Head for the Sun

From sunworshippers, shopaholics and spa devotees to honeymooners, families and sporty types, Tunisia has something for everyone , says Gilly Pickup.

All images courtesy of Gilly Pickup

All images courtesy of Gilly Pickup
Besides spectacular scenery and highly chilled beaches – 700 miles of them along its Mediterranean coastline – I discovered there is much to see and do in this Alice-in-Wonder land of ancient olive trees and year-round sunshine. What’s more, being around three hours from our shores it is a great place to go for a long weekend or holiday – excellent value too!

My first stop was Tunis the capital, oozing French flavour in its Parisian-style boulevards. I was bound for the well-preserved medieval Medina (old town) where frenzied commerce has taken place for the past 12 centuries. I was told that the best way to explore this labyrinth of narrow streets was to launch myself on the current of people flowing and literally ‘go with the flow’.

A mind-boggling array of goods spill onto the cobblestones here. Gaudy Berber jewellery and colourful carpets mingle with brass pots, leather bags, antique lanterns, incense burners and sparkling, pointy-toed slippers. Although the hassle factor is relatively low-key, haggling is the name of the game. Start by offering a third of the asking price and away you go – it isn’t too tough and you can come away with a bargain. Keep an eye on your cameras and handbags though!

Tunisian food, heavily influenced by Arabic and Turkish cuisine, bursts with flavours that sing of the vine, sun and earth. Frozen foods are a big no-no, the emphasis here is on fresh ingredients. In all but the cheapest restaurants, customers are welcomed with complimentary fresh bread, olives and harissa, a concentrate of garlic and red chilli pepper. Couscous, Tunisia’s national dish, a main course stew of chicken, fish or vegetables is on menus everywhere, while you just have to savour a bumper bowl of seriously fabulous chorba, a spicy barley soup with chick peas and vegetables in a rich tomato stock.

“Be careful if you try the digestif ‘boukha’, (fig brandy). It has a kick like a mule!”
I hadn’t expected Tunisia’s wines to be so good and surprisingly for a Muslim country, alcohol is widely available in hotels and main resorts. Careful though if you try the digestif ‘boukha’, (fig brandy). It has a kick like a mule!

While the Sahara Desert may not seem like an obvious tourist attraction, once there, you can have a go at quad-biking, sand-surfing, ballooning, camel trekking or tee off on the 18-hole course in the oasis town of Tozeur. [For Star Wars fans – Tozeur was the set of Tatooine, the Skywalkers’ home planet].

Spa treatments in Tunisia are becoming ever more popular. The country has over 30 state-of-the-art thalassotherapy centres, more than anywhere else in the world except France. Thalassotherapy is the name given to a variety of treatments using hot seawater combined with massages, mud or seaweed wraps. Those who know about such things say it promotes general wellbeing and helps relieve stress and skin problems. Can’t be bad!

Factfile: Seven nights at the all inclusive four-star Houda Skanes Monastir Skanes from £482 pp, based on two adults sharing, departing Stansted. 0800 1116271,
Prices are subject to availability and change.

Meteor Meet and Greet Parking www.meteormeetandgreet.com, one week’s hassle-free parking at Stansted airport from £65.

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