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marianne Sousse - A travel report by Marianne
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Sousse,  Tunisia - flag Tunisia -  Sousse
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marianne's travel reports

Tunisia for Beginners

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Sousse is Tunisia for beginners. It is a summer resort for Europeans in search of the sun. The exotic is mixed with a touch of French, a picturesque medina, winding alleys, kasbah, covered market, museums and endless stretches of white sandy beach


Entrance to the medina. The spot where tourists and locals meet. Grand Mosque in the background
Entrance to the medina. The spot where tourists and locals meet. Grand Mosque in the background
It's Africa. It's different. It's exotic, but not too much, just enough for a beginner. Until 1956, Tunisia was under French rule. Therefore, it's no wonder that many cities are French-oriented; open-air cafés, patisseries to satisfy the appetite, Orangina to quench the thirst, crêpes, all with a French touch. Besides, all educated people speak French.

Sousse is Tunisia's third largest city (after Tunis and Sfax) with a population of over 300,000. People find work in the port and the production of textile but the largest industry by far is tourism, and it shows. Especially in July and August the town is awash with cars and buses. Crossing the roads is at your own risk. Noddy trains and a 6-seater motorised Tuk-Tuks shuttle to and from the hotel strip in Port el Kantaoui.

The ribat and the Grand Mosque have been successfully restored. Like many coastal Tunisian towns Sousse was bombed in WW II. The climb to the top of the Ribat tower is rewarded by views over the medina.

ONTT or the Tourist Office is on Blv Bourguiba close to Place du Port. They hand out brochures but no detailed map of Sousse or the medina. Their bus and train schedules are very useful if you travel on public transport.



TRANSPORT

The Noddy train is a kind of toy train. If you buy a return ticket you will have to return on the same colour train as your onward journey as tickets are not interchangable among trains.

Sousse has two train station. The Sahel Metro station is Bab Jedid, Blv Mohamer V, next to the port with services to the airport (15 mins), Monastir (20 mins) and Mahdia (just over an hour).

The main train station is on Blv Hassouna Ayachi, 10 trains to Tunis (1h 50 mins) and three to four train a day to Sfax and other town to the south. Buses and louages (shared taxis but these days often mini buses seating 8 are better options) The bus station or Gare Routière is 2 km along Ave 3 Septembre. The louage station is also 2 km from the city centre. It is on Rue du 1 Juin 1955.


Favourite spots:
Street in the medina
Street in the medina
The medina or walled city is a warren of alleys and we had to retrace our steps several times as we were almost getting lost. The medina is built on a slope so we simply walked down to get out again.

Rue de Paris is the main tourist drag and one souvenir shop next to the other selling ceremics, leather goods and stuffed camels. A bit further down is the covered souk or market, with a pletoria of gold and silver shops.

Soula Shopping opposite the Great Mosque is a shopping haven chockful of souvenirs at fixed prices. True to say prices are higher than in the souk but the quality is constant.

Lots of houses are crammed into a limited space within the city walls. Many doors to the houses are a true attractions and very photogenic, decorated with studs and painted a cerrulean blue which goes well together with the whitewashed walls.

What's really great:
The corniche of Sousse
The corniche of Sousse
These days the majority of the Sousse people live in la ville nouvelle, a grid-city built by the French and reflecting French culture. There is not a great deal to see apart from a few Art Deco buildings, ABC cinema on Ave Habib Thameur and nos 31 and 85 Boulevard de la Corniche.

This boulevard is a very pleasant seaside walk especially late afternoon when the people of Sousse come for a stroll to catch the sea breeze.

On the corniche are several big hotels that cater mainly for European package tours. They have no direct access but they all have a reserved spot on the beach with sun umbrellas and beds for their guests.


Sights:
Kasbah in the background
Kasbah in the background
The kasbah of Sousse is in the south-west corner of the medina or old city. It is situated at the highest point because the kasbah is a fortress or citadel and meant to defend the entire medina in case of attacks. It is also the place of refuge for the inhabitants of the medina.

The huge entrance gate and in fact the whole kasbah is most impressive and will be even more so when the restoration will have been completed in the summer of 2009. Until then both kasbah and the museum will be closed.

The museum has beautiful mosaics, same quality as the ones in the Bardo Museum in Tunis. They are not on view until the restoration will have been completed.

Accommodations:
Hotel Abu nawas Boujafar
Hotel Abu nawas Boujafar
Some years ago we stayed in Abu Nawas Boujafar more a business than a beach / tourist hotel. It is a good place if you don't want to spend all day on the beach. It is close to the medina and the train station which makes train trips very convenient.

Abu Nawas is a hotel chain with very comfortable hotels (http://www.abounawas.com.tn)

Abu Nawas was a renowned Arabic poet who lived in 10th century He was often criticized for his homosexual tendencies, but protected because of his talent as a poet. I have not been able to find out if the Abu Nawas chain of hotels is named after this poet.

Nightlife:
View of the Grand Mosque from the Ribat
View of the Grand Mosque from the Ribat
The corniche is the heart of night life in Sousse. People walk up and down until tired and then sit down down on the wall facing the beach. On the other side of the corniche there are cafés and patisseries and quite full in the evening.

Bars are found in the tourist hotels and drinks are about the same price as in Europe.

There are also some seedy places. They are easy to spot because there are more beer bottles on the table than people around it. For some reason drinkers order three or for bottles per person at the same time. Another sure sign is that all this happens inside behind a closed door.

You may wonder how I know this if all is behind closed doors. Several years ago I was in Maktar and the only place to stay was a hotel-cum-bar. To get to our room we had to cross the bar.

Hangouts:
Ribat
Ribat
The Ribat and the Great Mosque are the two main monuments in the medina. The Ribat had both a military and religious purpose. It housed devout warriors who lived in bare cells and who studied religious subjects in times of peace but would fight when Christian mauraders attacked.

The renovated Ribat dates back to 9th cent. The entrance is built with columns from dilapidated Roman buildings. The vaulted hall was once the prayer hall. The most striking feature is the watch tower. Spiral stairs lead to a viewing platform with good views of the medina and the Great Mosque.

Mosques are domed buildings with minarets but Sousse Mosque isn't. It looks like a fortress with thick walls. It dates back to the 9th cent when mosques were massive constructions built round a courtyard, characterised by dark prayer halls, as domed constructions were not technically possible. A lantern-shaped extension on the outer wall functions as a minaret, but it is easily overlooked as it looks like a bay window.

Restaurants:
Entrance to Dar Essid Museum. The larger the door the richer the family.
Entrance to Dar Essid Museum. The larger the door the richer the family.
Dar Essid is a privately owned museum, crammed with objects and furniture, a mixture of Arab style and European imports, such as many German clocks. I wish I had been able to read the marriage contract which hung on the wall. All I could do was admire the calligraphy.

It is an early 20th century courtyard house situated just inside the medina walls, on the northern side near the kasbah. The entrance door is huge and decorated with Christian and Islamic symbols. The larger the entrances door, the richer the family that lives there.

The three lavishly decorated and furnished rooms on the groundfloor are grouped round a tiled courtyard, the living quarters the three wives. The first wife was the most important and she had a sitting room, a marble bathroom and a small bedroom for her children under ten. There was a narrow bed for her and a wide marriage bed, all draped with curtains. Custom held that a couple did not stay in the same bed after sex, but the wife went to her own.

Other recommendations:
Fully equipped kitchen in Dar essid Museum
Fully equipped kitchen in Dar essid Museum
Two kitchens are fully equipped and show a range of kitchen utensils and earthenware used for preparong meals. The house gives a very good impression of medina life for the upper middle class not so very long ago.

On top of the house were the servants' quarter. It is now a café with fine views.



PORT EL KANTAOUI is 9 km to the north, Sousse's zone touristique and beachlife 'without tears'. It is a purpose-built seaside resort complete with eye-blinding white hotels built according to local architecture. It is a holiday paradise complete with a marina, shopping malls, nightlife and golf courses. It is international and truly a home from home and the ultimate beach holiday without anything Tunisian.

Published on Sunday December 23th, 2007


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Thu, Jan 17 2008 - 01:23 PM rating by bineba

As always, a very enjoyable and informative report. And some great photos too!

Thu, Jan 03 2008 - 03:22 AM rating by downundergal

Another quality report full of detail and backed up with some fantastic photos.

Thu, Dec 27 2007 - 04:51 AM rating by zrusseff

Marianne, a totally awesome report full of details. I enjoyed the photographs as well. Excellent reading.

Mon, Dec 24 2007 - 02:54 PM rating by davidx

Fine report and great photos but I'm not too sure I would get enough here to recompense me for the heat!

Mon, Dec 24 2007 - 09:40 AM rating by rangutan

An excellent cultural lecture!

Sun, Dec 23 2007 - 06:08 PM rating by adampl

Marianne, as always - excellent report with lots of useful info. Plus nice, vivid pictures. Tunesia is one of the destinations I would like to visit in near future.

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