After a few turbulent years, Tunisia is back in contention for the affections of travellers seeking a unique blend of Mediterranean sea and sun with traditional North African culture. Eulanda and Omo from Team Coco visited the capital city of Tunis and share their experience of Tunisian hospitality and wellness at The Residence by Cenizaro.
Welcome to The Residence, Tunis
Traffic on the expansive N9 motorway was light as we drove from Tunis-Carthage International Airport towards the northeastern part of the city, to the coastal suburbs of Carthage, La Marsa and Gammarth.
Our destination was The Residence Tunis, part of the Cenizaro luxury collection which includes stunning properties in The Maldives, Mauritius, and Zanzibar.
As we approached the property, a large dome over the hotel’s Thalasso spa glistened in the evening sun, creating the impression of a timeless Arabian palace. The private driveway brought us through to a magnificent facade, complete with tall symmetrical columns and arches.
Located less than half an hour from the ancient heart of Tunis, The Residence was the perfect location from which we hoped to explore the capital city of Tunisia.
“Marhaban! Welcome to Tunis!” said the smiling concierge, as he spirited away our luggage and later re-appeared as if by magic with two glasses of sweet mint tea. The traditional hot tea welcome is common throughout North Africa and Arabia. However, the ice in the Tunisian version provided the refreshing effect we needed to wash away the fatigue from our red-eye flight.
Tunisia had been on our travel wish list for some time and it felt surreal to finally be here.
Why go to Tunisia?
Almost every country in the world has its upheavals and Tunisia is no different. The Arab Spring and the dastardly 2015 terror attacks in the coastal city of Sousse and at Tunis’ Bardo National Museum had understandably dented global confidence in Tunisia’s tourism industry.
However, a lifting of the travel ban for UK nationals and recent advice from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) suggested that most of the country was considered safe to visit.
Travellers to Tunisia will readily agree that Tunisia’s rich historical credentials are undeniable. Tunisia boasts reasonably well-preserved remnants of ancient civilizations, including the ruins of the Phoenician city of Carthage and Roman amphitheatres and coliseums.
Tunis, in particular, is a melting pot of cultures. The medina, an old walled town common across North Africa, sits next to a part of the city where the architectural influence is unmistakably French – outdoor cafes and tree columns included.
Throughout the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, minarets point to the sky as symbols of worship while highlighting beautiful Ottoman and Arab/Andalusian design.
Meanwhile, the gothic Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul on Avenue Habib Bourguiba offers both an unusual oasis of calm from the hustle and bustle of downtown Tunis as well as an insight into the multi-dimensional culture of the city.
Further afield, travellers can appreciate the scale of ancient Rome’s ambitions in North Africa by exploring even more spectacular ruins in places like Dougga, El Djem and Bulla Regia.
Amidst all her ancient wonders, Tunisia’s main attraction for many is her Mediterranean coastline. The Residence Tunis, with its private beach, provided the perfect opportunity for us to experience some of this beautiful coast.
Right now, Tunisia provides great value for money. In the (temporary) absence of mass tourism which other parts of the Mediterranean have become known for, among other benefits, travellers may enjoy the rare chance of exploring world-famous archaeological sites without the crowds!
Design excellence at The Residence
On our first morning, sunlight bathed the azure-blue waters of the Mediterranean and filtered into our room. Through large sliding doors which opened up onto a private balcony, we took in views of the sea beyond The Residence’s manicured gardens, terraces and large outdoor pool.
Our room itself was furnished with a king-size bed, a cushioned seating alcove and desk, and a luxurious marble bathroom with bathtub, shower and dressing room. The room design featured soft limestone hues and elegant Arabian design, a theme consistent throughout the property.
Before going on to explore, we savoured a mix of continental and Tunisian breakfast options at the hotel’s well-appointed L’olivier Restaurant.
We wandered through the expansive lounge area which on certain evenings features live music. We also made a mental note of the spa where we were booked for a set of relaxing treatments during our stay.
When done properly, interior design can be a powerful storytelling medium on its own. The architects of The Residence clearly had a story to tell about Tunisia’s Arab/Andalusian heritage.
Tall white columns supported high ceilings, creating and enhancing the feeling of space. An assortment of mosaics, tiles, geometric patterns on chiselled plaster and decorated doors combined to showcase the different cultures (Ottoman, Arab and European) that have influenced Tunisian architecture.
Paintings by local artists such as Selmen Nahdi added a touch of character and provided a peek into aspects of Tunisian life.
A florist expertly crafted flower arrangements which brought life to the hotel’s public areas while the playful sounds of water fountains served as a reminder that the Mediterranean Sea was only a few minutes walk outside.
We had arranged to visit the ancient city of Carthage, the Roman Baths of Antoninus and the ‘Instagram perfect’ blue and white town of Sidi Bou Said. Our reverie was disrupted when we were told that our local tour guide was waiting for us.
Massages and memories
Back at The Residence, after two full days of exploring Tunis, we were drawn to the waters of the Mediterranean and chose to spend the rest of our time between the beach and spa.
A light breeze caused a lonely palm tree in the distance to dance as we walked along the coast, enjoying the gentle waves washing over our feet. Apart from a solitary camel herder and an abandoned fishing boat, the private beach was deserted.
The herder, who had been enjoying an off-peak snooze, had by now awoken from his slumber and was keen to make a sale. Unable to convince us, he was happy to simply chat.
“Are you expecting many visitors this summer?” we asked him.
Nodding enthusiastically and responding in his broken English he replied, “Yes! We want people to come back. Tunisia is safe.”
Tourism is a key part of Tunisia’s economy and his response echoed the optimism we had felt from other locals, many of whom depend on the industry for their livelihoods.
Swapping the beach with the spa, we were welcomed with inviting scents of citrus, juniper berries and cypress. The Residence’s award-winning Spa & Thalasso included a heated indoor saltwater swimming pool, a great alternative to the outdoor pool in cooler weather.
Our spa host took us on a quick tour of the facilities and then placed us in the care of two wellness providers. What followed was a detoxifying hydrotherapy treatment and a stress-busting couples massage with luxurious and fragrant ESPA body oils.
Two hours later, in the relaxation room, wrapped up in luxurious bathrobes, our overriding feeling was of peace and of the restoration of mind and body. At that moment, we said a prayer that Tunisia and her people would continue to enjoy lasting peace. Afterall, we had to come back!
Get to Tunis by flying directly from London (Tunisair) to Tunis-Carthage International Airport. Alternatively, transfer in Rome (Alitalia) or Paris (Air France). A sea-view room with a king bed and amenities at The Residence, La Marsa starts from £145 per night (meals not included).