I have been to Tunisia many times in the past since the country ‘opened’ after the revolution of 2011. In fact, I visit once a year now and every visit is a different experience.
The first 3 times I went are the most memorable since I had an amazing time on holidays there but also because that’s when i fell in love with the country. A love story that would trigger an expat move to Libya in 2012 and now to Saudi Arabia. We have a plan you see… to move to Tunisia permanently once we have finished building a little family house there.
Despite its small size, Tunisia is an amazing country with an impressive variety of landscape, cultures and activities. There is so much more than you would first imagine.
First Time ever in Tunisia
Date: April 2012
Location: Hammamet + short day trips to other cities.
Accommodation: Hotel Nesrine (their website is not good but I highly recommend this hotel)
The very first time I visited Tunisia was for a professional trip, accompanying adult students for a linguistic trip. We stayed in Hammamet for 2 weeks and went on a memorable coach tour to the south of the country, all the way to the desert. It was an amazing trip, I really enjoyed every moment of it and I discovered a country that I knew close to nothing about. Contrary to my opinion then, Tunisia is not all about the sea and the souk, it offers a large variety of landscapes and traditions which I never imagined I would see, such as salt lakes (see below) and mountain oasis.
First Impressions: From the very first time, I fell in love with the country, I was especially amazed by the Tunisian people’s friendliness, helpfulness and welcoming attitude. The weather in Tunisia is just awesome and some places we visited were breathtaking. That first time I didn’t really like Hammamet as I felt it was too “touristy” and I felt it didn’t represent the country as a whole.
Even though I Hammamet didn’t win me over, I fell head over heals in love withe Tunisia but just as in any budding relationship I didn’t let myself be overjoyed or too excited, I kept thinking that 2 weeks in Hammamet being pampered in a hotel might not be the most representative of “real” life in Tunisia.
Favourite place: Sidi Bousaid – the city is white and blue
Second Time in Tunisia
Dates: July – August 2012:
Location: El Hamma, Gabes and Hammamet
Accommodation: stayed with family (my husband’s family)
Later than same year during the summer my family and I returned to Tunisia, this time for a holiday. We stayed for a whole month, sharing our time between El-Hamma and Gabes in the south of Tunisia where my husband’s family lives and Hammamet where my husband had some work commitments. This time it was all about spending time with family as I hadn’t met my husband’s parents and siblings yet. My children met their cousins, uncles and grandparents for the first time as well.
My Impressions: That trip confirmed my 1st impressions that Tunisia was really a country I could live in and that people there were simply the most kind ever. I discovered another side of Tunisia, away from tourist spots, a more traditional part of the country, where life is more simple. Family environment was amazing and my children learnt to understand the concept of having a family around: they had never had any cousins close by before, suddenly they met about 30. As for me I discovered how life is lived in a country where family is everything, I was made to feel at home everywhere despite the language barrier.
Despite my husband’s warnings that summer in Tunisia meant unbearable heat, I found myself most comfortable there, to my husband’s dismay I could stay in the heat and still enjoy it while others ran for the shade. During that second trip I also re-discovered Hammamet: with more free time on my hands to explore I came to love it.
It wasn’t long after we returned to the UK that talks of moving to Tunisia started. I think it was even me who suggested it first. I just couldn’t help thinking what a great place it would be for my children to grow up in. Life in Tunisia appealed to me completely: certainly not an easy life, without some of the comfort we take for granted in the UK for instance yet, I felt totally at home there and felt a pressing need to come back as soon as we left.
It was in September 2012 I think, that we started discussing vague plans to one day build a house in El Hamma one day and move there permanently. In November talks took a more serious turn and more precise plans were taking shape. We couldn’t shake Tunisia off, life in the UK suddenly became difficult, boring and tiresome for us. By December 2012, we were looking for jobs in other countries to help us realise our dream of building a house in Tunisia and in March 2013 we moved to Libya.
Favourite place: the walk along the sea behind the old madinah in Hammamet
Third Time in Tunisia
Dates: August – October 2013
Location: Gabes and El-Hamma
Accommodation: stayed with family
At the end of our first contract in Libya, we spent our holidays in Tunisia with a quick 2 weeks visit to the UK. In the end we stayed much longer than we had planned because we had to wait for our re-entry visas to go back to Libya. What should have been a month break ended up being a 3 months holidays. Of course noone was complaining, we got to spend some real quality time with our family and my children really took to Tunisian life and habits, even starting to speak a few Arabic words with their cousins.
My Impressions: this time was like a reality check for me, like when you start evaluating a long term relationship to see if “there’s a future together”. Since I stayed longer I got to seehow people lived every day of their lives. I was saddened to see that a lot of people are struggling financially but on the other hand, people are totally reliable and helpful and you can count on anyone to assist you if and when you need help. Human contacts and relationships haven’t been destroyed by the individualism that is rampant in the UK. People in Tunisia know each other and they trust each other, they have no fear of their neighbours or distrust of strangers like in the UK.
Just one example, we were struggling to find a taxi one day in the capital Tunis when a young man spotted us and spent the next 15 minutes trying to get a cab to take us where we wanted. He finally managed it, got us all into the taxi and left without a word. Quite the opposite of the old stereotype of people only doing things for money.
I spent a lot of time that summer asking myself: if I had to chose right here right now, could I move to Tunisia and settle for the rest of my life?
What I didn’t realise then is that once you fall for Tunisia, nothing can quite compare and this is why we are returning there every year until our little home is finally finished and we can move to Tunisia permanently
Favourite place: the beach in Gabes with its warm waters, the rooftops where people sleep during the summer.
I’ve got loads more pictures of Tunisia, check out the Hammamet and Nabeul Gallery.
You may be interested in the following posts on the main Blog:
Transports in Tunisia: Find out how you can move around Tunisia to visit the whole country
Holidays in Tunisia: where to go? what to do? and places you just can’t miss