Tunisia is an outrageously cheap, wonderfully underrated destination
The view from Sidi Bou Said. Photograph: Richard I’anson/Getty
The vaulted, covered Medina in Tunis. Photograph: Adam Alexander
If there was one word that could sum up the majority of the world’s ills today, it would surely be greed. Welcome to Tunisia, then. First out of the bloc in the Arab Spring, and a country that kicked its greedy, embezzling dictator all the way into the sands of Saudi Arabia. Where, no doubt, he landed extremely comfortably.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of the mess he left behind and, with soldiers, tanks and razor wire still visible in the capital Tunis, a new Islamic government and a bank called ‘Amen’, this is a country you feel is existing on a wing and a prayer.
However since its inspiring and largely peaceful ‘Jasmine revolution’ in January 2011, it seems as if the whole world has been wishing Tunisia well as it tries to get back on track. Especially with tourism – its most important earner. Some good news then. This year the north African country enjoyed a resurgence in tourists – thanks partly to the trouble in nearby Egypt. But while the French are down by almost half, British, Russians and even Libyans have replaced them in record numbers, bringing the total almost back to what it was before the popular uprising (4.2 million in the period January to August last year).
But even if visitor numbers rise to the roughly seven million a year it enjoyed before the revolution, Tunisia is still a thrilling, hugely underrated destination. Especially away from its long, balmy, sand-fringed Mediterranean coast, where few ever venture.
It is impossible to even begin talking about Tunisia though, without mentioning that it could well be the cheapest country to visit in the world. I’ve had delicious meals here for less than €3. I’ve had a hamam – that wonderful exfoliating skin-scrub that slews the grime off you until you’re pink – for only €5, including a proper massage.
I even found a terrifically well located hotel in downtown Tunis for only €7 a night, spitting distance from Tunis’s most fashionable street, Avenue Bourguiba. Though after a quick look inside, it seemed spitting from it might be all it was good for.
But there is also a wonderful high-end here for anyone seeking stylish, atmospheric, and better value alternatives to Morocco’s riads. It is possible to find comfort and exotic opulence in one of Tunisia’s riad-equivalents, known as a Dar, for not much more than a night in a Travelodge at home (especially out-of-season).
And if money isn’t an issue, try Tunis’s poshest Dar in Sidi Bou Said, where the stunning sea views, and the wealth, reminded me most of Cape Town.