Tunisia – Mediterranean Africa
It’s easy to categorise Tunisia as just another beach. Indeed for a time the country’s tourism marketing seemed focused solely on its sandy shores ignoring that they were one and the same with the North African coast. Certainly Tunisia does seaside very well. However, beyond the Mediterranean, landscapes vary greatly, from oak forests, gentle rolling hills, vineyards and mountains to salt lakes, unforgiving arid planes and endless dune seas.
Together with a contemporary melange of Arab, Berber, French and African cultural influences, rich Roman ancient history, significant WW2 heritage and a pre-eminent roll in the ‘Arab Spring’, Tunisia reveals itself as a far more complex and intriguing destination than at first glance.
Bordering Algeria and Libya, Tunisia is similar in size to England and Wales combined, with a population of 10 million, 30% of whom are concentrated in just four coastal cities – Tunis, Sfax, Kairouan and Sousse. Lacking the petrochemical punch of its neighbours, tourism has been a Tunisian mainstay.
The beaches of Hammamet, Monastir, Boujaffar, Gammarth and others have long been tempting escapes for pallid northern Europeans. Upmarket hotels offer international levels of comfort and as the country fights to rebuild its tourism numbers, flight and hotel packages are even better value then ever.
Elsewhere, headline sites of antiquity such as the remarkable El Djem amphitheatre, the multi-layered ruins of Carthage, and the intestinal medinas of Tunis and Sousse see Tunisia chalk up more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other African country except Ethiopia. A consequence of this rich concentration of dramatic backdrops, both manmade and natural, is Tunisia’s A-list cinematic celebrity status, playing staring rolls in George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient and Monty Python’s timeless satire, The Life of Brian.
At two and a half hours flying time, getting to Tunis or Enfidha from London or a slew of UK regionals is hardly a long haul. Ferries from mainland Italy, France and Sicily further strengthen northerly connections and it’s not uncommon to see European cars zipping along Tunisia’s modern peage, drivers quite likely en route to chic holiday villas.
In the country’s south-west, the unstoppable sandy tsunami of the Grand Erg Oriental’s spills over from Algeria, part of a 100,000 square kilometre sea of dunes. Step forward the somewhat gritty tourist town of Douz whose reputation as ‘The Gateway to the Sahara’ has been built upon sand, offering desert adventures, from day-trips to an oasis, to 4x4 safaris, horseriding hacks and hard core 100km camel treks.
However, that’s not to say the country runs entirely on souvenir ceramics, stuffed toy camels and backshish. If you choose to holiday in Tunisia it’s possible your Beneton shirts are coming home to mama, your rental car was bolted together in one of Tunisia’s 60 assembly plants and if you jetted in on an Airbus aircraft it’s likely its avionics were ‘Made in Tunisia’ too.
In 2011, after 24 years of Western-backed dictatorship, the popular uprising of the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ saw kleptocratic former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his much reviled wife Leila book a one-way, last minute, all-inclusive package to sunny Saudi Arabia. Though the process of political reconstruction is still ‘work in progress’, since late 2011 the country has been administered by a democratically elected coalition led by the moderate Islamic Ennahda party.
In Tunisia today French chic and Arab exoticism swirl around each other in a heady cocktail of secular European, Arab and Islamic living. A coastal strip of easy-going Mediterranean relaxation proffers breezes, bikinis and Bacardi and Coke, whilst inland the Muezzin’s calls are more regular than disco bass beats, and in the places in between remnants of ancient empires are reminders of human frailty and time’s relentless passage.
Against all this, beyond the coastal resorts and beyond the villages, where the tarmac runs out and roads become tracks in the sand, the vertigo-inducing emptiness of the Sahara awaits in grand indifference.
Northern Tunisia’s climate is often described as ‘Mediterranean’, a short spring and dry, hot summer up to 35 Celsius, followed by a brief autumn and mild winter. Further south, Africa’s continental weather patterns dominate, the seasons being truncated into a long summer with highs in excess of 45 Celsius towards the Sahara, followed by a short rainy winter season. In the northern mountains of Ain Draham heavy winter snowfall is common, and in 2013 for the first time since 1962 snow has been reported as far south as Matmata.
Many visitors choose to visit Tunisia in the heat of summer when daytime activity is necessarily limited to seeking out any patch of deep shade that combines a sea breeze with total immersion in a cool drink. That said, if watersports are your pleasure this isn’t an issue - sea temperatures start heading the right side of 20 Celsius from late May and only drop back down in mid-November. Away from the sea the surprising fertility of the north is best appreciated from mid-March when burgeoning green growth fills the fields with new life before the arrival of summer’s desiccating heat. However, if ancient life is of more interest, Tunisia’s archaeological sites see fewer crowds and lend themselves to more considered interpretation during the occasionally rainy or overcast days of winter. Further south, the tail end of the year is also the season for all forms of Sahara exploration, most longer 4x4 safaris and camel treks running from November to March.
Two Tunisian international airports are currently served by direct flights from the UK – Tunis and Enfidha. No direct flights operate from the UK to Djerba, the country’s southern gateway, but domestic connections via Tunis’s modern airport are usually straightforward. Inevitably fewer bargains are available during peak periods such as school holidays – flexibility is the key. International car ferries serve La Goulette (Tunis), Bezerte and Sfax from Genoa, Civitavecchia and Salerno in mainland Italy, the French port of Marseilles and more regularly from Trapani and Palermo in Sicily. Most routes can be booked through Southern Ferries (southernferries.com) or Via Mare (viamare.com).
Airports transfers are usually part of a holiday package but if making your own way to a resort whilst weighed down by baggage it’s worth arranging transport in advance. A2B Transfers (a2btransfers.com) and Resorthoppa (resorthoppa.com) offer shuttle buses and pre-booked taxis from most airports. Obviously you can just grab cab on arrival but some longer journeys are expensive and taxi drivers have gained a deserved notoriety for refusing to use meters and overcharging. Local buses are very cheap, less than a Dinar, and can be just the trick if you’re simply heading downtown.
A short flight and reliable sunshine have long drawn British travellers to enjoy Tunisian hospitality, and today as the country faces up to the challenges of its hard-won democracy visitors are more welcome than ever. Tiny in comparison to its neighbours, Tunisia’s diversity of culture and landscape exceeds expectations. From archaeological sites recalling turbulent ancient history, to timeless medinas still open for business, to holy cities, salt lakes and sand seas – there’s much more to Tunisia than just a suntan.
For some pallid northern Europeans a week getting intimate with Mediterranean sun and sand is the prime objective, and that being the case Tunisia’s coastline is been blessed with a stunning collection of golden and white sand beaches.
Some like El Haouaria’s sandy coves and rocky inlets at the tip of the Cap Bon peninsula have relatively few tourist facilities, presenting a surprisingly wild aspect of what is hardly an undiscovered coast. Elsewhere, if you’re one of the ‘beautiful people’ you’ll fit right in with the chic and fashionable weekend crowd that spills out from Tunis to populate the sands of nearby La Marsa. On the other hand if you’re like me, the 10km of Boujaffar between Sousse and Port El Kantaoui are ideal for families and have all the watersports and beachside cafes you’d expect. Whatever your beach criteria you’ll find the boxes ticked somewhere in Tunisia.
Just outside central Tunis, the earliest origins of Carthage are still debated, though settlement by the seafaring Phoenicians in the mid-8th century BC is one of the less contentious theories. An important trading port, Carthage became embroiled in violent struggles for influence, wealth and territory. The Punic Wars, three of them from 264 BC to 146 BC, saw the fortunes of Carthage and Rome ebb and flow, witnessing epic sea battles and campaigns by great Carthaginian commander, Hannibal, in mainland Italy. Eventually, Carthage was conquered and razed by Rome, though later its prosperity was in part restored as a compliant Roman port.
Today the expansive, multi-layered archaeology of foundations, columns, streets and mosaics make up another of Tunisia’s World Heritage sites. Size makes the site impossible to appreciate in one visit but licensed guides are on hand to bring the stones alive in the re-telling of at least some of Carthage’s tumultuous history.
It’s unlikely that even Richard Branson will be offering trips to Mars any time soon. However, if you fancy a taste of other-worldliness Tunisia’s Chott el-Jerid, Sahara’s largest salt lake (5,000 square kilometres), comes close and has been subject to scientific study by those researching the possibility of life on Mars.
Almost bone dry except in winter, the lake’s crust of sun-baked sodium chloride hides reddish earth and sand with a high iron content. Driving the paved P16 road allows a safe traverse of the lake and gives some good views, but stepping out into the heat and onto the salt is the only way to fully appreciate how ill-suited humanity is for such an environment.
Djerba is said to be the island of the ‘Lotus Eaters’ visited by Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. Though contemporary Djerban menus don’t feature lotus - deep fried brick a l’oeuf, mountains of couscous and an incendiary dollop of hot Cap Bon harissa being much more du jour – Djerba’s charms make it’s still likely you’ll find it difficult to leave.
Regular car ferries shuttle back and forth from the mainland, and a causeway too provides easy road access. The main town of Houmt Souk caters to tourists but has not sold its soul and retains enough hidden mystery along its myriad winding alleys and cobbled streets to keep visitors intrigued. Elsewhere, Djerba’s beaches are excellent, the best lying on the north-east coast close to the Zone Touristique.
Built around 200 AD, in its day this amphitheatre of immense proportions allowed up to 35,000 citizens of the Roman Empire to enjoy spectacles of the arena in up-to-the-minute comfort. However, instead of preening eunuch boy bands, deified lip-syncing divas and excruciating ingenues of The Empire Has Got Talent, El Djem’s headline acts often invested their hearts and souls in grizzly farewell performance.
For the most part untouched for centuries, El Djem suffered the ravages of a local construction boom in the 17th century, its beautifully finished stones proving a handy resource for jobbing builders. Today, despite this opportunist vandalism the amphitheatre remains better preserved than that of Rome and regularly hosts summer festivals and classical music concerts.
Tunisia’s holiest city was for centuries an important centre of Islamic learning, it’s said by some that four visits to Kairouan are equivalent to one pilgrimage to Mecca. Certainly the city has its share of mosques, the most significant being the Great Mosque of Kairouan dating from the 9th century, and in part constructed with stone taken from the ruins of Carthage.
Elsewhere, a stroll through the town’s Medina is a chance to sample its renowned sugary pastries, and if your surroundings seem familiar it’s perhaps because Kairouan had a cameo appearance as Old Cairo in scenes from Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.
If you’ve ever walked any distance in the full sun of a North African summer, the cool wisdom of Matmata’s troglodyte dwellings soon becomes obvious. Though not unique in its underground architecture, Matmata does have excellent examples of dwellings still in use by local families – residual income earned by declaring open house to passing tourists being particularly welcome.
Of particular interest to Sci-Fi cinema buffs is the troglodyte Hotel Sidi Driss (+216 5 230005), location for ‘Luke’s homestead’ on Tatooine in Star Wars. The hotel is fairly simple, with shared rooms and plumbing that might make a wookie moan, but some set dressing is still in place and it’s worth a look if you’re a fan of the franchise.
Gateway to the Sahara, the dusty southern desert town of Douz was once a significant stop for immense 1,000 camel caravans of 16th century trans-African traders. Today Douz’s small but informative Museum of the Sahara describes these vast undertakings, the lifestyle of past times, and the social structures of the region’s indigenous tribes.
If it’s sand you’ve come to see, Douz has it in spades, from arid scrubby plains to seemingly endless dune seas of the Grand Erg Oriental. Though camel caravans are still in evidence their number and size are both much reduced, catering solely to tourists hoping to recapture the romance of desert travel. Local operators also employ 4x4s, quad bikes, hot air balloons, microlight aircraft and horses in Sahara explorations that vary from an afternoon picnic to week-long 100km treks.
Sidi Bou Said
About 20km from Tunis, amongst wandering cobbled streets, Sidi Bou Said was once a place of pilgrimage for adherents of a Sufi holy man. Later the village became an artistic colony, its cafes and characteristic blue and white buildings providing a muse for the likes of Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and August Macke. Writers too were drawn, Simone de Beavoir and Jean Paul Sarte both visiting, and Andre Gide being resident during the WW2 liberation of Tunisia.
Though now dependent on tourism, more than a whiff of Sidi Bou Said’s bohemian ambience lingers on, particularly towards late afternoon when the light changes and day-trippers depart. Excellent restaurants invite exhaustive indulgence and emptying alleyways beckon contemplative after dinner strolls.
Sousse has a bigger personality than its resort hotels and top class sandy beaches might suggest. A university town and a high-tech manufacturing base, tourism is important but not essential, and perhaps this is the key to the city’s relaxed atmosphere.
The bastions of Sousse’s kasbah have long cast a concerned eye over the town, beyond rooftops and out to sea. Likewise, in the fortified 9th century ribat, by climbing the watchtower you’ll be following in the footsteps of holy warriors tasked with protecting Sousse from marauding Europeans. Crowds surging through the World Heritage medina may seem initially overwhelming but once accustomed to the intensity, future supermarkets shops will pale in comparison. Elsewhere, underground, Sousse’s 5km of catacombs date from the 2nd to the 5th centuries, a subterranean labyrinth of 15,000 tombs – a short section is open to the public.
A recumbent pose close by a cool drink might be a starting point, midpoint, or even an end point, but for all but the most dedicated of beach bums Tunisia has much more to excite than the heady smell of SPF50 in the morning. Here’s just an idea of what’s on offer.
Tunisia’s coastal waters have generally good visibility and in places coral formations are surprisingly fecund for the Mediterranean, attracting rich marine fauna. Numerous dive operations offer shore and boat dives for novices and advanced divers during the long June to October season. Ship and plane wrecks are a particular feature of Tunisian diving, a reflection on the scale of WWII battles fought in this part of North Africa.
Try Mehari Diving Centre (c/o Tunisie Voyages, Route touristique, El Morjène, 8110 Tabarka; +216 78 67 14 44) for Tabarka’s 20 reef tunnels, a stand-out location off the north coast. Elsewhere, Hammamet and Monastir offer wreck dives for advanced divers - try SAAM Dive Base (8, rue de Bizerte, 4001 Sousse; +216 98 59 17 24).
Surfers can set their sails and wet their boards to a satisfactory extent along many parts of the coast. However, the southern island of Djerba has developed a justified reputation for reliable conditions – steady north easterly winds, not too strong, and from June to September ideal conditions for novice and intermediate windsurfers. Further north, close to Tunis, Sidi Bou Said provides more challenging water and wind, and has become a regular venue for the IWA African Windsurfing Championships.
For lessons and gear hire in Djerba try Club Mistral & Skyriders (+216 75 75 57 600) near Houmt Souk’s SAS Radisson Hotel. In Sidi Bou Said try Club Nautique de Sidi Bou Said (6, Rue Kennedy, 2023 Port de Sidi Bou Said; +216 71 74 03 81).
Most popular beach areas offer solo or tandem parascending, some outfits being attached to larger hotels whilst many others are independents. There’s no denying the buzz of being dragged a couple of hundred feet aloft over the ocean behind a speedboat, but it’s up to the individual to satisfy themselves of the operator’s competency before handing over any cash and taking to the air.
Tunisia’s beaches aren’t the only parts of the country where sand gets everywhere. A self-styled ‘Gateway to the Sahara’, the distinctly dusty southern town of Douz had made an attribute of its position at the fringes of the Grand Erg Oriental – North Africa’s 100,000 square kilometres of Saharan sand sea.
Considering the depravations and the inherent incompatibility of human life with vast expanses of hot, arid and inhospitable sand, it’s remarkable that so much romance is attached to desert travel. Perhaps it’s the solitude, the dunes, the challenge, or perhaps it’s the camels? Some say ‘the desert gives by taking away’ – find out yourself if that’s true for you.
Siroko Travel (+216 71 96 52 67) and Ghilane Travel Service (+216 75 470 692) run camel trekking tours from Douz, that is camels carry supplies, tents, water and luggage but not people – riding is an optional extra. Trips range from two or three-day circuits, bivouacking in the dunes, to 100km six-day route marches to the oasis of Ksar Ghilane.
Pegase (pegasesahara.com; + 216 75 47 07 93) organise 4x4 and quad bike safaris, heading out for daytrips or longer overnight excursions. The company also takes to the air with microlight and delta plane flights over the dunes – certainly a different perspective, even if it’s one that scares some passengers rigid.
Aeroasis (+216 64 52 577) offers tranquil views from above air via hot air balloon over the desert, flying from Douz and Tozeur. The cool of very early morning offers the best lift and calmest air, so it’s a case rising before dawn in order to launch on time. However, hanging silently at a thousand feet whilst watching the sunrise over a sea of dunes is truly memorable, a sight worth a little lost sleep.
Ranch Nomade (+216 93 36 05 65) operate horseback trails from Douz and their base at the oasis of Ksar Ghilane. Barb and Arab mounts are matched with riders of all abilities and hacks vary in length from daytrips and overnights to epic ten-day expeditions.
If you’re not afraid of hills the cooler climes of northern Tunisia are increasingly being sought out by adventurous mountain bikers, both independently and on organised tours. Outside the cities, roads can be surprisingly friendly for cyclists, quiet and well maintained. However, some drivers - those of louage taxis in particular - are a menace, not leaving enough space and travelling too fast. At road margins watch out for tarmac that ends abruptly in a substantial drop to a rocky verge. Further south, except for specialist trips with vehicle support, possibilities are generally limited to circular rides. The availability of water and cyclists’ carrying capacity being limiting factors.
The non-profit International Bicycle Fund has some good background information and Tunisia Off the Beaten Track (tunisia-off-the-beaten-track.com) provides another independent, first person resource on biking routes.
The northern forests and marshlands of Lake Ichkeul National Park and the coastal areas around Cap Bon are rich birding areas, being both the first and last stops for trans-Saharan migrants. Further south, beyond Douz, the arid landscapes of Jebil National Park fall within the Sahara and are key habitats for characteristic desert species. Northern lake specialities include endangered White-headed Duck, whilst desert birds feature the commonly sighted Temminck’s Horned Larks and more elusive Houbara Bustard.
Try Becasse (38 bis, Rue de Cologne, Appt 10, 1002, Tunis; +216 71 795 957) who organise tailor-made, expertly-escorted natural history tours for individuals and groups across Tunisia.
The Atlas Mountains don’t stop at Morocco and continue their 2,500km march across North Africa to Tunisia, peaks still hitting a respectable 1,500 metres on arrival. A top destination for walkers is the Khroumirie Mountains in the country’s northwest. Close to the border with Algeria, verdant cork forests rich in flora and fauna see an extensive network of trails ideal for walking exploration. Here, the green vistas and diverse plant and animal life are a reflection of a temperate local climate and though it can chuck it down, and be oppressively humid, the extremes of summer heat are absent, making the region a year-round destination.
Try Siroko Travel (+216 71 96 52 67) for northern mountain walking tours in and around Ain Draham. Organised hikes generally involve baggage transfers by vehicle leaving walkers to take in the views unencumbered.
If your visions of Tunisian golf are coloured by one big Saharan-style bunker, think again. Well-maintained courses replete with neat fairways, manicured greens and extensive 19th hole refreshment facilities already host regular international competitions. Of 12 courses, most lie in the country’s north close to the resorts of Monastir, Port El Kantaoui and Hammamet, though even Djerba and Tozeur in the south have courses laid with desert-adapted grass.
Tunisia First (+44 1276 600100) can book rounds and reserve tees at most of the country’s courses. Preferential green fees are available to guests staying of certain hotels, along with discounts for multiple players or rounds.
In the country’s south, the largest North African island and according to Homer’s Odyssey once domain of the near terminally indolent ‘Lotus-Eaters’, Djerba is reached by frequent ferries or across a causeway road from the mainland. The main town of Houmt Souk is a warren of wandering cobbled alleyways preserving amongst their twists and turns an exotic mix of Arab, Berber, French and surprisingly, vestigial Jewish cultural influences. Most modern hotels are found in the northern Zone Touristique, the area of the best beaches, leaving other parts of the island much less influenced by tourism development. Currently there are no direct flights from the UK, though domestic connections via Tunis are trouble-free. Find out more about Djerba Island.
Only 20km from Tunis, the resort of Gammarth has long been a convenient bolthole for well-heeled city residents, a fact reflected in the preponderance of expensive villas and luxury hotels, many enjoying views across the Bay of Gammarth towards the hills of Sidi Bou Said. A wide strip of white sand beach extends for some 15km, in part public and in part exclusively for residents at five-star properties. As well as the beach, the main attractions of Gammarth are its quieter character, reputation for excellent seafood restaurants, and proximity to Tunis and the sights of the Carthage coast. Find out more about Gammarth.
One of the country’s oldest resorts this former fishing village can now claim pre-eminence amongst Tunisia’s commercial tourism offerings. However, though Hammamet is not an obvious choice for those earnestly searching out ‘authentic’ Tunisia, the beaches are excellent, the town has resisted being subsumed by high-rise development, and its popularity maintains a wide range of good value accommodation of all standards. Hammamet’s honesty as a tourist resort grows on you, making it ideal for families and a comfortable introduction to North Africa for first time visitors - it does possess charm - a late afternoon stroll amongst the souvenir shops of the medina ends naturally at the characterful Café Sidi Bou Hdid, sipping mint tea or a cold beer whilst overlooking the Gulf of Hammamet - it’s called a holiday.
Completed at the end of the 1990s, a few kilometres south of ‘old’ Hammamet, this purpose built resort was designed to cater specifically for beach-loving international tourists. Infrastructure, hotels and even a medina, was built from scratch without the complication of a previously existing town. There’s no doubt that planners succeeded in creating a calmer more coherent environment, for the most part without the characteristic North African tumult of other organically grown resorts. However, perhaps for this reason, amongst the ranks of four and five star all-inclusive hotels, Hammamet Yasmine’s soul is hard to find.
South from Tunis, almost equidistant between Sousse and Sfax, the unassuming town of Mahdia was once the capital city to a 10th century Fatimid Caliphate that extended across North Africa to the Middle East and even included Sicily. Fatimid fortifications are a major feature of Mahdia to this day. The emphatic structures of Al Bor El Kabir – the Big Fort – and the substantial city gate both shout empire building engineering. The town’s medina is contained within a peninsula jutting out in to the Mediterranean, another defensive strategy, and provides a fascinating focus for visitors. A profusion of leafy squares and narrow shady alleys invite exploration and days easily slip away drinking mint tea at any one of the many cafes. Elsewhere, Mahdia’s Zone Touristique, where most hotels are sited, is located outside the medina and stretches along the coast, fronting onto an expansive beach that’ll more than satisfy desires for sun and sand.
Hometown of first president, Habib Bourgiba, whose independence struggle wrested the country from colonial French control, Monastir has long held a special significance amongst Tunisians, reinforced since the 2011 revolution. Bourgiba’s sizeable mausoleum is one of the town’s key sites, along with the nearby 8th century Ribat of Harthema – garrison of holy warriors – a body double for ‘old’ Jerusalem in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. In another part of town the yacht marina is a focus for cafes, restaurants and evening strolls and makes a pleasant excursion even for those without the least intent to leave dry land. For shoppers, Monastir’s medina lies mostly enclosed by fortified walls, though these impressive bastions haven’t held back redevelopment within that somewhat dilutes its appeal. Though there is a local beach most tourist hotels lie outside the town along the better sand of the northern suburb of Skanes – referred to below.
Port El Kantaoui
Some 10km north from Sousse, Port El Kantaoui centres on a yacht marina and was purpose built in the late 1970s complete with apartments and a number of luxury hotels, the needs of high-end European tourists in mind. Walking through the fresh stonework of the castellated arch that marks the entrance to the marina, it’s impossible not to feel a certain sense of unreality. However, the marina is pretty, there’s a beautiful beach, the restaurants are excellent and there’s probably more bar and club-centred nightlife present than at most resorts. Possibly because of the way Kantaoui has interpreted Tunisia, the resort also attracts young metropolitan Tunisians who seem to appreciate it even more than foreigners.
Monastir’s Zone Touristique, its northern suburb of Skanes, has developed into resort in its own right, and if it’s a beach holiday you’re after this is the place to be. A wide swathe of golden sand stretches from Monastir through Skanes and beyond, shelving gently into the sea, making the beach ideal for swimming and popular with families. Some larger hotels have co-opted stretches of sand for their private use which, as in other areas, could be interpreted as unsympathetic, but it does mean regular clean-ups and maintenance. Nightlife is concentrated around individual hotels as are dining opportunities. For more variation it’s worth taking a trip into Monastir.
A university town, Sousse combines top class sandy beaches such as the 10km Boujaffar with an historic old centre in a relaxed resort that offers more depth than many tourist destinations. The bastions of Sousse’s kasbah have long overlooked the town. Likewise, the fortified 9th century ribat, from whose watchtower holy warriors looked out across rooftops towards the sea, scanning for marauding European ships. The World Heritage medina and its thronging crowds may take a little getting used to, but the concentrated wafts of alternately fragrant and malodorous fruit, vegetables, fish and meat have a memorable intensity you don’t get at Tescos. Elsewhere, Sousse’s catacombs date from the 2nd to the 5th centuries, a 5km labyrinth of 15,000 tombs, of which a doubtfully illuminated section beyond cobwebbed iron gates is open for less permanent visits.