It may be but a slim wedge of North Africa’s vast horizontal expanse, but Tunisia has enough history and diverse natural beauty to pack a country many times its size. With a balmy, sand-fringed Mediterranean coast, scented with jasmine and sea breezes, and where the fish on your plate is always fresh, Tunisia is prime territory for a straightforward sun-sand-and-sea holiday. But beyond the beaches, it’s a thrilling, underrated destination where distinct cultures and incredible extremes of landscape forested coastlines along the coast, Saharan sand seas in the south can be explored in just a few days.
Sfax MedinaSurrounded by ancient crenulated walls that could have been filched from a child’s toy castle, this tourist-tat-free zone hasn’t been prettified for visitors. The main narrow thoroughfares bustle with everyday commerce, while away to the northeast and southwest wind quiet, twisting lanes. The main souq heading north is the celebrated Souq des Etoffes, which was used as the setting for the Cairo markets in the film The English Patient. Don’t miss a glimpse of the Grande Mosquee, with its 9th-century minaret.
The most important synagogue on Jerba and the oldest in North Africa is signposted 1km south of Erriadh, 7km south of Houmt Souq. Blank from the outside, the interior is an exquisite combination of glowing blue tile work and moodily dark wooden furniture. The inner sanctuary, with its elevated pulpit, is said to contain one of the oldest Torahs in the world. Bring ID for the security checks outside. The synagogue is a major place of pilgrimage in May.
This enormous green space has over 200,000 date palms, as well as fig and pomegranate trees and canopied garden holdings. It’s best explored by foot or bicycle (ask at your hotel for recommended bike hire). Caleches (horse-drawn carriages) can be found opposite the Hotel Residence Karim though you are at the mercy of the driver as to the route taken, and the horses don’t look like they are treated well.
Zaouia of Sidi Boumakhlouf
Below the kasbah sits this enchanting 17th-century Sufi mausoleum, with a brilliantly tiled interior and narrow tower. The guardian, gorgeous Madame Zemourda, is a descendant of one of the occupants; call and she will arrive to open the door and show you around. Just outside is a bewitchingly pretty, tree-shaded square and cafe; ask there if you don’t have a phone.
Other Places Of Interest
International Culture Centre
Hammamet’s International Culture Centre is the ultimate party house. It’s a mansion designed and built by Romanian millionaire George Sebastian from 1920 to 1932. Frank Lloyd Wright said it was one of the most beautiful places he knew: the appreciative architect was just one of Sebastian’s many illustrious, bohemian guests. It has a central colonnaded swimming pool, a huge black marble dining table and a baptistry font-style four-seater bath surrounded by mirrors.
Musée de Carthage
At the Musee de Carthage, housed in the former French cathedral seminary, the ground floor features some fine 5th-century AD mosaics featuring lots of peachy bottoms; a Roman sculpture of a boozy Silenus and Maenad continues the sensual theme. There are lamps dating from the 4th century BC to the 7th century AD, some still blackened by smoke.
Museum Dar Essid
This small, private museum is also not to be missed. In a quiet part of the medina, it occupies a beautiful old home, furnished in the style of a well-to-do 19th-century Sousse official and his family. The dimensions of the elaborately decorated, arched door are the first indication of the owner’s status. It opens into a small anteroom for meeting strangers, and then into a tiled courtyard surrounded by the family rooms.