TUNISIA: WELCOMING COUNTRY
Official Name: Republic of Tunisia
National Holiday: 20 March
Currency: Tunisian Dinar
Official Language: Arabic
Other spoken languages : French, English
Population: 11.100 million
Position from Europe: Meeting point of three continents: Europe, Africa and Asia
Coasts: 1.298 km
Average temperature: 12C in winter, 29C in summer
Internet domain: .tn
International dialing code: (+216)
Main airports : Tunis Carthage, Enfidha, Monastir, Tabarka, Sfax, Djerba, Tozeur.
Connected to the North and South of the country by two motorways and located at the heart of a region full of archaeological sites and places of interest, Tunis is a natural starting point for a whole variety of excursions. Visitors to the capital should allow enough time to explore its medina, monuments (the Great Mosque, the Tourbet El-Bey Mausoleum), palaces and souks, which contain a plethora of temptations. Another major attraction is the magnificent Bardo Museum, famous for its exceptional collection of Roman mosaics.
COASTS OF CARTHAGE
On the site of ancient Carthage, one of the most powerful cities of its time, there lies today a region full of charm with a variety of riches. All along the coast of exotic turquoise-tinted sea, which at times reminds you of a lagoon, there is a succession of smart little towns – La Marsa, Sidi Bou Saïd, Carthage – these make up the elegant suburbs of the capital, orientated towards leisure activities and culture, modern but still attached to a certain flair for living.
The Coasts of Carthage region, close to Tunis and with a rich and prestigious past, facing the sea with all the pleasures that holds, is the capital par excellence of that certain Tunisian flair for living. The Moorish cafés are welcoming and open unpretentiously onto sun-drenched terraces, like the famous cafés de Nattes in Sidi Bou Saïd, or the café Saf-saf in La Marsa, famous for its well and the camel that draws water from the well using a bucket waterwheel (noria).
But it is also the exceptional beauty of the setting that makes a trip to Carthage and the neighbouring blue and white village of Sidi Bou Said a must. A charming blend of simplicity and refinement, Sidi Bou Saïd surveys the Gulf of Tunis from its hilltop location.
Gammarth is a seaside resort town on the Mediterranean Sea in the Tunis Governorate of Tunisia, located some 15 to 20 kilometres north of Tunis, adjacent to La Marsa. It is an upmarket resort, known for its expensive hotels and shops. Gammarth began as a small fishing village but following independence from France it blossomed into a resort from the 1950s. Tourism now provides the backbone to the local economy. Gammarth contains many five-star hotels and restaurants and also contains many lavish white villas and coves in the vicinity.
TUNIS AND ITS MEDINA
The capital of Tunisia is made up of three distinct but overlapping areas: the historic core – the Medina, the “European” districts that date from the early twentieth century and form the current city centre. The Medina, the remarkably well-preserved historic heart of Tunis, has remained largely unchanged for more than five hundred years. The Aghlabid emirs of Kairouan were passionate about the city and constructed the prestigious Zitouna Mosque here in the 9th century.
Diverse and welcoming, Tunis is a pleasant city to live in. The Old European quarters, built at the turn of the 20th century, have become a picturesque part of town, buzzing with life. This is the city’s major meeting point and the ideal place to saunter between the cafés, boutiques, patisseries and restaurants. Avenue Bourguiba, which has recently been given a facelift, is the backbone of this district, shaded by ficus trees, rustling with countless sparrows.
Not far from here, the central market is worth the detour for its ambience and the explosion of colours and smells. Very much in touch with its heritage, yet open to contemporary cultural trends, Tunis offers a wealth of cultural events and attractions. In the heart of the Medina, various cultural spaces and art galleries have been set up in ancient buildings, particularly palaces and sumptuous residences in the Arab Andalusian style. Concerts are also held there every year, during the Medina Festival. Not far from the old quarters, the Municipal Theatre, built in 1902, is a rare example of monumental Art Nouveau architecture, and the venue for concerts and shows throughout the year.
The historic sea port of Bizerte combines all the charm and hospitality of a small, traditional town with a modernity worthy of any city. Situated in the heart of a lush region where the opportunities to explore are endless, Bizerte offers all the ingredients for a complete holiday experience. A large, modern port and a pretty medina sit next to the old port, which is protected by several fortresses and Kasbahs, built over the centuries.
Bizerte has always been renowned for its strategic value: it is both close to Europe and endowed with a natural port (the Lake of Bizerte) in which ships could be safely moored. The sole gateway to the Kasbah is guarded by a typical little fort called Bab El-Medina, whilst across the waterways, another fort, the Ksiba, keeps watch over the entrance to the port.
The “Andalusian Quarter” of Bizerte also boasts a Turkish fortress called the “Fort d’Espagne”, which once welcomed a large number of Spanish exiles and which bears witness to the strong Turkish and Andalusian influence once wield over the area.
In that large areas of countryside extending to the South of Hammamet, along the coast of a sapphire-blue sea edged with a ribbon of golden sand, Yasmine Hammet – “Hammamet’s Jasmine”- is a new joint resort, luxurious, modern and lively. An exceptional setting from where you can discover Tunisia. Standing proudly alongside a long beach of fine sand, Yasmine Hammamet looks like an entire town that has risen out of the ground with its wide avenues and hotels that compete in magnificence, the many entertainment venues and even a majestic but completely reconstructed “Medina” (Old City).
It may seem a somewhat madcap undertaking, to recreate, at the heart of an ultra-modern resort, an idealised Old City where traditional residences with all comforts are found alongside market (souks) and craftsmen’s studios. Yet this is what has been created with Medina Mediterranean Park. The picturesque markets are crammed with treasures. There are many boutiques and galleries offering original objets d’art. You can sip a mint tea at the Moorish café Sidi Bouhadid, sit down in a restaurant to taste traditional Tunisian dishes or delicious grilled fish; stroll through the most modern neighbourhoods of Hammamet and enjoy the vibrant activity of the town centre, or the pleasant serenity of the residential streets edged with hibiscus and bougainvillea.
A small town with a rich historical past, where ancient monuments sit side by side with modern urban design, Monastir quickly seduces its visitors. Built on a cape that plunges into sapphire-coloured waters, the appearance of the omnipresent sea changes constantly. Monastir and its surrounding region also presents a rich palette of colours, where the bright white of the modern building offsets the ochre of the old city walls. The gentle shades of tamarisk; aloe and olive, the purples of bougainvillea and hibiscus, the white notes of jasmine and the iridescent blue of the vast expanse of sea contrast sharply with the triumph green of the palm tree-the king of this southern region, where the sun shines throughout the year.
Less than an hour’s drive from Sousse, Mahdia is a lovely town to explore on foot: the medina built on a peninsula, the large fishing port and the seaside cemetery are all delightful. Several monuments bear witness to the town’s prestigious past.
This small town, El Jem, is famous for its Colosseum – the largest in the world after those of Rome and Capua -, which was built by proconsul Gordian around 230 AD. As well as the impressive Colosseum, there is a museum rich in Roman mosaics.
Fascinating, welcoming and secret, Kairouan is one of the jewels of Tunisian heritage. The former capital of the Aghlabid Emirs is rich in historical memories and remarkable monuments. The great Mosque is the symbol of Kairouan not only for its religious prestige but also for its historical importance and its remarkable architecture. Holy town, mythical town, Kairouan has the spellbinding charm of a city moulded by history and piety, jealous of its heritage and its traditions. It is also the main craft centre of the Tunisian carpet industry.
The little town of Sbeitla is the descendent of an ancient city whose Latin name was Sufetula. This town saw a period of major expansion, even becoming, briefly, a capital at the time of the Byzantine Patrice Grégoire. Until then subject to Constantinople, he decided to break away from the metropolis.
The site of Sbeitla is very extensive and includes some remarkable remains. These is the forum with its monumental arch, paved square, and extraordinary stone capitol gilded by the sun, formed by three temples standing side by side and dedicated respectively to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva- an almost unique shape in the Roman world.
SFAX AND THE KERKENNAH ISLANDS
At the edge of the Southern areas, but open to the sea, Sfax is an old city that in modern times has become the second town of Tunisia by population and economic importance. Known as the olive-oil capital of Tunisia, Sfax is also a large industrial and commercial port town. A tow of contrasts, prosperous and active while remaining deeply anchored in tradition.
Although Sfax has acquired the status of a major economic metropolis, it has remaines deeply attached to its heritage and its traditions. Very well-versed in the traditional arts – such as music – the people of Sfax are also well-known for their cuisine. Their fish dishes and their oriental pastries are a gourmet’s delight.
Less than one hour from Sfax, the Kerkennah archipelago has the spellbinding beauty of distant islands. With its two main islands, Gharbi and Chergui, Kerkennah offers dream-like scenery.
DJERBA ISLAND AND ZARZIS
Djerba is the island of subtleties : the smooth landscapes and low horizon, the mild climate and soft sandy beaches, the clean lines of the traditional architecture, where cubes and immaculate domes predominates.
The handicrafts of this region have their roots in the deepest strata of the civilisation of the Mediterranean Basin. In Guellala, the potter, bent over his work, has been fashioning the same shapes since the times of Minos. Meanwhile, the techniques used in the weaving of the famous Djerba blankets date back to the time of Hannibal.
Linked to Djerba by the Roman causeway, Zarzis is a charming seaside resort next to a vast palm grove. Visitors are attracted by its wonderfully long, sandy beaches, the charm of its traditions and the comfort of its hotels, in the typical architectural style.
THE GREAT SOUTH
In the heart of the Great South, in the back of beyond, you will find magical places such as Ksar Ghilane. With its nomadic encampments and its luxurious inn, Ksar Ghilane provides a perfect stop-over point for any Saharan tour.
A typical desert village surrounded by sand dunes, Douz is the great trading crossroads of the region and continues to pride itself on its semi-nomadic customs. Douz is a place where tradition is still very much alive. This is celebrated during the month of December every year at the Sahara Festival.
Situated on the edge of the Sahara, Tunisia’s hospitable oases provide a thoroughly fulfilling experience.
Gafsa, Tozeur and Nefta, are interesting historic towns that lived off their enormous palm grove in the middle of the desert. Nearby, visitors will see Chott El Jerid, an ancient dry lake covered with a sparkling salt crust, and the mountain oases (Tamerza, Chebika and Mides).
Nowadays, the oases region is equipped with a wide choice of comfortable hotels, which blend into the natural surroundings and offer an ideal destination for anyone looking to explore the Saharan regions.