If somebody hands you a map and asks you to track down Tunisia, chances are you wouldn’t know which continent to start from. Located on the northern tip of Africa, the country is a slim and unassuming wedge holding multitudes within. With a culture infused with the vestiges of settlers from Europe and Asia, it’s about time modern-day travellers explore what the country has to offer.
The Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs makes things easier in this regard, as no visa has been required for Indian tourists since 2017. You’ll be exempted from visa procedures, provided you have certified travel documents and a prepaid booking at a Tunisian lodge.
With its position overlooking the glittering Mediterranean Sea, the climate is pleasant enough for visits all around the year. Winters are mild and sunny, spring brings lush greenery, and summer temperatures rarely touch 30°C. Additionally, the country’s proximity to both surf and sand means there’s a variety of landscapes to visit, and a host of fun activities associated with each. Try thalassotherapy in seawater swimming pools along the 575km-long coastline, or quad biking in the shifting dunes of the Grand Erg Oriental in the Sahara desert.
Like most regions around the Mediterranean, Tunisian cuisine makes use of olive oil, spices, tomatoes, meat and seafood. Centuries of foreign occupation has also incorporated French, Roman and Ottoman influences, leading to a culinary confluence that brings something to the table for everyone. Stuffed fish with herbs, grilled vegetables in harissa, spicy lablabi soup, egg shakshouka, Merguez sausage and Tunisian tagine are great items with which one can begin exploring the country’s fabulous produce. Local wine options are aplenty since antiquity, with rosÃ© being the most popular.
Fans of cult science-fiction series Star Wars are in for a treat–several filming locations for the fictional planet of Tatooine can be found here. Locals call Sidi Bouhlel ravine the ‘Star Wars Canyon’, and there’s little chance that Matmata village’s eerie lunar-like desert landscape (first seen in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) can be found elsewhere. The Mos Espa set where Luke Skywalker lived out his youth is well-preserved, with iconic locations like the pod-racing arena and Watto’s shop. The Lars Homestead on the banks of the Chott el-Jerid salt lake, home of Skywalker’s adoptive family, has been painstakingly rebuilt by a legion of dedicated fans.
Tunisia’s vibrant offerings are perhaps best enjoyed by families, honeymooners and groups of friends. Affordable accommodation options for solo travellers cost about Rs 35,000 to Rs 45,000 for a three-week stay without food, but a lot of inexpensive restaurants and cafes dot capital Tunis, cities like Hammamet, Sousse and Kairouan, and the nearby island of Djerba. Couples can enjoy luxuriant spa days, romantic walks on the beach, explore the country’s many heritage sites and picturesque architecture, and even go snorkeling in the deep blues of the Mediterranean. Nightlife options under the skies of the Maghreb are bewildering: open-air discos, belly dancing shows, and large casinos are top choices. After a long day of tours one can sit at cafes and smoke sheesha, play cards with friends, and unwind.
While Islam is the state religion, there are usually no clothing or social restrictions for tourists except in deeply conservative areas like Medina (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Tunis; alcohol is freely available in bars, hotels and resorts, even during holy periods like Ramadan. The country is definitely one of the most progressive in the region, with equal opportunities and status for women.
As their President Habib Bourguiba famously said, Tunisia is always ready to turn the page. Tourism had declined in the few years after the Arab Spring, but the country is busy yet again, all set to welcome intrigued travellers into a new chapter of their history–one of breath-taking prosperity.
Getting there: Several carriers offer flights from India to Tunisia, with common stopovers being in Paris, Istanbul and Dubai. Turkish Airlines, Alitalia, EgyptAir, Air France and Emirates have several affordable flights starting from Mumbai and Delhi to Tunis.
More information: visitmaghreb.co