TRAVEL: Tunisia - finding its feet post revolutionBy Rebecca Younger
January 02, 2013
DECEMBER 2010 was a time of political revolution in Tunisia. Locals took a stand against the undemocratic government, which led to the ousting of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
With the revolt came violence and mass demonstrations, causing a huge dip in tourism – a trade Tunisia had grown to rely on.
Two years have passed since the uprising that kick-started the Arab Spring and what has emerged is a proud north African country, keen to showcase its new-found freedom and optimism.
Many people were scared off by the revolution and gave Tunisia a wide berth last year but it seems British visitors are finally heading back and they are being welcomed with open arms.
According to the Tunisian National Tourism Office, visitor numbers increased this summer by 50% on last year.
Just a two-and-a-half hour flight from the UK, Tunisia offers more than 700 miles of sandy beaches, a plethora of five-star hotels and an almost unrivalled reputation for its Thalasso spas.
Evidence of the unrest remains within the capital of Tunis. A plaque bearing the date President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was forced into exile (January 14 2011) stands proudly in the city centre and you’ll still find battered police vans on the corner of most streets. However, you don’t have to venture far to return to normailty.
The city’s medina, for example, offers a true taste of the traditional way of life. Haggle for local produce in the maze of souks and then head to Dar Bel Hadj – a restaurant serving traditional Tunisian cuisine hidden along Rue Des Tamis.
The Bardo museum, on the outskirts of Tunis, offers another insight into Tunsia’s heritage, showcasing a major collection of ancient mosaics, the oldest dating back to the second century.
By contrast, in the nearby coastal town of Gammarth, you’ll find a number of modern, luxury beachfront hotels including the Ramada Plaza, a 309-room hotel brimming with friendly staff desperate to take care of your every need – albeit at a slightly slower pace than you might be used to back home.
With such attentive staff, an impressive pool and a private sandy beach, tickled by the calm, shallow waters of the Mediterranean, it would be easy to spend the entire holiday within a five-metre radius of your sun lounger but that would seem a waste as Tunisia has much more to offer than the typical package holiday.
The surrounding suburbs of Tunis are made up of a succession of small towns and are well worth a visit to experience true Tunisian culture.
The once-hidden city of Carthage is breathtaking, while Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque hilltop village lined with pretty blue and white houses, is a bohemian sanctuary.
Travel a few kilometres south and you’ll find Hammamet, the first tourist destination in Tunisia. Here, you will find plenty of restaurants, including Sidi Slim, which serves tasty seafood dishes and traditional Tunisian delicacies.
These picturesque spots have been pulling in tourists for years but travel further inland and you will soon come across some hidden gems, as well as a few secrets Tunisia has been harbouring for decades.
In Zaghouan, you’ll find the Water Temple – a Roman temple encompassed by the mountainous landscape that makes up the national park of Djebel Zaghouan.
The temple marks the site of an aqueduct and a canal network built in the second century BC to carry water from Zaghouan to Carthage more than 130 kilometres away.
Here you will also find Dar Zaghouan, a guest house and restaurant that is leading the way in terms of the country’s eco-tourism and produces olive oil and honey – two of Tunisia’s largest exports.
In fact, Tunisia’s soil and Mediterranean climate make it ideal for producing many varieties of grapes. If you take anything back with you, make sure it’s a bottle of Selian (local wine).
One thing you are not able to take out of the country, however, is currency. Although hotels are happy to change English sterling for Tunisian dinar when you arrive, you might struggle to get it changed back at the end.
Even currency exchange at the airports fail to stock sterling so it’s best to use up your dinar money before the end of your holiday.
- Rebecca travelled with the Tunisian National Tourism Office.
- Tunisair operates five flights a week from London Heathrow to Tunis. Prices start at £190, including taxes. For reservations call 020 7734 7644 or go to www.tunisair.com.
- Rooms at the five-star Hotel Ramada Plaza in Gammarth start at £101 per night, based on two sharing a double room on a bed and breakfast basis. For more information, or to book, go to www.ramadaplazatunis.com/anglais.
- For all your travel needs and information on what’s happening in Tunisia go to www.cometotunisia.co.uk.