Do you remember that feeling, the feeling we’ve all had when we were small, of visiting another country for the first time?
Do you remember how bright the colours seemed, how people’s faces had, well, just another ‘feel’ to them, and how the air seemed redolent with spice and alive with the rattle of unusual sounds and the rhythms of an unfamiliar language?
I went to Marrakesh in 2009 and experienced all of the above again there. Just recently, I went to Tunisia for the first time, and the joy was comparable.
It’s only a two-hour forty minute flight from Brussels to what seems like the other side of the world (it’s not, it is in fact the northern-most country in Africa and, at almost 165,000 square kilometres in area, the smallest country in the Maghreb region), and the feeling of being on a ‘proper’ holiday began early, with the customs official actually stamping my passport, just imagine. Then, I was greeted by my trip hostess, Amel Kallel, of the Tunisian National Tourism Office, and my journey had truly begun.
And the theme? It was all about discovering the ‘chambre d’hôte’, Tunisia style. For those who may not have heard of it, the chambre d’hôte is a truly intimate, familiar and family-oriented way to stay abroad. The concept originated in France and has been a part of holidaymaking there for generations – chambre d’hôte means ‘the host’s bedroom’ and specifically entails that you will be sharing accommodation, with exclusive use of a bedroom, naturally, and normally exclusive use of a (frequently ensuite) bathroom in the house of the person or family you’re staying with.
Essentially, it is the same basic concept as a UK ‘B&B’, but it has only just arrived in Tunisia, and the new recruits are making very sure, as I was to discover, that the experience is about so much more than bed and board.
More of that later. My first port of call for accommodation was in fact the ‘Hotel de Charme’ La Villa Bleue, and its colour and epithet were well chosen. Driving through ancient streets, in which cars appear anachronistic, in the picturesque town-village of Sidi Bou Said, one is struck by the near-uniform (and beautiful) blue and white colouring of the hamlet. Over the centuries, the town has become renowned as an artists’ Mecca, and that’s not difficult to understand either. The truly charming La Villa Bleue is perched on a hill overlooking an ocean with an ever-changing hue.
Commercial Director Dhia Eddine Yacoubi explained that extensive renovation had been completed towards the end of 2013. I was ushered into one of the most ornate bedrooms I have ever had the pleasure in which to stay; although La Villa Bleue has a more traditional hotel-style approach, the look and feel of the rooms still retain the intimacy of a beautiful family home, with traditional tiling, wonderfully crisp bed linen and a lovely terrace from which to enjoy the view of the beach and beyond.
The hotel also offers traditional hammam massages and body care, as well as two open-air swimming pools, one of which is heated to 27°C and comes complete with Jacuzzi.
And the food? Excellent Mediterranean cuisine, à la carte.
Awakening refreshed the next day, I began exploring the chambre d’hôtes of Dar Fatma and Dar Marsa cubes, both of which are family-owned and offer perfect venues from which to explore the region’s historical beauty.
For the second evening, the theme was very much on high-class night life, and the Sindbad Resto Lounge and Bungalow certainly offered that – the Sindbad, for kicking, shouting and dancing to your heart’s content (there were some serious movers), and the Bungalow for a chilled-out environment over three floors, you really couldn’t do much better for kicking back.
Our accommodation was the Radisson Blu Resort & Thalasso, at which I had enjoyed my first-ever hammam earlier – an exercise in relaxation that is second to none, in a hotel that was hyper-clean and hyper Zen.
The next, and sadly last, day of the visit came all too quickly but, thankfully, I was given the chance to try out my golf swing at the remarkable 45-hole resort of Golf CITRUS Hammamet – previously, I had only played a full round of golf once in my life, so I was grateful to simply be given the opportunity (after an excellent lunch at the resort’s restaurant) to swing a driver many times and enjoy the improving ‘ping’ of contact with the golf balls as they sped into the wide blue yonder. No, really, they did, and I’ll prove it at Together’s golf tournament this year.
Too much to see, too much to share in one go – I will be back just as soon as I can for much more.
La Villa Bleue
Hôtel Dar Said
Dar Fatma Chambre d’Hôtes
Dar Marsa cubes
Radisson Blu Resort & Thalasso
Golf CITRUS Hammamet