Return to Tunis: why now could be the time to go to this historic metropolis | Travel

It’s late night at Tunis’s Sidi Bou Said TGM practice cease. A gaggle of teenage boys skip throughout the tracks to disapproving seems and head for the ready room the place a homeless individual is asleep. It seems they’re on the lookout for someplace with an echo so one in all them can sing. When the boy begins, the sleeper sharply suggests they go away.

The boys transfer to a different ready space the place the sound of unaccompanied singing quickly drifts alongside the platform. Tunisians heading home after a Saturday night wait to board the service for La Marsa Plage, the final cease on the road. The practice, when it comes, is somewhat scruffy.

European vacationers are briefly provide in Tunis three years after the dual terrorist assaults on Sousse and on Tunis’s Bardo museum, though they have begun returning to seashore resorts corresponding to Hammamet. With Thomas Cook and different corporations flying to Tunisia once more that trajectory will doubtless proceed.

Hammamet, a seashore resort round an hour’s drive south-east of Tunis, is beginning to see worldwide vacationers once more. Photograph: Alamy

It is the primary time I’ve been again within the metropolis because the revolution of 2011, and to a rustic that has fared much better than the others from the Arab spring. I’m in Tunis as a result of my spouse has been working within the nation with native political events for the upcoming municipal elections, by which half the candidates will probably be ladies. For her, the weekend is the primary alternative to see the sights.

Flâneurs at coronary heart, on a Saturday Sidi Bou Said is the place Tunisian weekenders come for cafe au lait and petit fours

We keep in La Marsa within the north-east, relatively than town centre with its chain resorts on Avenue Mohammed V and Avenue Bourguiba; the latter named for Habib Bourguiba who was the nation’s first post-independence chief. With its cafes, bookshops and artwork areas that cluster round a waterfront corniche and seashore, La Marsa is an efficient base, not least the Dar El Marsa lodge (doubles from £145 B&B) that overlooks the seafront. It is the nation’s outdated summer time capital, and you could possibly be forgiven for considering you’re in France, typically.

Seafront view from Dar El Marsa hotel, Tunis, Tunisia.

Seafront view from Dar El Marsa lodge

The bookshop home windows have essays by Camus and graphic novels; the cafes corresponding to Le Gourmet and the French bakery Maison Kayser do breakfast within the French fashion. The Tunisian bourgeois within the cafes communicate French to at least one one other.

One benefit of staying in La Marsa is that it’s a easy 25-minute stroll to Sidi Bou Said, probably the most standard vacationer points of interest. While organised excursions can rattle around the websites of Tunis, typically in a day, it’s higher to linger. Flâneurs at coronary heart, on a Saturday afternoon Sidi Bou Said is the place Tunisian weekenders come for cafe au lait and petit fours. Afterwards, they proceed up the steep hill of Avenue 14 Janvier – one in all many streets and squares named for the 2011 revolution that lastly swept away Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – to the eating places and cafes within the coronary heart of Sidi Bou Said itself.

Although it appears busy, in one of many outlets the proprietor complains concerning the lack of European vacationers including that earlier than the assaults in 2015 he would promote one in all his carpets no less than as soon as a day, a typical grievance on these reliant on tourism.

Hugely standard are the stalls promoting bambaloni (additionally bamablouni), candy and deep fried doughnuts eaten with sugar or honey. The rooftop Art Cafe, on a number of ranges round a steep flight of stairs, can be value visiting for its terrace and views throughout town, which could be loved whereas smoking a narguilah.

At the opposite finish of the spectrum is the restaurant and bar on the Dar Zarrouk: an outdated Tunisian palace with sea views and a reasonably tree-filled courtyard whose company contains businessmen, diplomats and native politicians.

Restaurant Dar Zarrouk with its sea views, Tunis, Tunisia.

Restaurant Dar Zarrouk with its sea views. Photograph: Nicolas Fauqué/Getty Images

The meals scene in Tunis is however one attraction, its antiquities are fairly one other. The web site of historic Carthage was as soon as dominated by Hannibal, and the Punic metropolis was destroyed by the Roman normal Scipio in 149BC on the finish of the third Punic warfare. Looking on the basements of the few remaining homes, its story – amid at this time’s rivalries and proxy wars within the wider area – appears shockingly up to date, a reminder that at this time’s hawks are usually not a lot completely different from Cato the Elder, the Roman senator who ended every speech with the phrases: “And Carthage must be destroyed.”

While a lot of the ruins, together with the Antonine baths date to the later Roman colony, a handful of areas of Punic Carthage stay, together with the “Hannibal District”. Though, it’s on the baths that the shortage of tourists first seems most blatant with maybe two dozen international vacationers wandering the big web site.

Courtyard and gallery space at Tunis’s Bardo Museum.

Tunis’s Bardo Museum. Photograph: Alamy

The image of life in each Punic and Roman Carthage is rounded out with a go to to the Bardo Museum (admission £three.30), the scene of one of many two 2015 assaults. In the lobby, it now hosts a memorial to these killed. Itself a former palace – probably the most essential museums within the area after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – its white vaulted rooms are largely empty of individuals even on a Sunday, as soon as one in all its busiest days.

Last and never least is Tunis outdated Medina, a Unesco world heritage web site relationship to the interval of the Almohads and the Hafsids when, between the 12th to the 16th century, Tunis was thought of probably the most essential and richest cities within the Islamic world. A warren of streets and lanes, it’s a metropolis inside a metropolis to rival Jerusalem’s Old City, Marrakech or Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, a spot of historic palaces, mosques and non secular faculties punctuated with cafes and outlets.

Arriving on a Friday evening and leaving at lunchtime on Monday, Tunis is a metropolis that leaves me anxious to return for extra.

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