by Chris Leadbeater, The Telegraph, October 15, 2018
Tunisia’s capital is far less well known than its beach resorts but its mild climate, fabulous Roman ruins and Arabic heritage make it an intriguing option for an autumn mini-break.
Tunisia (discovertunisia.com) is now back on the map for British tourists. Its security situation is far more settled – it is more than three years since the terror attacks, and one since the Foreign Office rescinded its advice against visiting. Tunisair (tunisair.com) flies direct to the city from Gatwick and Heathrow.
Dar El Medina (1 on the map above) is a boutique hideaway whose courtyard offers genteel respite from the evocative din of the old town. Doubles from €68 (£59), room only (darelmedina.com). A stately four-star in what was once the British embassy, the Hotel Royal Victoria (2) on Place de la Victoire has doubles from £80, room only (hotel-royalvictoria.com).
An east-to-west stroll along Avenue Habib Bourguiba (named after the former president) gives an overview of recent history. Place du 14 Janvier 2011 (3), home to a latticework clock tower, salutes the date President Ben Ali’s government fell in the Tunisian Revolution. Further on, the Cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (4), finished in 1897, is a legacy of French colonial rule (1881-1956). Avenue de France (5) is another Gallic relic – a tree-lined miniature Champs-Élysées.
Arabic Tunis asserts itself if you turn on to Rue Charles de Gaulle and amble south to the Municipal Market (6) – a giant hive of dates, figs and olives. Continue west on Rue d’Espagne and into the labyrinthine medina, whose many souks may detain you for hours. Souk El Berka (7) deals in fine jewellery.
Don’t miss the Ez-Zitouna Mosque (8). It dominates the medina as the oldest mosque in Tunisia, dating to the seventh century. Its 141ft minaret, built in 1894, is a solid point of reference as you wander the souks.
Another grand shard of the French yesteryear, the Théâtre Municipal (9) opened in 1902 and stages opera, ballet and classical concerts (facebook.com/theatremunicipaldetunis).
Nightlife is limited but hotel El Hana International (10) on Avenue Habib Bourguiba boasts Bar Jamaica, with its 10th-floor views and beer for 11 Dinar (about £3; (hanainternational.website).
Dar El Jeld (11) (dareljeld.com) is the culinary gem of the medina: an 18th-century gilded family mansion whose elegant interior now houses a hotel and a restaurant. Dishes include couscous with lamb or seafood, from D39 (£10.50).
Off the map
One of Africa’s greatest archaeological treasure troves, the National Bardo Museum (bardomuseum.tn; D11) contains mosaics from Tunisia’s Roman period and statues from Carthage, Tunis’s ancient predecessor. The ruins lie 10 miles (16km) to the north-east. Viator (uk.viator.com) sells a day trip (ref: 31404P7) from Tunis, from £69 a head.