History, adventure and sun-soaked bliss – Tunisia’s pretty much got it all. Located in Northwest Africa, this picturesque paradise includes part of the Sahara Desert, but its coast is pure Mediterranean magic…
Even if you only have a few days to explore, you’ll be amazed at the diversity you’ll encounter. Around here, you hear Arabic and French being spoken, but you’ll get by just fine with English.
In summer, temperatures soar above 30°C, but humidity is low, so good hair days are practically guaranteed. In winter, the mercury rises to about 18°C, dropping to 10°C at night, widely recognised as ideal for snuggling. Time your trip for spring or autumn and you’ll enjoy the perfect blend.
When filling your suitcase, be mindful of the region’s standard of dress – it’s best to avoid revealing clothing, and ladies, pack a headscarf if you want to enter the mosques. Once you touch down, you’ll find it easy to get about by bus and train, but perhaps easiest of all are the local and long-distance louages. These shared minibus taxis don’t stick to a timetable – they just set off when they’re full. Everyone takes them, so they’re a great way to rub shoulders with residents and ask for their insiders’ guides.
Play —— What’s blue and white and bougainvillea all over? Sidi Bou Said, a town perched on cliffs that spill into the sea. When you’re not swimming in the impossibly clear water, meander around the charming Old Town, where the cobblestone streets are studded with stalls. Tour Palace Dar Nejma Ezzahra – the former home of wealthy French painter and musicologist Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, whose décor is credited as the origin of the town’s colour palette – and the fascinating fallen city of Carthage, the ruins of which remain after the rest was razed by the Romans.
From Sidi Bou Said, walk 30 minutes up the coast for a beach day in Frenchy little La Marsa. Explore the boutiques, bookstores and art spaces, then shop for a fresh feast at the bustling Marché Centrale and have a picnic on the white sand.
Not far away is Tunis, the country’s capital. Check out the UNESCO World Heritage medina with its mosaics, monuments and souks, and Bardo Museum for its archaeology. Skip across to the Cap Bon peninsula, where in Korbous you can soak in a natural hot spring; bypass the ones in town for the rockpools overlooking the ocean.
Travelling further south, you’ll find Sousse. Here you should go straight to Hammam Antistress for one of Tunisia’s best hammam experiences. Women and men usually have different time slots throughout the day, but you may be able to arrange to coordinate yours – just ask the owner, Kamal.
Visiting a mosque is a must in Tunisia, and the ultimate is the Great Mosque, south of Sousse in the holy city of Kairouan. Founded in 670AD, it’s one of the oldest places of Islamic worship in the world and open to non-Muslims.
Tunisia wouldn’t want to brag or anything, but the Sahara is the biggest desert on the planet. End your honeymoon here with an unforgettable adventure by jeep or camel, then for one last otherworldly experience, head to Chott el Djerid, a pink salt lake that conjures magical mirages.
Stay —— A bit of a splurge but totally worth it, Hôtel Dar Said in Sidi Bou Said has jasmine-scented gardens and a panoramic view. As well as being an ideal spot in which to base yourselves, you can truly live your best life here. Be sure to step outside at night to see the moonlight turn the water in the bay silver.
For an authentic experience in Kairouan, book into Dar Hassine Allani, a typical Tunisian home that has been transformed into a B&B/museum. The historic family dwelling is an excellent example of Arabian-Muslim architecture and has three private guest rooms. Its location in the middle of the medina means you’ll hear beautiful prayers rising up from the mosques at twilight while your hosts prepare you a meal to enjoy on the rooftop.
The oasis city of Tozeur is your gateway to the desert and salt flats, and where you can explore locations used for films including Star Wars and The English Patient. Newly opened here in January is the five-star Anantara Tozuer Resort, where you can luxuriate in your own private villa and take a tour of the date palmerie via horse and carriage.
Eat —— If you didn’t go on honeymoon and eat yourself silly, did you even go on honeymoon? Tunisia ensures you do it right by offering a tempting array of flavours influenced by those who’ve ruled this land throughout history, from the Spanish to the Turks. Tunisian food is spicy (harissa hails from here), and being in the Mediterranean basin, heavy on olive oil, tomatoes and seafood. Couscous is the national dish, and you can see Italy from here, so pasta is big news too; definitely order the makrouna.
Start the day with the country’s Instagrammable take on the smoothie bowl, lablebi, a dish typically eaten for breakfast based on chickpeas in a garlic and cumin-flavoured soup, with harissa, capers, tuna, crusty bread and an egg on top.
In Sidi Bou Said, elevate the experience of street food brik (a deep-fried savoury turnover) at Au Bon Vieux Temps, a high-end restaurant with a best-ever view of the Gulf of Tunis. Coffee to go isn’t really a thing in Tunisia, but sitting to savour it is, so you must also do that at nearby Café des Delices. Order Arabic coffee and some Maghrebi mint tea (typically served with pine nuts), and shisha to puff on while you’re at it.
Make the most of the medina in Tunis by viewing it from a rooftop eatery; El Ali is popular for its terrace and regular music nights. And while you’re in Tozeur, hit up the Sahara Lounge for eats and adventure – an obstacle course and zipline through the palms, plus dining in a garden oasis.
The last word on Tunisian food would surely have to go to its doughnuts, bambalounis and yo-yos, both drenched in honey and the latter also flavoured with orange blossom water and lemon syrup. Get ’em while they’re hot.
Words—Philippa Prentice | Photography—Kate Wark