Perhaps the only thing nicer than a relaxing cup of your favorite beverage would be that beverage enjoyed in spectacular surroundings. There are many settings which are romanticized for such activity, such as a trendy café, a beautiful beach, a romantic restaurant, what if you could have all these and a sensational panorama too top it all off? There are places to cherish such relaxing combo and my favorite and perhaps one of the more memorable lies on the seacoast of Tunisia.
This colorful stretch of North African coast is blessed with azure blue waters, lofty hills which offer great views and a curving coast which gives great views of beachfront as far as the eye can see. Such a fantastic view is well catered by dozens of open air restaurants, coffee shops and bars which offer unbeatable seats from which to soak in all the delights of the seaside surroundings. Particularly inspiring about this region is the layout of the small towns which dot these hills. In Tunisia the streets wind and climb these graceful hills and are adorned with a local style of building which showcases bright white houses with doors and windows of a vibrant blue.
The houses capture the essence of Mediterranean as their colorful exteriors mirror the familiar hues of sea and sky. The towns along the Tunisian coast near Tunis all have their own character and each is an inspiring abode of charm and antiquity. This coast is historically home to many of the bohemians and artists in Tunisia and their creative genius is apparent by the expressive homes and neighborhoods that have developed in these parts. All in all the geographic area possesses both a natural loveliness and a stunning artistic display.
The setting for this region goes back millennia to the ancient naval empire of Carthage. The coastal area which sits adjacent to the modern center of Tunis is easily reached by taxi or the local TGM train which begins at the Northern train station and continues up the coast until La Marsa. The various stops follow the coast and are worth exploring. There are sites such as Hannibal Carthage where one may access the center of the ancient ruins. The two other main sites which we will explore further are Sidi Bou Said and La Marsa. The area is a short ride from the airport and in proximity to hotels such as the Movenpick in Gammarth and The Residence it is reachable for a very agreeable taxi fare.
One may approach the stops in any order one decides, but I will recommend from my experience an order in which anyone can get the most out of time and effort. To begin I recommend heading to the ruins at Hannibal Carthage. After getting off the train head out to the roadway that reaches the sea in just a few blocks. This is a very picturesque road lines with blossoming palms and neatly arranged houses. Just before reaching the beach take a left on the last street just before the beach. You will head a few minutes’ walk until reaching the ruins. I recommend this jaunt in the morning because your energy and time will be well spent moving about the site. What comes later in the day is more relaxing so it’s best to work up an appetite now. The area of the ruins can be accessed by purchasing a 9 Dinar entrance ticket which grants access to the Antonin baths, the Main Archeological Site, The Carthage Museum and a host of other sites. Most sites are open from 8:30am-5:30pm and later in the summer. Since this city was historically built and destroyed over the centuries many of the visible ruins are actually Roman, the last settlers of the ancient city. The seafaring Carthaginians hosted three sizable wars with Rome and the last was a war to end all others. It resulted in Carthage being wiped out, but luckily for us not everything is gone. One can still see the remains of some Punic buildings, mosaic floors and artifacts. Should one be interested the modern center of the Carthage region lies in the opposite direction five minutes from where one first turned left at the sea. Here the beach is constricted and small and there are not many options to explore, it is better to venture up to La Marsa.
From Hannibal Carthage train station head north to La Marsa. You will actually pass by Sidi Bou Said, but as you will discover the TGM train stops are only a two minutes apart from each other and trains come and go all day every ten minutes. La Marsa is probably the largest town on this stretch of coast and it offers more options for cafes, restaurants and shops of all sorts. The cornice is a great area for a beach stroll on an elevated walkway. The streets are bustling with people and there are nice beaches to go and explore. The town does not offer any sites of great archeological importance but it is simply a place to relax and enjoy the seaside. If you are feeling adventurous you might hire a cab for a few Dinars to head north to see the expansive seaside palace of the president and take in the great coastline view that the road by the sea offers.
Once you’ve been able to explore and satisfy destinations like Hannibal Carthage and La Marsa, the crowning jewel of any trip to the coast in my opinion is Sidi Bou Said. I spoke with locals as well in my time in Tunis and just mentioning Sidi Bou Said brought innumerable smiles and immediate confirmation of the renowned beauty of this place. Once you get off the train the direction to head might not be apparent, but easy enough just remember to head for the heights. There can be no view without some ground beneath you. Turn right onto the road and follow it up the hill towards the shimmering white and blue houses that signal you are in the right place. When first entering the old quarter of Sidi Bou Said you will see many vendors. This is a good place to bargain and the assortment of goods is very unique. As you get on level ground from your uphill climb the photographic opportunities of the city will unfold. The typical white and blue houses have even more artistic appeal when seen in contrast with the ancient brownstone streets and the backdrop of hills and sea all around. As one heads closer to the coast it seems as if the town is ending, like the street will simply head off a cliff and nothing else remains to be seen. Never fear you have arrived to your well earned panorama, an oasis of refreshment and relaxation. There are many spacious cafes and restaurants whose food is delicious, views superb and price is very agreeable. Café Delices has one of the best views with great service and is more expensive than some of the other establishments, but still prices are very low compared to what anyone would pay for this elsewhere. Café De Nattes is a great place to enjoy some local mint tea and enjoy a relaxing Shisha smoke. This is certainly a memorable place, a place where man’s creative art blends with nature’s impermeable beauty that invites the visitor to sit back and contemplate the joys of life.