|Tunis St Vincent de Paul Cathedral|
For bohemian travellers who missed Marrakesh fifty years ago, Tunis offers an experience perhaps less polished than Morocco’s tourist magnet but also maybe more interactive as the friendly locals display traditional North African hospitality with smiles and goodwill.
As in other Arab countries, the ancient medina still plays an important role in the daily lives of the locals, but in Tunis, the French built a new area that has evolved into the city’s business and cultural hub. The century-old Ville Nouvelle is no longer new, but it is still new compared to the adjacent medina which measures its age in four digits rather than three. The Tunis medina is not tourist trap; it is still a primarily residential, functional, unique neighbourhood where families live, children go to school, and people work. The tourist-oriented souvenir shops lining the few main lanes of the souks are complemented by many traditional workshops in other parts of the medina where tradesmen carry on the same crafts as their fathers and grandfathers before them, hammering copper, tanning leather, and working wood with knowledge and expertise rather than automation.
|Spices at the Central Market|
Despite the Ville Nouvelle’s role as the centre of government and corporate activity, the Tunis medina remains the centre of retail commerce, with merchants offering everything from Chinese plastic bowls to extraordinarily beautiful hand-carved furniture along with the various bakeries, food stalls, and corner shops that keep the medina’s residents well fed. There are also several places of interest, including the Museum of the City of Tunis where (con)temporary art exhbits are shown. The Museum is a minute’s walk from the Dar Lasram, a beautiful former palace that is now home to the conservation organisation that works hard to restore and preserve the architectural splendour of the medina. The main rooms of Dar Lasram are open to the public and are well worth a look. Next door in the palace’s former stables is now an atmospheric café that serves as a venue for musical performances and other cultural events.
Smiles and goodwill are also in abundance on board Turkish Airlines, whose nonstop flights from Istanbul bring travellers to Tunis in less than three hours. The US-based Tunisia Tours, a specialised subsidiary of Experience It Tours, is one of the few non-European tour operators specialising in Tunisia and maintains an extensive network of connections to make things happen as clients wish in order to make their visits what they expect them to be.
|The Bardo Museum in Tunis has the best collection of Roman mosaics in the world|