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Travel Guide: Tunisia Highlights

12th Oct 2011 2:03am | By Editor

Head for lunar desert landscapes or be pampered.

Head for the desert

The success of blockbuster films including the Star Wars series and The English Patient has helped spark considerable interest in Tunisia’s desert region, which covers much of the southern half of the country. 

The centre of what is now a flourishing tourism industry is the oasis town of Tozeur. Built around a vast 2,500-acre grove of palm trees, irrigated by more than 200 natural springs, Tozeur is renowned for producing some of the best dates in the world. A short drive from Tozeur is Nefta, another oasis town and, in medieval times, a major religious centre. The town’s distinctive architecture can be seen at its best in the maze of narrow passageways in the southern part of the medina. 

The desert region also includes the village of Matmata with its famous troglodyte houses dating from the fourth century BC which were used in the Star Wars films.

Get pampered 

The Greeks coined the term thalassotherapy from their word for "sea", but the Tunisians perfected the treatment. Thalassotherapy is a combination of treatments that use seawater and seaweed, each designed to tone, moisturise, revitalise the body and skin, and to improve blood circulation. 

Thalassotherapy centres can be found on Djerba Island (13), Hammamet (10), three each in Tunis, Carthage, Port El Kantaoui and Tbarka, two each in Mahdia and Zorzis and one each in Monastir and Sousse. 

The stress-busting sessions come in many packages, from saltwater based mud baths to underwater showers, hydro-massage, aromatherapy, steam baths and full body massages. Seaweed, mud and algae wraps help to restore the body. 

Many of these centres are based in luxurious hotels, but independent – and cheaper ones – can be found. It you have done it ones, you will forget about a Turkish bath.

Lights, camera, action!

If you fancy the idea of following in the footsteps of Darth Vader, Count Laszlo de Almásy of the English Patient, Indiana Jones or the entire Monty Python crew in the Life Of Brian, Tunisia is the location, location, location... 

Since the ‘70’s renowned producers chose the Tunisian landscapes and unique architecture to shoot blockbusters like the Star Wars movies (George Lucas), Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg), the English Patient (Anthony Minghella), Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli), The Messiah (Roberto Rossellini), Anno Domini, Pirates (Roman Polanski) and The Life Of Brian (Terry Jones).

The creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, discovered Tunisia in 1977 and has returned to it for every-one of his Star Wars movies. It is perhaps not surprising then that the backdrop for the mythical planet Tatooine in the Phantom Menace was shot in the desert near the southern Tunisian city of Tatouine.

Soak up the sun

There are several popular beach resorts to head to if soaking up the sun is high on your list of priorities. The most popular resorts are:

Hammamet Central - This is Tunisia’s biggest and well-known resort. It is less than an hour’s drive from Tunis and has dozens of hotels, shops and restaurants.

Yasmine Hammamet
– This resort has been developed over the past 15 years at a cost of more than £450 million. It features more than 40 hotels and a 740-berth marina.

Port El Kantaoui - Situated five miles north of Sousse this resort is built around a 340-berth marina with shops, cafés and restaurants.

Sousse resort – Sousse is Tunisia’s third largest city. It has a bustling port and fishing harbour. The attractions include an eighth century watchtower, an atmospheric medina and the Museum of the Kasbah, which houses an impressive collection of mosaics.

Monastir/Skanes – This showpiece resort is built around a traditional Tunisian town. 

Mahdia - Set on a peninsula, Mahdia’s history dates from the tenth century. Dominated by a hilltop fort, the Borj el Kebir, the resort offers superb beaches and safe swimming. 

Nabeul - Once completely separate but now all but adjoining the northernmost fringes of Hammamet, Nabeul is famous as the most important pottery town in Tunisia. It also hosts a colourful Friday market which draws residents and tourists from miles around.

Djerba - A genuine year-round resort. Djerba has been attracting British visitors since the 1970s but has become increasingly popular in the last few years. This is reflected by the MyTravel Group introducing direct flights to Djerba for Summer 2006. Previously there have only been direct services to the island during winter.

Kerkennah Islands - Situated 12 miles off the coast of Sfax and only reachable by ferry, this cluster of seven islands has been called “The Last Paradise” and will appeal to holidaymakers looking to get away from it all. Tourism remains very low-key, with fishing the main source of income for most of the 15,000 islanders. 

Carthage Coast - The stretch of coastline northeast of the capital, Tunis, includes the small, fashionable resorts of Gammarth and La Marsa which are particularly popular for weekend breaks. Situated close to the ruins of Carthage and the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said, the area boasts sandy beaches and a selection of fine seafood restaurants.

Tabarka - On Tunisia’s northern coast less than three hours’ drive from the capital, the modern resort of Tabarka has been built around a stylish marina, Porto Corallo. It offers unspoilt beaches surrounded by sand dunes. Well-regarded as the best diving centre in Tunisia, Tabarka has an 18-hole golf course and hosts an international jazz festival each summer.