Petra Shepherd enjoys the culture, heritage, and history of this fascinating country
Tunisia, the northern most country in Africa is known for golden beaches, sunny weather and a unique blend of Arab and Berber cultures and influences. Not just a beach destination, Tunisia might be tiny compared to other North African countries, but it packs a lot in. Great for a cultural getaway, Tunisia is now well and truly back on the map as Petra Shepherd discovered on a recent visit. These are just a few of her highlights.
Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said is an elegant village, just 12 miles north of Tunis where the blue and white houses jostle with each other on the hillside, facing the sea. The picturesque village was once a favourite holiday destination for the privileged families of Tunis and is now extremely popular with visitors on day trips from the capital and justifiably so. Sid Bou Said is famous for its distinctive doors. Painted in bright blue or yellow, arched or rectangular, framed with carved stone, ceramic tiles of black and white marble, each has its own style. The most beautiful are decorated with large black studs expertly arranged into stars, flowers or the shapes of cypress trees or fish. Don’t hesitate to go off the beaten track and explore the cobbled alleyways, with each step a new door will surprise you. Behind the walls of the houses, simply white washed with lime, veritable palaces are concealed. One of the them was built by a European who fell in love with the village in 1912, the baron Rodophe d’Erlanger.
Carthage was founded by the Phoenician Queen Elyssa, know today by the name of Dido. One of the most powerful metropolises of the ancient era, its empire stretched as far as Sardinia and Spain. Long-time rivals of the Greeks, the Carthaginians (also known as the Punics) were excellent navigators, traders and expert famers. But despite the victories of the famed general Hannibal, the Romans conquered Carthage and made it one of the most opulent cities of their empire. Today, it’s possible to explore the remains of the once mighty Phoenician city of Carthage and despite their ruinous state, touring this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the top things to do in Tunisia. On the site itself, you will see the ancient Punic interior ports, ruins of houses, and the sanctuary known as Tophet.
The well-known holiday island of Djerba, approximately 20 km by 20 km lies just off the north eastern coast of Africa, in south eastern Tunisia, near the Libyan border. An hour’s flight from Tunis, the island is famed for its white sandy beaches and white domed houses. Both Mediterranean and Saharan, the island has been a source of fascination since the time of Homer. Ulysses tasted the “lotus” there, a delicious fruit which takes away all desire to leave. Gawp at over 400 crocodiles at Djerba Explore, a crocodile farm or wander the quaint maze of alleyways of Djerba’s capital Houmt Souk. Buy some beautiful painted pottery in the village of Guellala, Djerba’s main pottery centre and then watch a fiery sun set from nearby Sidi Yati. Don’t miss the ancient El Ghriba Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Africa and marvel at the street art at Djerbahood. In 2014, Mehdi Ben Cheik, founder of Galerie Itinerrance in Paris, offered the inhabitants of Erriadh, located in the heart of the island, an extraordinary experience turning their village into an open-air museum of street art.
The Berber village of Matmata is the biggest and best known of the troglodyte villages, where the houses have been dug out of the rock to escape the intense daytime heat. The landscape inspired George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars to film here and you can even stay in a Troglodyte Star Wars themed hotel with the rooms named after Star Wars characters and Star Wars theme music piped through them. Matmata is 25 miles south of Gabes with the houses set up according to the typical floorplan of a Tunisian house with a central courtyard, surrounded by bedrooms which are completely subterranean.
Gateway to the Sahara and date capital of Tunisia, Tozeur is a city in south west Tunisia, located northwest of Chott El Jerid, Tunisia’s largest salt lake. It’s easy to spend a few days here exploring the old medina, with its unusual geometric brickwork and the cool, winding paths of the palmeraie, one of the largest in Tunisia with 200,000 date palms. Tozeur was the site of the ancient city and former bishopric of Tusuros, before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century and is best explored by foot or taking a caleche (horse drawn carriage).
More information https://www.discovertunisia.com/en/
http://www.tunisair.com/site/publish/content/ flys to Tunis from London Heathrow and Gatwick