Gorgeously quaint and stunningly picturesque, Sidi Bou Saïd is a vision of white-and-blue buildings perched above the Mediterranean. Wander the cobblestone alleyways through the village, stop for syrupy Arabic coffee at a cliff-side cafe, and then unwind on the charmingly old-fashioned beach. It’s an easy day-trip from Tunis.
THINKS DO IN TUNISIA
Shaped over the centuries by a mixture of Ottoman, Arabic and French-colonial influences, Tunisia’s capital is a wonderful muddle of old and new. In the shady medina back alleys, old men puff on shisha and play backgammon, while along the broad French-style avenues of the modern town, the cafes brim with bright young things toting laptops and chattering on their mobiles.
For many visitors the UNESCO World Heritage-listed El-Jem Colosseum is Tunisia’s historical highlight. Built in the 3rd century, this mammoth structure once held crowds of up to 35,000 and today towers over the modern surrounding town. The largest amphitheatre in North Africa and modelled on Rome’s own Colosseum, it’s an example of just how far the mighty long Roman arm reached – to the very centre of Tunisia.
Cruise over sand dunes
The dramatic sand dunes of the Grand Erg Oriental ripple out in waves across the horizon. This hypnotic landscape was used in the movie The English Patient and has since become one of the most famous corners of the Sahara. From the dusty desert outpost of Douz you can organise camel treks or 4×4 trips to the dunes. Dune skiing and desert dune-buggy trips are also available.
Delve into the ruins of Dougga
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of North Africa’s best-preserved ancient ruins. Although most of the surviving monuments here are from the Roman period, Dougga’s history stretches right back to the 6th century. With its dramatic hilltop position and ample monumental buildings and temples, it is one of Tunisia’s most impressive tourist attractions.
Due to a prominent role in the first Star Wars film, Matmata’s subterranean dwellings, first dug out by the Berbers over 1000 years ago, attract hundreds of visitors each day. The main attraction here is Hotel Sidi Driss used as the cantina in A New Hope, and is still home to plenty of Star Wars paraphernalia. You can sleep here, troglodyte style, as well if you like.
Like Bardo, Sousse was subject to a terrorist attack in the summer of 2015. Before then, it was a vibrant seaside town, especially Boujaffar Beach with its long stretch of white sand and lively nightlife strip, but tourism has naturally taken a hit. But Sousse has a long resilient history dating back to the Phoenicians, under whom it was an important coastal town. It will recover.
Take it easy in Djerba
The chilled-out island of Djerba is a Mediterranean idyll with its whitewashed villages, craft markets, and postage-stamp sized beaches shaded by palm trees. It’s a wonderful place to relax in, doing little more strenuous than browsing the shops, enjoying leisurely lunches of fresh seafood and lounging on the sands.
Venture into the Sahara
It seems a shame to come to Tunisia without getting a taste of the dramatic desolate horizons that make up the country’s southern half. A number of companies organise Sahara trips, which range from a couple of hours on a camel to a full-on voyage into the sands.
Wonder at sacred Kairouan
Kairouan’s skyline of minarets is packed to the brim with beautiful Islamic architecture, not least the breath-taking 9th-century Great Mosque. Founded in 670, the city dates back to the beginning of Islam in the Maghreb and is seen as the religion’s fourth holiest site. Aside from sacred landmarks, you’ll spend hours exploring the labyrinthine medina, full of spindling alleyways backed by crumbling pastel-hued houses.