Travel: Tunisia is back on the tourist map and well worth a visit during 2018
Tunisian tourist chiefs breathed a collective sigh of relief when one of Britain's favourite holiday resorts was taken off the 'Don't Go' list late last year.
It’s was also good news for those Brits who love this part of the world and its 11 million people.
More than 400,000 used to visit each year and many were regular customers.
That all came to a bloody end in June 2015, when a university student opened fire on sunbathers near the popular destination of Sousse before being shot dead by security forces.
By then he had killed 38 people – 30 of them British tourists. Responsibility was claimed by “Islamic State.”
The bloodshed and the subsequent advice against travel by the British Government had a devastating effect upon Tunisia, which derives 15 per cent of its national income from tourism.
But now tour operators have resumed normal service after the Tunisian Government beefed up security and the British Foreign Office relaxed its warning.
Many visitors come for the sun, sea and sand to this country, sandwiched between Algeria to the west and Libya to the east. It has a 900-mile long coastline on the North African shore of the Mediterranean.
Its southern shoreline boasts 550 miles of sand. At Djerba Island, where I was based, it is as white and soft as sugar.
Hotel manager Mohamed Jerad told me: “Our hearts go out to the families of those who died. But these terrible things have been happening all over the world. Please tell your people we miss them and want them back.”
From the island, which has a four-mile causeway, you can explore the historic sites, including ancient villages hacked out of the hillside by Berbers who still live there. Some were used in the filming of the Star Wars movie series.
After the Berbers came to Tunisia from Egypt, they were followed by Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Roman, Byzantines, Ottomans and finally French until gaining independence and becoming a republic in 1956.
Architectural examples of Tunisia’s colourful history can be found in the Grand Mosque, built in the former capital of Kairouan in 836, and the amphitheatre at El Jem. This impressive four-storey building, with seats for 35,000 spectators, was built in AD238 and used for gladiator shows and chariot races.
Although Tunisia is a predominantly Muslim country, alcohol is served in hotel bars. The excellent Tunisian wine is grown from French grapes.
Their food is derived from a mixture of its Mediterranean and Arab influences. Try their brick – a pancake made from a sheet of semolina filled with egg, parsley, tuna and capers. For a sweet treat they have fig bars made from almonds, sesame, flour cooked in olive oil and dipped in honey.
Although there is no pork on their menus, they have a wide variety of fish, lamb, turkey, veal, rabbit and goat, often served with couscous.
They also have camel, horse and ostrich but, like me, you may find them more fun to ride than to eat.
- For more info visit http://www.discovertunisia.uk or call 0207 224 5598. Daily return flights from London to Tunis start from £179 with Tunisair http://(www.tunisair.com). Thomas Cook offer 7 nights all inclusive at a 4-star hotel flying from Manchester on February 13 for £309pp (two adults sharing).