The north African country of Tunisia is tiny, but has so much to offer visitors. We were last there just before the Arab Spring, when it was a popular destination for European tourists wanting to explore its beaches and deserts, its cosmopolitan capital city, its ancient desert trading posts, its impressive Roman ruins…
Unfortunately, tourism has tapered down in recent years, but there’s so much to explore in this tiny gem of a country that I’m hoping it won’t last long. I’m already anxious to pack my bags and be back again.
When planning your holiday, make sure to take into consideration my top Tunisia tips.
1) Djerba – This Mediterranean island in southern Tunisia, with its beautiful sandy beaches and gentle waves, is a popular summer resort. We were there in decidedly colder weather, but were able to enjoy long beach walks and wading without the crowds.
With the Sahara beginning just beyond Djerba, it’s also the perfect place to start your desert excursions. In Djerba, we loved the beautiful Sofitel Palm Beach hotel.
2) The Sahara – The desert alone could make up reasons 1 – 5. My kids couldn’t get enough and my husband and I were enthralled (it really is that beautiful). The Tunisian Sahara served as the filming location for many big budget films, including Star Wars and The English Patient.
There are wonderful Berber towns and “ksour” (granaries and trading posts) to explore and endless stretches of gorgeous, wind-swept sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see. Just try getting your kids off those camels…
3) Tunis – Tunisia’s capital is a medium-sized city and easy to explore. It’s medina is a gem and you’ll love wandering the winding streets of the souk. A little further afield and reachable by tram is the excellent Bardo Museum, perhaps the best collection of Ancient Roman mosaics in the world.
The wide boulevards and art nouveau architecture of the Nouvelle Ville, built by the French when Tunisia was a French colony, contrasts with the neighboring medina, with its twisting narrow streets. In Tunis, we stayed in the beautiful Dar El Medina, the only hotel in Tunis’ medina. I’m hoping more will open in this suggestive, characteristic quarter of Tunisia’s capital.
4) The “Dar” of Tunis – Tunis is filled with luxurious restaurants (“dar”), but you would never even know they were there if it weren’t for the telltale elaborate doors in an otherwise unassuming building in the medina. Once you knock on the door and are let in, however, you are transported right into “Arabian Nights”.
The rooms and interior courtyards are wonderful, the food and service excellent and the Tunisian wines surprisingly good (the north of Tunisia is a temperate climate perfect for wine production – who knew?). BTW, check in advance. Not all the dars serve alcohol. We always knew in advance, so we weren’t asking for the wine menus when there were none to be had.
Before going to these restaurants, we stuffed our bags full of colored pencils and paper to keep our kids good here (the atmosphere is definitely elegant), but these are worth it. Have your hotel book in advance, particularly on weekends.
5) Sidi Bou Said – I’ve already written a post about this adorable Mediterranean seaside town of white buildings and elaborate blue doors. This town is reached easily via public transport (the light rail) leaving frequently from Tunis.
Relax, take a walk around this picturesque coastal town and sip the famous mint tea with pine nuts on the terrace of the Café des nattes – where artists and writers like Paul Klee and Simone de Beauvoir used to spend their time.
Don’t miss out on visiting this beautiful country. It may be small, but you’re unlikely to run out of interesting places to explore.