A few weeks ago I got a call a with the question if I wanted to explore Tunisia. My first thought was: Heck, yes! But after a few minutes, I have to admit… there was a little voice inside my head holding me back a bit after everything that has happened there. Now, if you stop and think about it a little while longer, you ‘ll realise that what happened in Brussels on March 22 wasn’t any better. And still, we go there every day. What happened in Paris was horrible, yet everyday day, thousands of people get on a Thalys and head to the City of Love without even thinking twice.
At the end of the day, we can’t stop living our lives or go through them being scared. The only way to really fight terrorism is to rob them cowards of their desperate cry for attention. So ignoring them was the reason why we decided to go for it. And damn I’m so happy we decided to go anyway. Because:
What I thought would be a rather laid-back beach holiday with not that much adventure, turned into a true discovery of all things beautiful that Tunisia has to offer.
We fell from one amazing story into the other, learned a lot about the Tunisian history and every place we visited was more beautiful than the one before. It was by far the opposite of my experience during my first visit, about 10 years ago together with my girlfriends…
While you can indeed go to Tunisia for a great and affordable beach holiday, it has a lot of other things to offer. Not convinced and still frowning your eyebrows? Let’s read on and allow me…
Upon arrival we first headed towards the hotel (we went to the grand Sun Connect, One Resort by the way) to unpack and explore the territory. It became very clear very quickly that security is high up on the agenda this season. And unfortunately how much the country has been suffering from the commercial flight embargo… I’m not gonna go into detail about this though, because it has been all over the news the past weeks. ;) I’m just gonna say one thing and that’s that we didn’t feel unsafe for one second during the entire trip. (Except that one time when my boyfriend had that spicy curry and I had to go into the bathroom after him.) On the contrary, people seemed so happy to finally being able to start welcoming tourists again and were actually very helpful.
Anyway let’s rewind: first things first. And to me that’s the beach! We immediately dove in head first (figure of speech). After an early flight (read: grumpy monkey), some food and relaxing by the ocean was just what we needed.
Also on the agenda on our first day was the spa/wellness. Hammam, a scrub, and a massage… it’s something you absolutely need to do when coming here. Compared to Belgium, it’s relatively cheap, plus it allows you to get a taste of some local traditions. And well… it allows you to relax. What more do you need to really hit off your holiday with a bang (no pun intended).
Monastir | Bourguiba mausoleum
A must-see when in Monastir is the Bourguiba mausoleum. One word: impressive. This place is actually… mesmerizing. Majestic. Beyond words. Like a fairy tale. Even though it’s actually a cemetary because it’s the spot where Bourguiba (the first president of the independent Tunisia) himself and his beloved ones got buried. But it’s more than that, inside the mausoleum, there is a small museum housing some of president Bourguiba’s personal belongings & the architecture is pretty impressive too, to say the least.
I was really surprised to hear that Bourguiba actually fought for equal rights between men and women (we’re talking ’57 – ’87). He wanted education for women (say whuuuut) and he didn’t want them to wear a veil or a burqa. He believed Allah gave them their beauty to show it, not to hide it. He made clear women are independent, perfectly capable to decide for their own. Divorcing was not frowned upon, he made polygamy forbidden and even abortion was allowed, if that was what she thought was necessary.
Interesting to know: Many of the women you see in Tunisia with a veil are actually Algerian of Egyptians. Not locals.
Hammamet | Nabeul
During our stay we also went to Hammamet. We stopped in Nabeul to witness the – what seems to be a deserted – fisher beach. It’s a ‘small patch of sand’, completely covered with fishers boats (operational ones but also old and destroyed ones) and tons of fishing gear. It’s pretty cool to see and it’s located just in front of the old Medina…
Hammamet | Medina (old one)
The old Medina was probably one of my favorite places of the entire trip. You could really get lost between all those little streets, because your focus is drawn to all these beautiful details and amazing doors/windows in the otherwise rather simple architecture. Just allow yourself to get lost, enjoy the warm wind and go with the flow. Getting lost often brings you to the best spots (or a creepy cemetery, but that’s a story for another time). Either way, adventure for the win! ^^ The old Medina also has this kind of observation deck on top of the surroundings of the old city, which gives you this breath-taking view…
As you can see above, we also grabbed something to eat at one of the restaurants in the area. Fresh fish: check!
TIP: The old Medina is an easy-to-miss spot if you’re not clear with your cab driver. So make sure to ask to go to the OLD Medina of Hammamet, because – if you’re not entirely clear – chances are he’ll bring you to the touristic one. Perfect if you have little kids and want to go to an aqua park, otherwise … not so much. And like almost everywhere, negotiate on the cab fare before you get in.
We visited a couple of souks during our stay (remember that scene of the second Sex and the City movie where Carrie sees Ayden? ^^), but I have to admit that I enjoyed the one in Sousse the most. It has a nice mixture of little streets and shops, where you can wander through, while coming across spices, dates, traditional items and people making the most beautiful rugs right there on the spot.
It’s by far not comparable with the better known markets that sell fake designer clothes or bags. And even though you could notice people there were struggling, they weren’t pushy at all. Of course they asked to check out their shop (“everything for 1 dinar” ^^), but that’s it. If you said ‘no thanks’ their reply was still warm and friendly.
Another thing we visited while in Sousse was the local market where the real locals buy their vegetables, fruit, fish and meat. They were really selling all possible parts of an animal you can imagine… guts, goat heads, you name it. Intestines falling on the floor… Oh well, no harm done. Let’s just put them back. I didn’t wanna pull strange faces to mean no disrespect towards the locals, but at a certain point, I was really glad we didn’t have lunch yet. ^^
Sousse also has a nice harbour by the way. It has this big promenade that’s pretty jam-packed in the high season. There are bars and restaurants, little shops and tons of boats departing. During our visit it was pretty much just us. I think it’s safe to say that it was really rare, to be able to walk across the entire harbour in less than half an hour. ^^
In the north-east of Tunisia you’ll find its capital city: Tunis. One of the first things you’ll notice is that this city is very much alive and has many French architectural influences. Just through the Sea Gate (Bab el Bhar and the Porte de France) begins the modern part of Tunis, traversed by the grand Avenue Habib Bourguiba. The difference with Hammamet, Monastir or Sousse are very clear. It’s more modern even though you also have an old historic part to it.
At a certain point, we ended up on the rooftop balcony of a carpet place, in the middle of the old souk. An awesome view from a place you would never expect it to find.
Tunis | Sidi Bou Saïd
This pretty unique little spot has a reputation as a town of artists and lies on top of a 100m cliff at the Golf of Tunis. While walking up, you can witness tons of white buildings with bright blue doors and windows. Eventually, you’ll end up at a little square where you’ll find a bar existing out of multiple levels called Café Sidi Chabain. The view is breathtaking. Not only do you see the Golf of Tunis, you can also witness the luxury boats arrive or depart from the marina, while enjoying a drink or a quick bite.
Tunis | Carthage
What was once the capital city of the ancient empire dominating the Mediterranean Sea, now looks like a big pile of stones. This ancient city was eventually destroyed by the Roman Republic in the Third Punic War, to be then re-developed as Roman Carthage. Clearly that also didn’t last and eventually local people ended up using lots of stones to build houses with… making it look like this. Not that much is left, but if you walk through it, can you easily imagine the vibrance once housed.
No matter if you are in Monastir, Hammamet, Sousse or Tunis… If you get the change to try a Brik, give it a shot. It’s a well-known local dish which is deep-fried. It has a whole egg in it together with spinach, chicken or fish. Finger-lickin’ good.
Tunisia in 90 seconds…
Have you ever been to Tunisia? If yes, did you enjoy it as much as we did and were you also surprised by it? If not, starting to feel the urge to go? ^^
This trip was in collaboration with Neckermann Belgium/Thomas Cook.