Spring is the perfect season to visit Tunis. As the short, rainy winter months give way to longer days and the return of uninterrupted sunshine, the city starts to come alive with plenty of live music and grand showcases of artisanal products. Exploring the city by bike, pushed along by the gentle sea breeze, keeps the temperature to an enjoyable degree.
Ramadan currently falls during spring, which offers unique evening experiences in the medina and shared iftars (the meal that breaks the evening fast) loaded up with local traditions. Here are our top picks for the season.
Get into the groove at the Carthage Jazz Festival
Although neither a pure jazz festival nor located in Carthage, the annual Carthage Jazz Festival puts on 10 days of well-priced concerts (expect to pay 30DT per ticket, about US$10) in intimate venues around greater Tunis. In previous years the festival has welcomed jazz and pop artists from across the region, as well as from Europe, America and beyond, and the setlist has included well-known names such as British singer-songwriter Tom Odell. This year’s 14th edition from 4 to 14 April branches out to include ‘street music’ sessions at local bars, L’Acropolium in Carthage and the beautiful palace Ennejma Ezzahra.
Immerse yourself in Tunisia’s long-standing wine history
It may not be well known as a top wine producer, but Tunisian plonk has a long history that dates back to the Phoenician era. More than 2000 years ago, agronomist Mago packed his extensive agronomy and viticulture knowledge into 28 volumes, which spread into Europe after the sacking of Carthage by the Roman Empire, and Mago’s techniques are still used to this day. Most of the wine production in Tunisia is located around the regions of Grombalia, Mornag and Cap Bon, an easy hour or two from Tunis, and a number of vineyards such as Chateau Bacchus offer tours and lunches, making for a gluttonous day out: expect four-course lunches washed down with copious amounts of wine for around US$25. Spring is a prime time to wander the vineyards in the gentle sun before the bushes are picked bare during the harvest at the end of summer. Closer to Tunis, in the southern suburbs, wine-tasting tours can also be arranged in the storage caves of Les Vignerons de Carthage.
Cycle from ancient ruins into a Mediterranean sunset
Bright spring evenings in Tunis are made for leisurely bike rides around the suburbs, taking in the traditional white-and-blue houses of Sidi Bou Saïd with their ornate doors before following in the footsteps of Hannibal and Dido between the archaeological sites of history-rich Carthage. Make the most of the pleasantly warm temperatures before the thermometer skyrockets and enjoy the dusky pink and purples of the early evening Mediterranean sky. Bikes can be hired from family-friendly Lemon Tour for self-guided rides, or join one of their regular group tours for all ages and abilities. Those up for a slightly more energetic ride can take the hill past the Movenpick from La Marsa to Gammarth to soak up the panoramic sea and city views from the top. Quench your thirst at the end of the ride with a well-earned freshly squeezed seasonal fruit juice from El Khairat.
Ramadan days in Tunis may be a quiet affair, but it’s worth visiting during this period to soak up the carnival-like night-time atmosphere during the latter two weeks when the evenings really start to come alive. Start with iftar in one of the many traditional restaurants such as Fondouk El Attarine or Dar El Jeld in the medina, but book ahead as they fill up with hungry locals breaking their fast each night. Expect a multi-course feast including local dates, flaky and savoury brik pastries, frik soup (made with bulgur wheat), trios of Tunisian salads, meats, a fish dish, fruits and traditional desserts such as assida zgougou (made with honey, pine grain and semolina) and kaak warqa (ring-shaped biscuits filled with delicious ground almonds).
Don’t expect to sleep much during Ramadan because activity starts after iftar around 9pm and goes on until the early hours of the morning. Even the high-street stores in Habib Bourgiba allow late-night shoppers through the doors until after midnight. But it’s the planned and impromptu musical events that really set Tunis apart from other cities in the region. The medina boasts a whole host of events during the annual Festival of the Medina, and Sufi concerts can often be found in the grounds of the old palaces of Sidi Bou Saïd. Sit long enough with a mint tea and shisha on the roof terraces of Art Café on Rue du 2 Mars, and you’ll soon hear music start up nearby: follow your ears and you’ll be rewarded with welcoming locals sprinkling flower petals from balconies and a chorus of song from enchanted youths.
Shop artisanal products from every region in Tunisia
The highlight of the year for most locals is the Salon de la Création Artisanale at Le Kram Exhibition Centre. Running from 22 to 31 March, artisans travel from across the country to exhibit their products to eager buyers. If you’re travelling to Tunis during this time, bring at least one empty suitcase to fill with brightly woven kilim rugs, hand-painted ceramics, natural beauty products and a myriad of other household and personal items. It’s necessary to dedicate at least a few hours to peruse all the goods on offer, although most people return for multiple trips. For those wishing to seriously splurge, enterprising teenagers can often be found ready to help cart around all your wares in exchange for a few dinars.
Keep a look out for Dabboussi Alfa from Kairouan, whose woven egg chairs are excellent value and can be custom-made to order in a variety of colours. Hamila Stoneware from Sousse offers a modernist take on ceramics with some seriously sleek designs, or shop traditional from the solely female pottery producers of the Sejnane region, recently placed on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Source: Lonely Planet