Head for this emblematic Tunisian village which is the perfect setting for a winter break.
On this winter morning, a strong sun splashes the whitewashed houses with blue shutters of Hedi-Zarrouk street. Less than 20 kilometers from Tunis, the village of Sidi Bou Saïd is perched on a balcony above the Mediterranean. Under the eyes of passers-by, the baker browns the traditional bambalouni, small sweet donuts in the shape of rings. Further on, a merchant is unpacking multicolored pottery. Between the prickly pears, stairs lead down to the beach and the marina. It is indeed the postcard image that we have of the place, but without the crowds of tourists and the crushing heat of summer, to the rhythm of the daily life of the inhabitants.
1. Enjoy a room with a view, at a low price!
Discovered at the start of the 20th century by the wealthy Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger, Sidi Bou Saïd is considered one of the most beautiful villages in the world. The aristocrat launched major restoration work there and had it classified. His palace, a jewel of Arab-Islamic art, now houses the Center for Arab and Mediterranean Music (€1.60 per visit). In the wake of the baron, artists like Colette, André Gide or Paul Klee fell in love with the place. Connected in thirty minutes to the center of Tunis by the small train Tunis-Goulette-Marsa (TGM), Sidi Bou Saïd has a crazy charm. Bed and breakfasts have taken place in traditional houses and remain open in winter. Our favourite: The Boundless Blue House, an address to share with friends. Hass welcomes guests to its 19th century residence (€136 per night for 4 people in February). Around the oriental living room are arranged two cozy bedrooms, a bathroom and a fitted kitchen. But the highlight of the show is the south-facing terrace, open to the big blue. Good to know: from studios to villas, airbnb.fr offers other charming addresses, from €30 per night for 2 people.
2. Walk to La Marsa beach
In Sidi Bou Said, no need for a car. We stroll along the alleys, we climb the stairs at random and on the way we collect the whitewashed domes, the beautiful painted doors decorated with studded motifs, the secret gardens draped in bougainvillea. For a 360 degree panorama over the Gulf of Tunis and Cap Bon, climb up to the marine cemetery. Below, a path winds for 3 km in the pine forest to La Marsa beach, a long ribbon of sand beaten by the waves. Popular with the Tunisian bourgeoisie, the seaside resort retains some vestiges of the past, such as the Koubbet El Haoua, a Moorish-style fantasy built by the Bey of Tunis in the 19th century to shelter the bathing eyes of the reigning family. The Oueld El Bey café (5, rue Naceur-Bey) invites you to take a break. On the menu of this popular place, delicious hot sandwiches, garnished with tuna or chicken with vegetables, at €1.
3. Discover Carthage by bike
The best is to rent a bike with a booklet (8 € per day) or to treat yourself to a guided cycle tour with lelemontour.com to explore the ancient site of Carthage. On the hill of Byrsa, at the archaeological museum (3 € entry), we review the history of the Punic city: its foundation in 814 BC. AD by Dido, a Phoenician princess from present-day Lebanon; the rise of this city of sailors and merchants, which dominated the entire Mediterranean; the adventures of Hannibal, who crossed the Alps on the back of an elephant and arrived at the gates of Rome, his sworn enemy, then the destruction of Carthage by the Roman Empire in 146 BC. We understand better the interweaving of Carthaginian and Roman ruins! A route reveals, under the forum, the remains of a district with its streets, its cisterns, its mosaic floors. Further on, excavations revealed a mysterious necropolis filled with the skeletons of children. We discover the lagoon, dug by hand a few meters from the shore, where the Carthaginians hid their boats. And we treat ourselves to a game of hide and seek between the labyrinthine ruins of the Antonine baths. Notice to amateurs, the Roman mosaics on display at the Bardo Museum in Tunis (€4 entry) are exceptional.
4. Get lost in the souks of Tunis
Reachable in thirty minutes by TGM (Tunis-Marine stop), the medina of Tunis is another labyrinth. From the Bab El-Bhar gate, its main entrance, the maze of alleys reveals one of the most beautiful ensembles of palaces, mosques and souks in the Mediterranean. For the pleasure of the eyes, push the door of Ed-Dar (6-7, souk Ettrouk), a 15th century residence transformed into a huge antique shop: carpets, fabrics, silver jewellery, copperware and pottery, horse saddles and even stills, here, everything is for sale! From the terrace, we discover the minaret of the great mosque and the roofs of the city. Then stroll through the countless souks devoted to perfumes, fabrics, chechias, slippers... You will end up finding the exit on your own!