Image courtesy of Conor Luddy, Flickr
Tunisia offers a great deal of variety for a traveller interested in history and culture. It has been at the crossroads of history for thousands of years and has a lot to show for it. We picked the brains of our resident Middle East expert, Pete Miers, to find out just what the country has to offer the exploratory traveller.
What are some of the country’s most interesting historical sights?
The ruins of the Phoenician capital of Carthage - from where the great Phoenician general Hannibal set off to fight the Punic Wars against their constant enemy, the Romans – lie just outside of Tunis. After the Romans defeated the Phoenicians they took over their lands in North Africa and established towns of their own, such as in Dougga which has some well-preserved remains, and in El Jem, whose fine ampitheatre ranks as second in the Roman world only after the Colosseum itself.
And when Arab armies surged across North Africa in the 7th century to spread their new religion, Islam, they established the city of Kairouan, which not only has the oldest mosque in North Africa but is also one of the seven holy cities of Islam, and today is famed for its old city and the quality of its carpet shops.
Sousse | Image courtesy of Robin, Flickr
What about Tunisia might surprise travellers?
Tunisia has a number of very pleasant towns which ooze charm and show off North Africa’s architectural heritage. The old city of Tunis itself is like stepping back in time; its narrow lanes and bazaars evoke images of its medieval past. Sidi Bou Said is an enchanting village of Andalusian villas just outside of Tunis on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean. Mahdia offers a slower pace; its ancient medina on a narrow peninsula on the coast is a gorgeous mixture of fishing village and 10th century Arab town.
And what does Tunisia boast in terms of natural wonders?
Well, there’s the spectacular Saharan landscapes, particularly in the palm groves around the oasis town of Tozeur and on the fringe of the desert around Ksar Ghilane. One appealing aspect that you would not expect of Tunisia is that it’s been used as a film set for many Hollywood films (‘The English Patient’ and Monty Python’ ‘Life of Brian’ among others), due to its stunning scenery and stable government. Star Wars devotees flock to the town of Matmata, whose eroded landscape and underground troglodyte dwellings were used as the set for Luke Skywalker’s home planet.
Berber village near Daqas | Image courtesy of Sarah TZ, Flickr
What type of travellers usually head to Tunisia?
For those travellers looking for something other than a beach holiday, Tunisia has a lot to offer in terms of tours focusing on heritage, culture, food and the local people. Many travellers who have been to Egypt or Morocco and are looking for a similar experience can find it in Tunisia. Tunisia has much of the classical history reminiscent of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and also a similar blend of style, architecture and French-Arab fusion cuisine that is found in Morocco.
Why is now a good time to visit Tunisia?
At a time when other Middle Eastern countries are off-limits to tourists, such as Libya, and Syria, and when Egypt is not attracting anywhere near its usual tourist numbers, a country like Tunisia has a lot offer those looking for a similar experience. Tunisia has a stable political environment, a moderate and tolerant version of Islam and warm, friendly and welcoming people.
How has the country been doing in 2014, and what are the prospects for the remainder of the year and into 2015?
Peregrine has a 10-day itinerary of Tunisia which has seen many groups visit the country in 2013 and again in 2014, and I imagine that as more and more people learn about what Tunisia has to offer, those numbers will grow again in 2015.
Inspired to see Tunisia for yourself? Jump aboard a Peregrine itinerary and take in one of North Africa's lesser-visited gems.