Tunisia is officially open for tourism! Hotels, restaurants, shops and resorts are all waiting to welcome visitors once more. TUI are due to start package holidays again soon from the UK to this popular super sunny, friendly destination.
Our guide for this trip was Moncef Battikh, Head of Promotions for the Tunisian Tourist Office. Born and bred in Tunisia, Moncef has lived in central London for many years, but returns to his homeland as often as possible. He is passionate advocate for this rather charming North African country.
Tunisia, officially the Republic of Tunisia, is the northernmost country in Africa. Part of the Maghreb region of North Africa, it is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Tunisia is has the same landmass as England and has a population of 12 million people.
The Central Market
Our first stop is the the central market in Tunis. This bustling venue is a colourful and lively as a market can get. The fish market itself is quite exceptional with a myriad of varieties. Every possible type of fresh fish, prawns, octopus and other seafood are all on display every day, and apparently it all gets sold! It’s noisy, bright and busy, and the fresh fruit and vegetable market is similarly lush with beautiful fresh produce.
We stop for an amazing lunch at Dar Belhadj a restaurant in a beautiful riad in the middle of the Medina. Delicious warm flatbreads, fresh Dorada fish and salads followed by a Tunisian dessert based on pine nuts. Fruit and Tunisian dates finish the meal to perfection. I love fresh dates and ate as many of them as possible during my Tunisian visit.
Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said is the Santorini of Tunisia, with its village of pretty blue and white buildings overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean sea. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Sidi Bou Said became a popular retreat for writers and artists and it retains a rather bohemian feel.
The streets are full of small galleries, workshops and traders. There are numerous restaurants, cafes and boutique hotels reflecting the village’s popularity. Another street food specialty is the ‘Bamboulini,’ a kind of giant doughnut cooked freshly to order and covered in delicious powdered sugar.
The quality of the Tunisian wine was a revelation to me. With its strong links to France, most of the grape varieties grown here are French. Red and rose wine are in the majority, but the white wine was also very nice. I had the best dark dry rose I’ve had outside of France during this trip and will need to go back to investigate the wine producing industry here. There’s nothing quite as nice as a long al fresco fresh fish lunch complimented with a delicious appellation contrôlée Tunisia can deliver this on a daily basis!
Olive oil in Tunisia
Tunisia has 82 million olive trees and they cover huge swathes of the countryside. There are over 2,000 varieties of olives and Tunisia produces some of the finest olive oil anywhere.
We visited Riviere D’Or, owned by the Loued family. This fourth generation family run business produced the first organic cold pressed oil in the country. Their expertise is unquestionable, and they continue to harvest their own olives and press the highest quality olive oil. The packaging for the very best oil is quite beautiful. The newest product ‘Karat’ looks like a giant bottle of Chanel no 5 perfume, emphasising that this is indeed a premium purchase!
Tunisia is famous for its historic sites. The ruins of Carthage (a UNESCO site) are one of the most famous of these. The city was originally built by the Phoenicians, a powerful merchant race of the ancient world. It is in a strategic position to influence and control ships passing between North Africa and Sicily. Indeed you can see the coast of Sicily from Carthage on a fair day.
Conquered by Rome and indeed a number of other civilisations over time, Carthage has been rebuilt many times. It has the runs of a villa still visible and some impressive mosaics collected from different periods.
The amphitheatre of El Jem was my favourite ancient site. One of the world’s largest and best preserved Roman amphitheatres; it was built in the 3rd Century AD. It could seat 35,000 people.
There are virtually no people there on the day we visit, and so we are free to soak in the sunny atmosphere of this awesome stadium undisturbed. Apparently the film Gladiator was filmed here, which gives it an extra attraction for me, as that is one of my favourite films.
Tunisian cuisine is varied and delicious. There is a rich supply of delicious fresh seafood and there is also a plentiful supply of meat like lamb and beef. Meals are often accompanied by divine fresh juices – the lemon being my particular favourite. The coastal Cap Grill in Monastir, served us another memorable meal of which we enjoyed many.
We also visited with Tunisian celebrity chef Rafik Tlatli at his Nabeul restaurant. He cooked us some OJJA with Merguez sausages and we ate it with relish. I have the recipe and will certainly be trying it out at home.
Most Tunisian dishes involve some Harissa, a hot chilli pepper paste, native to Tunisia. Main ingredients featuring in Harissa are roasted red peppers, spices and herbs. Garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, cumin and olive oil add to the spicy and delicious flavour.
Briks are another Tunisian speciality. A thin deep-fried filo pastry, briks distinguish themselves with their circular shape and addition of runny egg yolk to a spicy tuna or mince filling. A tasty accompaniment to any dish, or indeed, a meal in itself!
Handicrafts in Tunisia
There are lots of exciting things to buy in Tunisia and at a very reasonable cost. The leather is exceptional and multiple colourful shoes, sandals, and bags are on offer at a fraction of the UK price. Pottery is also in abundance. Lovely things made of olive wood and beautiful handmade carpets are to buy too.
Tunisia offers all the ingredients of a great holiday, with its friendly people, great sites and shopping, and long sandy Mediterranean coastline. Most people speak both Arabic and French so you can get by with your school days French with a little effort. English is also widely spoken.
Only two and half hours flight time from the UK, the weather here is great all year round and Tunisia is a top winter sun destination. I recommend a visit to refresh your memories of this charming North African country.
Check out more Media memories in Fabulous Fez