever the time of day or night, it’s colour that leads you down winding alleyways and welcomes you through ornately decorated open doors.
Blue, white and gold are the predominant colours of the coast, and the beaches have drawn tourists to this south Mediterranean country for a century, to rest and unwind under the deep blue sea and sky.
But we take you beyond the coast and the sea, to places where personality and creativity shed light on the country and its culture. We take you to locations where you can almost touch the past and taste the future. We follow cats as they meander through the medina and camels as they pop up unexpectedly in the street.
We follow locals to their favourite bars and cafes, to find out what they like to eat and drink and do. And in an age of Instagram we follow the tourists to a steep coastal town where the selfie is elevated to an art form and capturing blue doors and windows is a mission. In this short guide to Tunis and the surrounding coast and countryside we explore the places where art is created, where food is made and shared, where history was born and continually changes, along with the people and the vibe.
See that beautiful door? Let’s open it and explore…
Welcome to Tunis
Two worlds sit side by side in the fascinating city of Tunis: the medieval medina and the modern metropolis. The Tunisian capital’s ninth-century medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known as one of North Africa’s most impressive examples of a medieval medina.
At one time the medina had 17 gates and was enclosed by around five miles of walls, but these were destroyed by the French during the colonial era. The medina’s winding streets are home to covered souks selling handcrafted goods, workshops where artisans create traditional products, and grand residential buildings with colourful painted doors. Some of the historic buildings in the medina are now beautiful boutique hotels, making it an ideal base for exploring Tunis and the surrounding area.
Beyond the medina, the rest of the city has much to offer. The Bardo Museum is famous for its outstanding collection of Roman mosaics. Tree-lined Avenue Habib Bourguiba has a distinctly French feel, and its Théâtre Municipal is a classic Art Nouveau building. The vast 19th century Marché Central food market is the place to go for locally caught fish, spicy harissa, herbs and plants and of course for haggling and people-watching.
Vibrant Tunis is easy to reach from London, with direct daily three-hour flights by Tunisair making it a great option for a sunny city break.
There’s plenty to do in the suburbs of Tunis, particularly to the east where the sea glistens and beckons visitors to relax in its turquoise hues.
The most popular area is Sidi Bou Said, an evocative town of blue and white which rivals any of the Greek islands in beauty. There are cafes, souvenir stalls and best of all the street sellers serving up hot bambalouni, the Tunisian doughnut that comes scalding hot and sprinkled with large sugar crystals. Down below the winding streets of the town, expensive yachts bob harmoniously in the harbour, making it the perfect place for a post-dinner stroll. It may be touristy but there’s something hypnotic about Sidi Bou Said.
The seaside town of La Marsa is much more down to earth and is the place for beachside promenades and coffee in the pretty little town centre. The cafes here are more rustic than Sidi Bou Said but packed full of charm and with friendly locals it’s a great place to while away an hour or two.
Carthage, further down the coast, comes with the weight of history and doesn’t disappoint. Walk across Roman mosaic tiled floors and weave around the bath houses where gladiators would have roamed. This is as atmospheric an historical site as they come.
Finally Gammarth is full of vibrancy and packed with fantastic hotels and restaurants. With beachside bars and happy hours in full swing it’s the place to kick back and enjoy modern Tunisia’s fun side.
All that sunshine can make you thirsty. Tunisia’s cafes and bars are a great way to cool down while meeting the locals and chilling for an hour or two. Here’s how your day might go in drinking stops:
A shot of coffee in Tunisia is guaranteed to kick start your day. It comes small and strong and won’t take you very long to drink. Thanks in part to the Turks and the French, coffee has been a thing in Tunisia since the 16th century. Weekends are a good time to meet a local: in La Marsa we are warmly welcomed into historic Café Le Saf-Saf, where a white camel is a big tourist draw.
Mint tea elevenses
Mint tea is a must. It is best sipped somewhere good for the soul, but equally it’s a quick pick-me-up in the medina or on a busy street. In Sidi Bou Said, it is best taken on the dramatically steep café terrace of Cafe des Delices, sitting under a blue parasol, looking down onto one of the bluest bays in the world. It comes with almonds if you prefer a buttery taste. Either way it will be sweet. But not as sweet as the view.
And there can be few more chilled-out places to kick back with your mint tea than the cafés lining the waterfront at La Goulette. The port suburb of Tunis has its own small beach and tea rooms set on terraces above the waves. Take a promenade, eye up the street art and then watch the sun turn the water golden as it sets.
Lunchtime juice shot
A freshly squeezed juice will cool you down and set you up for the afternoon. We enjoy an especially good citron pressé just outside Tunis’ French Gate, Bab El Bhar.
Attend a weekend barbecue at Domaine Neferis from mid-March, where an open bar is matched with local cheeses, beef and olives.
Afternoon wine tasting
As the afternoon sun creeps over the sky, head to one of the vineyards in the Grombalia countryside, around 20km from Tunis. A typical tour will give you a generous tasting session and an overview of how production impacts the flavours.
Don’t forget to drink in the gorgeous Tunisian sunset. Take a glass outside and catch the liquid sun as it falls from the sky.
In this mostly Muslim country you can still party the night away at the beach front. Try cocktails in the nightclub complexes of Ardjan Gammarth and ToBe Carthage. There are regular happy hours and a soundtrack of hip hop, garage or soul. You could also try the boukha spirit made out of figs.
Free ebook: Tunisia Beyond The Beach
You can download the full Tunisia Beyond The Beach ebook for free by clicking on the image below:
More on Tunisia
You can read about my experiences in Tunisia in these posts:
Disclosure: The ebook was written and produced by me and my fellow Family Travel Collective bloggers as part of a paid campaign with the Tunisian National Tourist Office. All words, images and opinions in both the ebook and in this blog post are our own and are independent, as ever.