Tunisia: An Idyllic Arab Spring Getaway

As Tunisia prepares for Independence celebrations tomorrow, we check out the North African country, perfect for a weekend getaway the whole year round. After a few bleak months of winter, if you’re in a hurry to ring spring in early, now is the perfect time book that Arab spring getaway.

Only a two and a half hour flight from London, travel to Tunisia doesn’t take much out of even the intrepid traveller; and with its white sand beaches that stretch miles on end, the ruins of the ancient Phoenician city of Carthage, the picturesque suburb of Sidi Bou Said (all white chocolate box houses with dainty blue window shutters and doors) and its rich and seamless mix of Islamic, Mediterranean and African cultures, the laid-back capital of Tunisia is sure to keep even the most seasoned traveller satisfied.


Relax and Lunch in Style

Only a 15-minute drive away from the Tunis-Carthage Airport, amongst the other five-star hotels dotting the Gammerth coastline is the Regency Tunis Hotel.

While the luxury five-star beach-front accommodation boasts all the standards you would expect from an international hotel, its prime attraction has to be the L’Angelite Spa –  a 700 m² space which has on offer massages from different cultures, revitalising therapies, as well as traditional treatments with marine water as well as a Turkish hammam. For off-peak season when it is slightly nippy for a swim outdoors (even though Tunisia boasts mild Mediterranean winters), there is also a heated indoor pool. And what better way to relax after a swim or post-treatement than in one of the three Jacuzzis?

A stone throw away from the Regency Tunis is the equally majestic The Residence Tunis, home to an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II and one of the most reputable spas in the Mediterranean, the luxurious Les Thermes Marins de Carthage designed in the style of the ancient Roman thermal baths.


If you can tear yourself away long enough, a light lunch across the road at the Club House overlooking the lake and the 18-hole course is the order of the day. I use the word ‘light’ quite casually here, mind; mixed meat platter which you can smell from a distance before it lands on your table is both filling and delicious.

On the Trail of the Ancients and Modern Day Bargains

For those who feel more at home at a souk than a spa, hitting the streets of Tunis is just as effortless as lounging at a spa. You’d be mad to miss out are the upmarket Carthage, home to the presidential palace and the ruins of the once mighty Phoenecian city of the same name and the nearby suburb of Sidi Bou Said.

In the enchanting suburb of Sidi Bou Said, only a 10-minute drive away, you can bargain hunt to your heart’s content. While the local vendours will try to sell you anything from little jars of spices to handcrafted jewellery to the stray cat called Shakira at unashamedly inflated prices, they’re often friendly and game for haggling.


With its spacious cobblestone streets, vivacious locals, pristine white-washed two-story houses, their doors and shutters painted in vibrant blue, and its glorious views of the Mediterranean shimmering under the Spring sun, it is no wonder Sidi Bou Said has made a reputation as a bit of an artists’ hub as a favourite of some renowned artists such as Paul Klee and Gustave-Henri Jossot as well as home to the members of Ecole de Tunis (painting school of Tunis) such as Yahia Turki, Brahim Dhakak and Ammar Farhat.

Spring Time in the Garden Resort

A busy package holidaymaker hub during summer months, Hammamet, Tunisia’s small yet sizzling tourist hotspot since the ‘60s, offers a much more tranquil travel experience during the milder months of spring.

Located in the south east of the northern peninsula of Cap Bon on the northern edge of the Gulf of Hammamet and famed as the 'Garden Resort' for its eucalyptus trees, citrus groves and flowering shrubs, the small town offers two worlds in one: the quieter North and the more commercialised South. If you’re after a fuss-free break to relax the mind and rejuvenate the body, North is the place to be, or more specifically the four-star Sentido Aziza Beach Golf & Spa.


Here you will find the rooms snazzy, the views superb, and once you settle down and unpack, the place to really enjoy your stay is the  thalassotherapy centre Biorivage. However, if you’d rather go sightseeing in town, head for Port Yasmine Hammamet where you can enjoy a light lunch or dinner at the marina which hosts up to 740 vessels.

The Arab South

While you may be led to think the further down south you travel, the more African this melting pot of different cultures is likely to get, the seaside town of Sousse salutes in style the country’s Arab links.

Located on the coast in the central east of the country 140km south of capital Tunis, this sizeable city dating back to over 2,800 years old history boasts a historic Old Town, a buzzing medina, sandy beaches and a busy port.

While the medina is not very large by Tunisian standards, its charm lies in its size – it’s manageable, yet rich in variety. As opposed to the more relaxed vendours in Tunis, here you’re likely to get a little more persistence from shopkeepers who are likely to try and lure you into their shop and part with your Dinar, but nothing a firm “No, merci” will not resolve.

For culture vultures, the most ancient monument in town dating back to 821, the Ribat of Sousse is definitely worth a visit. The 89ft high circular watch-tower atop the rectangular structure offers fine views of the medina and the harbour.

Another Sousse sight worth paying a visit is Port El Kantaoui. Built in the Arab Andalucian style, the marina can accommodate 340 boats and is home to various shops and restaurants. Dining at the upmarket La Daurade where a 4-course meal (including the complementary tapas) might have you spend a pretty penny but is well worth it. And don’t forget to try the Tunisian appetiser, Brik à l'oeuf, a crispy thin pastry with a whole egg parsley and onions served hot. You’ll be left wondering how the egg inside is still deliciously runny and golden.


What else to do following a busy afternoon in downtown Sousse but retire to the comfort of four-star Hasdrubal Thalassa and Spa Hotel and wash away the day in the sea water indoor swimming pool followed by age-old Mediterranean art of Thalassotheraphy massage (derived from the Greek word thalassa for ‘sea’)  which uses seawater to revitalise the body and skin and improve circulation.


Post-treatment relaxing in the light and airy herbal team room, you may be tempted to skip dinner and spend the rest of your evening in bed, but it would be a mistake not to sample delectable offerings of the hotel’s main restaurant Amilcar from the more traditional Tunisian dishes to a wider variety of international cuisine.


Text and photography: Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo