We visited Tunis in September 2011, mere months after the Arab Spring died down in the country. We weren’t apprehensive about the stability of the place but we were excited about seeing an almost brand new nation. We did all the natural touristy bits but our highlight was stumbling across an art gallery called Palais Kheireddine (transformed into Le Musee de la Ville de Tunis) buried deep in the Medina that was once a former palace. It was virtually deserted but it was filled with artwork by local artists who had enough pent up aggression, borne out of years of oppression, to produce some really earthy art. The setting was perfect: a quiet space to wander around, with tall, white pristine arches framing works that were poignant, relevant and at times showed a zany sense of humour. A kindly caretaker took us under his wing and showed us some of his favourites, which included the gallery's sparkling mosaic tiled roof terrace overlooking the equally deserted square below. Round the corner is another gallery called La Dar Lasram, with subterranean looking arches that housed photographs from the protests taken by local photographers. Tunis felt like the most untouristy place on earth when we visited. Hopefully as democracy settles in, these local artists will reach a wider audience eager to know more about what makes this nation tick.
Rue du Tribunal, Place Kheireddine, 1006, Tunis
+216 71 561 780
For a hidden and secret spot which will allow you to enjoy the best views over the souks of the old Medina of Tunis and the mosque of Ezzitouna for free, you need to leave the tourist trail and delve right into the heart of the souks. Only a few shops in the souks provide access to their rooftops from which you will be able to enjoy these views, you will have to specifically ask the shop owners if you can get to the roof. The rooves themselves are something to experience, with their intricate tiling and magnificent blue and white colours. From here the whole Medina can be seen with its labyrinth of small covered streets,its myriad of colours and sounds, all against the backdrop of the Ezzitouna mosque "Minaret". The best views are available from one particular shop in the Souk "El Kachachine".
Here's how to get here: head to the Souks of the old Medina, ask any taxi to take you to the "Kasba" square in the centre of Tunis, which is the main government square. Head down to the jeweller's souk (called "Souk El Birka"), coming from the "Kasba" square behind you,and follow this street right in,with the prime minister's office (the actual "Kasba") on your left. Right at the end of this street, you will find a perpendicular covered street which marks the beginning of the "Souk El Kachachine", with its carpet shops. Turn left down this covered street, and you will find on your right the biggest shop on the street selling crafts, carpets and traditional Tunisian artefacts (you cannot miss it). Enter this shop, and ask to visit the rooftop. You climb two flights of stairs, and once you reach the top, you will be able to enjoy clear views of the whole Medina, and especially the Ezzitouna Minaret. Take loads of photos!
I was lucky enough to spend a year living in Tunis and loved the beautiful white blue bougainvillea sparkling under the Mediterranean sun. Often on weekends we would have late lunch at Le Neptune, a super relaxed and delicious seafood restaurant just by the sea. Literally, by the sea. The outside terrace gives a beautiful view on Tunis bay and Cap Bon on the other side, happily it is rarely crowded but usually lively so no real need to book. The menu is simple but delicious and reasonably priced (less than 15 quid ahead for three courses and wine). If you like clams they do a delicious version with lots of lovely garlicky sauce to sop up with your baguette. The restaurant is a favourite for middle class locals who want a relaxing lunch with decent Tunisian wine (go for the white!) and if you are visiting its a break from the souk and occasional hassle. The staff are always accommodating and the waiters have clearly been running the place since way before Ben Ali. After lunch you can go for a leisurely stroll around Carthage to work off the clams and meander up to the small fishing port of Carthage and envy the villas before hopping into a taxi for tea and nargileh in Sidi Bou Said. Enjoy!
2 rue Ibn Chabbat, 2016 Carthage
I spent a wonderful morning visiting the Medina and the souks of Tunis. The narrow lanes lined with shops were bustling with activities. After my shopping expedition in the souks, I had built quite an appetite for a couscous, a traditional Tunisian dish and walked into the first restaurant that served it.
I then took the tramway to Carthage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located only 13 miles away from Tunis, where I spent the rest of the day visiting the town’s ancient ruins. The area also offers magnificent views of the Gulf of Tunis.
Usually during Ramadan, there is a great scarcity of food in restaurants as all respect fasting norms during the day. Most restaurants are closed so the only place you'd find food is the hotel where you are based. This causes travel hardships as you cannot stop at different places to have lunch or afternoon meals while travelling.
Dar Said is the former townhouse of a wealthy Tunis family, in the pretty seaside and artist’s village of Sidi Bou Said, perched on the cliffs in the northern suburbs of Tunis. It's a picture-perfect place of warm sun, cobbled streets, whitewashed houses with bright blue shutters and ornately decorated doors, with tall cypress trees and bougainvillea flowers spilling over garden walls.
Dar Said has been listed many times among the world's best boutique/individual hotels, and it feels small, quiet and intimate (how staying away from home should be!). All the rooms are spacious, cool, well-furnished, with opulent bathrooms, and open onto small courtyards of jasmine and gurgling fountains.
A gorgeous pool is set among terraces overlooking the sea, and breakfast is served poolside every morning.
A perfect example of ancient meets modern, this hotel adjoins the Carthaginian ruins and overlooks the Punic port, set on the hillside near the picturesque blue and white town of Sidi Bou Said.
Rue Mendès France
2016 Carthage Byrsa. Tunisia
Tel : +216 71 73 34 33
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