It took us rather longer than planned to make it to Tunis. And once we did we were pretty much ready to leave. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the hostel we were staying in was abominable. But more than that, it really was because there was nothing particularly special in town. The old Medina is nice enough and is worth getting lost in for a few hours but once you’ve exhausted that the options start to dry up in a hurry.
The Bardo Museum is a great way to spend a few hours amongst 2000+ years of history and the Roman relics in Carthage are another great way to spend a day or two. But there is no need to stay in central Tunis for either of those. And so we did not. Instead we escaped to the beautiful coastal suburb of Sidi Bou Saïd.
Sidi Bou Saïd is about 45 minutes outside of town on the Tunis light rail system. Close enough to be convenient for commuters but far enough to be a completely different world for visitors. Many tourists visit Sidi Bou Saïd as a day trip and the town shows it. The population swells every morning starting around 10am as the first round of buses make their way in to the small square at the bottom of the hill and unload their charges. Even with the crowds, however, the town manages to retain much of its charm and beauty.
The town is all blues and whites (and a splash of yellow every now and then), reminiscent of Greek isles and other similar Mediterranean scenes. The doors are decorated with intricate patterns and the views are simply stunning pretty much every direction you turn. It seems to be stuck 400 years ago (or more) and shows no signs of giving up that charm.
The town itself is tiny; a walkthrough including visits to a few of the artisans can be done in just a couple hours. Combined with its proximity to central Tunis and Carthage this means that’s often all it gets from visitors. But for folks willing to invest a bit more time there is the opportunity to take in a couple of the local restaurants, enjoy a lazy afternoon on a rooftop or otherwise just decompress. After the relative chaos in central Tunis that is a very much welcome opportunity indeed.
(N.B.- Writing this post I am very much aware of the civil unrest in Tunisia. I certainly hope that the theme of “escape” is one that can be read as focused only on the relative lack of fun stuff to do in Tunis rather than the larger geopolitical implications. I also hope that the strife ends quickly and peacefully; even though it was not our favorite vacation ever it is always unfortunate to see such violence.)
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