Less than three hours from London lies Tunisia, the most progressive country in the Arab world, birthplace of the Arab Spring, and home to a fusion of cultures. This former French colony has retained its European sophistication, and is situated closer to Sicily than most of its Arab brethren, making it an interesting mix of Arab-on Med, in Africa.
Women have enjoyed equal rights here for decades, and the largely secular society speaks mostly French and Arabic, with some in Tunis speaking English. If you’re the type of traveller who yearns for a destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, look no further. With regular flights from London on Tunisair, it makes for a great long weekend if you’re short on time. And Tunisair is a national carrier that could teach BA a thing or two. Meals in Business Class are ideal ... two dishes of grilled chicken salad and calamari in a tomato sauce were better than any airplane food I’ve tasted.
A day or two in downtown Tunis, exploring the souk, the Kasbah, the cafes of Avenue Bourguiba, and a trip to the Bardo, home of the largest mosaic collection in the world, would do it. Then, head to the northern seaside suburb of Gammarth, where 5-star luxury awaits at The Residence. You may have heard of its famous Mauritian sister.
Fragrant neroli wafts through the air at this Arab Andalucian palace.
The decor is understated, and relaxed, airy and light. Most of the rooms offer a sea view. The staff are attentive, and aim to please. No task is too large. And I’m afraid I tested this promise.
Unfortunately, I was still finishing off some work on the Tunisian elections when I arrived. A missing USB cable threw a monkey wrench into the mix, but Rajah, the IT goddess, managed to shift files off one piece of equipment to another, and voila, onto my laptop so I could file before sundown.
The French are big on their restorative holidays and The Residence is a haven for those seeking a healthy lifestyle. There’s a world class golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, tennis courts, and a Thalasso spa with a laundry list of services on offer, most of which I’d never heard of before.
A tea bar offers about a dozen different blends, each with a different promise: weight loss, improved circulation, a good nights’ sleep, you name it ... The gym junkie in me would have loved to try aqua Pilates or aqua cycling if only time permitted. But I was desperate to steal some time in the sun; so instead, I opted for the sprawling, 1500-meter outdoor, heated pool. Often, this is where resorts fall down. The pool area can quickly turn into an obstacle course. But, The Residence’s architect scores big points for designing a pool which creates a subtle divide between the serious swimmers and the splashers, with a casual restaurant and bar at the centre of it all.
A couple of hundred feet beyond the bliss of the outdoor pool lies a private stretch of sandy beach, perfect for shell-collecting and dozing, in particular order, with a few umbrella drinks in between.
It’s easy to work up an appetite with all this healthy living, and there are five restaurants on site serving a range of local cuisine, Chinese, Continental, and casual bites. The Residence is the only place I’ve come across which offers the Dukan Diet on its menu’s. In fact, there’s an entire package one can sign up for, which includes cooking classes, to make the transition home easier, personal support from nutrition and fitness specialists, and a pass which allows for complimentary seconds on starters and mains, to avoid any hunger pangs.
If Tunis is the place to dip into local culture, The Residence is the place to tune out.
The Residence - Tunis