Majestic, authentic, loving: Tunisia met me with open arms thanks to Tunisian hospitality. Tunisians are so generous and welcoming – even though most of them only talk in Tunisian Arabic and French, you won’t ever feel out of place.
When I arrived in Tunis, I was welcomed with a flower called the “Machmoum.” It has delicate notes of jasmine, and smelling it wiped off the stress of my flight and the hectic airport queues. Instead, I felt rejuvenated to dive into my next adventure.
After checking in and resting for a bit, we headed to Medina, the older, walled part of the North African town. The Medina of Tunis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, and I could see why. With over 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas, and fountains as old as the Almohad and Hafsid periods – it’s a timeless expanse of tangible history. Also, it’s as old as 1229; I had to take a moment to digest this fact.
With just a few travelers at that time, the atmosphere was serene and calm. We silently strolled and admired the beautiful houses, patios, and paved alleyways. Soon enough, the view changed to one of excited chatter as we walked into a line of artisan stalls. Looking at the endless options on offer, I knew I had plenty of souvenirs to take back home. Vibrant tapestries, ornate jewelry, Arabic lamps, hand-made puppets known as wooden ottoman janissaries- it was an animated circus!
After having bought a few out of the many I was going to buy later, we went ahead and discovered a spot that sells the best Brick a l’oeuf (Egg Brick), famously called the kafteji. Kafteji is Tunisia’s culinary masterpiece. It is a mouth-watering dish served with merguez (lamb sausage) or a fried egg and a sufficient amount of potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers, eggs, pumpkins, and zucchini, fried and mixed into one solid helping.
After a hearty meal, we drove to Sidi Bou Said. It’s unthinkable to miss Sidi Bou Said and Carthage when in Tunisia!
Sidi Bou Said is a small, charming town built on sloping land that leads up to a hill. The view is a delicious treat of the Mediterranean coast, surrounded by petite alfresco cafes, Tunisian eateries, and delightful art galleries. At first glimpse, I thought to myself: “Was I drugged and put on a plane to Greece?”
Indeed the blue-and-white houses of this enchanting town have an uncanny resemblance with the Grecian architecture.
Next, I made a stop at Café des Délices – located on one end of the Mediterranean coast with breathtaking views of the harbor. I sipped some fresh mint tea and admired the fantastic view of the Mediterranean. If you’ve heard the song “Au café des délices” by Patrick Bruel, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In fact, many guests visit Café des Délices after listening to this song.
After having lounged and stretched my legs, I strolled on the streets of Sidi Bou Said, where I indulged in the famous Tunisian donut “Balablouni.” I would surely call it an indulgence as it is fried and dipped in sugar. I can’t say the same about my body, but my taste buds felt terrific.
I got so busy re-living Sidi Bou Said that I completely forgot to talk about Carthage! Carthage is like walking into another era. The ancient city has seen generations with the first stepping stone set by the Phoenicians, which was then destroyed and rebuilt by the Romans post the Punic wars. Carthage used to be at the height of its power with its proximity to the trade routes and an impressive harbor.
Rome eventually destroyed it, and now Carthage stands in ruins as an archaeological site with tourists coming to admire it from all over the map.
It was tough to get out of the Carthage reverie as that place can make you stand still in admiration.
I also visited the Amphitheater of El Jem- another excellent World Heritage site in Tunisia. I was lost in the beauty of its grand architecture. I’d not seen anything like it.
It is one of the best Roman stone ruins and the third biggest coliseum globally, no wonder I felt like I was in Rome. You can feel the weight of all the lives that have been here- even in ruins; it depicts powerful energy.
Next up was my favorite experience in Tunisia. Can there be something else to trump all that I had experienced already? Well, yes, it was the magnificent Sahara desert. It was a complete change of scenery – adorned by palm trees and camels wandering about. I toured the dunes atop a camel and felt like a Desert King.
The view from the camp was an endless stretch of the dune without a soul or network in sight. If you’re looking to disconnect completely, this is the place to be.
Finally, coming to the food was the perfect route to experience Tunisia’s culture. I tried the authentic bread ‘Taguella’ that’s cooked underneath the hot sand and charcoal of a small fire. It is a staple dish of the inhabitants and can be eaten directly or with meat sauce. It was delicious!
I think it’ll be impossible for me to stop talking about the way my journey took a whole new turn in the desert.
So, I’ll end my Tunisian tale at the beach. A few hours from the desert camp is Djerba, an island off the coast of Tunisia. This is where I happened to have my first thalassotherapy treatment, where seawater is an essential element of the massage.
One can also explore the beaches in Tunisia and doesn’t have to go all the way to Djerba. Hammamet and Sousse are popular Tunisian towns where one can swim at the beach and partake in fun water sports.
At Djerba, I swam all day and ate heaps of organic fruits – re-creating my own Hawaii!
On the last day, I went back to Tunis and stayed at Gammarth- a small seaside town known for its nightlife. There were unique-styled bars and restaurants to choose from and I was spoiled for choice. It had a mix of fancy and casual options playing eclectic music from House, Latino, Oriental. Many spaces were also hosting live shows, where I spent my time and bumped into some great people.
I didn’t know Tunisian people were so open and fun. I made a lot of friends, we danced and shared stories, and I’m sure I’ll meet them when I come back for my next visit.
Each day of this trip offered me something new to experience. and it was still not enough to experience this beautiful gem wholly. Until next time, Tunisia!