If Marrakesh has whetted your appetite for more Moorish delights, Tunis could be your next port-of-call. Offering abundant culture, surprising street food and the most stunning village on the far side of the Med, the capital is a far cry from Tunisia’s bargain beach holiday stereotype. With a two-and-a-half hour flight time, you can be there and back again before your boss has even noticed you’re gone.
In the wake of the Arab spring, dwindling tourist numbers make now an ideal time to explore the capital at your ease. As I meander along the Medina’s maze of cobbled streets, the familiar whiff of Camel-leather, fresh mint and charcoal reminds me I’m definitely back in North Africa. Weaving between toppling stacks of crockery, glass-encased scorpions and shady carpet-sellers offering prices “cheaper than Asda” , I finally settle on some silver jewellery, olive-wood bowls and a bulk-buy of saffron.
A wander into the nouvelle ville (new town) reveals a parallel universe of ordered avenues, leafy boulevards and elegant villas sprinkled with minarets, shisha cafes and fragrant food stalls. While snails compete with cous cous in the popularity stakes, it’s the street food that wins my vote. Tuck into brik, a tissue-thin triangle of pastry packed with a precarious concoction of egg, tuna, parsley and harissa. (Pack plenty of napkins). Sold on every street corner, the city’s signature street-food dish, lablabi, is a must for all adventurous foodies. This hair-raising chickpea, cumin, garlic and harissa stew is guaranteed to reach the parts that a Balti never could. As essential experience on any short break to Tunis.
Home to three thousand years of history, it’s a little known fact that Tunis boasts the world’s largest collection of Roman mosaics. Housed in a former 19th century palace, the Bardo Museum’s recent £10 million Euro facelift makes it a must-see. Look out for the Triumph of Neptune, the world’s largest vertical mosaic. Although not on a par with Pompeii, the Phoenician trading town of Carthage is also worth a look. Highlights include the Roman Ampitheatre, the Antonine Baths and the Sanctuary of Tophet, the former grisly scene of child sacrifices.
Once you’ve had your fill of city-life, the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said provides the perfect retreat. A cluster of white-washed houses with ubiquitous turquoise doors nestles on the hill-side overlooking the Bay of Tunis. This Santorini-esque sanctuary provides the perfect reviving pit-stop for a sweet mint tea and a naughty slice or three of almond-pistachio Tunisian Baklava.
If you’re looking for a short-break destination which provides a fascinating fusion of cultures and combines both the buzz of the city with a more laid-back village vibe – Tunis is calling. Only a quick hop across the Med, a short break to Tunis can be fitted into even the most hectic work schedule.