Part 1 of 6
When you think of getting away do you want to experience any of these things?
- beautiful beaches
- vibrant city life
- historical sites
- amazing food
- beautiful places to relax and rejuvenate
If you answered yes to any of these then you need to put Tunisia on your bucket list. From its souks to its beaches, its monuments and its exquisite cuisine, everything here is tradition and good taste. No matter whether you prefer a pure beach holiday or wandering around monuments from the Roman times, this northernmost African country has it all.
However, strangely enough, Tunisia was never on top of my list of places to see when growing up. To be perfectly honest, I ended up in Tunisia a bit by accident as the reason for visiting was to meet up with my Moroccan boyfriend and spend a few days there before we both head back to my country Malta to begin a new life together.
There are six international airports in Tunisia that you can fly into. Most likely, you will land at Tunis-Carthage International Airport (TUN) near Tunis. This airport is quite modern and convenient and you can change money directly at the airport and get a SIM card there too. Unfortunately, in my case, I landed at the old terminal at Tunis Airport, which gave me none-too-fond memories of the old terminal at Luqa Airport in Malta!
Tunisia is perhaps most famous for its wide array of historical attractions, including the ancient city of Carthage in Tunis, and the huge Amphitheatre of El Jem near Sousse, which show off the influences of various civilizations that have settled in the country over the years.
Tunisia is also famous for its resorts located all over the country – Hammamet, Sousse or Monastir and sun-seekers can enjoy its sea and gorgeous Mediterranean beaches. They never get really crowded – there is enough golden sand for everyone as Tunisia’s coastline is 1,148 kilometers long!
Nevertheless, Tunisia has a lot to offer and it would be a pity to spend a holiday in Tunisia in just one place. The roads are in quite good condition and there are several ways to move around independently. In our case, we rented a car and found our way around pretty easily. However, please note that driving in the towns and cities is not for the faint-hearted so you’ll need to be an experienced and confident driver!
In fact, if you drive for more than a few minutes in a Tunisian city, you will have people pull out in front of you dozens of times. Pedestrians will cross the street as if you and your car weren’t even there. Mopeds will weave through traffic and brush up against your mirrors. It can all seem overwhelming at first so one of the best things you can do to adjust is to learn what’s “normal” and then abide by those unwritten rules. Ironically, I found driving in my country Malta ‘relaxing’ after my short stay in Tunisia!
Food lovers will be happy to hear that Tunisian food is super delicious: fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables full of flavour, spicy sauces, the bread which is baked in the morning, refreshing lemonade, and much more! And if you are into seafood and fish, you will enjoy it twice as much. Eating outside is super cheap although the service is not always up to par.
Of course, couscous is by far the most popular traditional dish here but I’m not really into couscous so I gave it a miss. However, you should definitely try harissa, a very spicy chili paste (sometimes made more mild with carrots or yogurt), served with bread as a starter at almost every meal. And prices in most restaurants are very cheap, which makes the food taste even better!
Eating in a high-end restaurant will cost more but it’s still very affordable compared to many other countries. We had dinner in Monastir in a stunning restaurant called Restaurant le Pirate Monastir. We had fish soup as an appetizer, various seafood platters with salad as a starter, a main course, a bottle of water and plenty of Tunisian sweets and fresh fruit at the end. All of this at just €17 a head!
History buffs will find plenty of historical sites such as Carthage. However, this ancient city turned out to be super touristic and full of souvenir shops with locals trying to sell you anything they can. I would rather recommend spending more time at the small village of El Jem, located 20 minutes away from Sousse. Its impressive ruins of the largest Roman amphitheatre in Africa can satisfy those interested in seeing ancient Roman ruins without the tourists.
I also strongly recommend visiting the town of Sidi Bou Said, just a thirty-minute-or-so train ride from Tunis. This small town on a hill is known for its cobbled streets but, above all, for its houses painted in white and its blue doors. The bohemian atmosphere of its streets, the views over the sea and its craftsmanship will certainly fill you with pleasant sensations.
Tunisia is a beautiful country and I spent four days being welcomed with warm smiles and happy greetings. I’d have loved to have spent a few more days there but that was not possible unfortunately. However, I’d like to return one day and head further south into the desert and swim in an oasis and perhaps also visit the island of Djerba.