‘Hotels de charme’ in tunis

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Viability's Guy Wilkinson writes a monthly column for Hotelier Middle East Magazine. This article originally appeared in June 2009.
For more information about Viability, please visit http://www.linkedin.com/company/2347942 or http://www.viability.ae/

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‘Hotels de charme’ in tunis

  1. 1. 26COMMENT The view of the jewel of Tunis — Sidi Bou Said — from The Dar Said Hotel ‘Hotels de charme’ in Tunis Viability director Guy Wilkinson visits Tunisia and discovers a boutique hotel offering that juxtaposes history and hip — a phenomenon he argues the Gulf market is yet to embrace explains why Tunisia is the top tour- marth, boasting a golf course and a Near the very top of the hill is the ism destination in the Maghreb, with number of attractive modern resorts, petite Dar Fatma, a guest house almost seven million foreign tourist has only existed for a decade or so. recently converted from a traditional arrivals contributing 35 million bed- The real jewel of Tunis, in most house by a local architect and his nights at the country’s 834 hotels in tourists’ eyes at least, is Sidi Bou wife. This really is something spe- 2007. Most tourists head for the pop- Said, a cliff-top village named after a cial, with skull-cracking stairs wind- ular beach resorts of Hammamet, thirteenth century Sufi saint. ing up to the seven rooms, each with Souss, Monastir, Sfax and Djerba, or As the Lonely Planet guide aptly a different name and view, but shar- venture inland to attractions such as describes it: “With cascading bou- ing a cool modern interior with white the amazing troglodyte town of Tata- gainvillea and flaming-red gera- accents and in some cases, giant pho- ouine, where George Lucas found niums set against gleaming white- tos of the Sidi Bou Said or yore. the sets for Luke Skywalker’s fic- wash, bright-blue window grills, The Villa Didon, named after Car- tional home planet Tatooine in Star narrow, steep cobbled streets, and thage’s famous queen, lies further COLUMNIST Wars, including the Hotel Sidi Driss jaw-dropping glimpses of azure down the hill. in Matmata — well worth a visit. coast, the cliff-top village…has to be Another converted house, but of lthough North Africa is lined The capital of Tunisia, Tunis, one of the prettiest spots in Tunis.” a much more recent vintage, the 10- A with Arabic-speaking coun- tries, known collectively as the Maghreb, the truth is that Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco can seem a million miles away from which is mainly a business destina- tion, nevertheless attracts about 10% of the tourists and boasts charm and interest enough to provide a full hol- iday’s worth of both activities and For boutique hotel fans, there are several outstanding ‘hotels de charme,’ as the French call them. The Dar Said Hotel, dating back to 1863, was once a well-off mer- suite ‘designer’ property — complete with furniture by Philippe Starck and Mies van der Rohe — makes a fiercely modern statement against the quaint backdrop of the village the Gulf. relaxation for those so inclined. chant’s house and according to the and the nearby archeological site. They are in fact, not quite so far, The ruins of ancient Carthage management, has been converted to These are hidden gems that but a fair distance nonetheless, show- — founded in 814 BC and once the a 24-room hotel complete with wi-fi, allow their guests to simultaneously ing just how large the greater Middle scourge of Rome — are still to be with the minimum of alteration to immerse themselves in the bourgeois East really is — Tunis city, for exam- seen, while the ancient Arabic souk the original appearance. history of Tunis and savour its innate ple, is actually 4500km from Dubai district or Medina was declared a The beautiful blue tiling and sense of ‘hip’. and more than seven hours by air. UNESCO World Heritage Site in white-washed ceiling plasterwork Unfortunately, we’ve not really It is probably the fact that Tunis 1979. The adjacent and still elegant is all original, for example, although seen either of these things yet here in is only 1000km away from Paris, ‘Ville Nouveau’ was built by French the sea-view pool is new and the pri- the Gulf market. HME and just a stone’s throw from Sicily colonists in the nineteeth century, vate hammam is now heated at the (Palermo is only 300 km away), that while the beach district of Gam- press of a button. TUNISIA WELCOMED ALMOST SEVEN MILLION FOREIGN TOURIST ARRIVALS CONTRIBUTING 35 MILLION BED- Guy Wilkinson is a director of Viability, a hospitality and property consulting firm in Dubai. NIGHTS AT THE COUNTRY’S 834 HOTELS IN 2007 For more information, email: guy@viability.ae June 2009 • Hotelier Middle East www.hoteliermiddleeast.com

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