Tunisia’s primary hard currency earner is tourism, and this small country of eleven million people hosted over seven million tourists last year, a record number. Many of them will come back again and again to enjoy the balmy climate, gorgeous beaches, and gourmet dining.
There are something like a quarter of a million hotel beds in tiny Tunisia, most of them concentrated of course in the capital, Tunis. Yet perhaps the most astonishing thing about Tunisia’s tourism is that so few of the tourists who visit this charming country are American. Of those seven million tourists who visited Tunisia in 2012, only some 25,000 were American citizens, and many of them came by tour boat, stopping only briefly in port. About one-third of one per cent of Tunisia’s guests are American, and this has been the norm for years now.
Why this is so is a bit of a mystery, and some of it no doubt has to do with the false perception that North Africa is a place of danger. It is an established fact that since the uprisings known as the “Arab Spring” began in 2010, not a single tourist has been injured, much less killed, as a result of the political upheavals that began in Tunisia with the Jasmine Revolution. Tourism is Tunisia’s biggest industry. Vast numbers of Tunisians are dedicated to make it work, today as well as tomorrow. Tourism is indeed Tunisia’s most important “export” and the source of most of its euros, yen, dollars, and other hard money.
There are so many luxury destinations in Tunisia that it is very hard to focus on a single one, but a recent favorite of many high-end visitors is The Residence, a palatial hotel and resort complex nestled on the edge of a sparkling golden beach on the Mediterranean seafront in Gammarth, adjacent to the ancient ruins of Carthage outside Tunis. Carthage, as you may know, was the ancient Roman capital of Africa and the ruins there are undisturbed, unlike the Roman ruins in Rome, which have been covered by 2000 years of modern accretions.
The Residence is an oasis of charm and serenity for the weary and the jaded smack in the middle of one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots of land on the whole planet. Recall that Tunisia’s history stretches back to an era way before the Phoenicians, millennia ago, to the indigenous Berbers. When you are at The Residence, you do feel that you are in one of the cradles of civilization, a notion strongly reinforced by the creative spirit so evident right next door in the artists’ colony of Sidi Bou Said, only a stone’s throw away.
It was only after a recent tour of Carthage to stroll once again among the enthralling ruins there that I realized how much The Residence owes its inspiration to the ancient Roman heated baths, so central to life in ancient Carthage. It was the Romans who developed the use of seawater as a form of therapy, especially seawater that has been heated. The properties of seawater are still believed by modern physicians to have beneficial effect upon the pores of the skin. In The Residence there is, I think, the best recreation of a Roman thalassic spa resort anywhere in the world, at the heart of which is Les Thermes Marins de Carthage, 35,000 square feet in size, surrounded by 30 special cabins for guests, an oriental hammam, a sauna, two patios for relaxation between treatments, and a majestic cupola covering a recreational seawater swimming pool.
The palatial architecture of The Residence reflects both Moorish and Andalucian influences, so close across the sea, while its interiors are all about relaxed elegance with a distinctive Tunisian décor, all about ivory walls, blond wood, Alicante marble, and rich brocades. Sea views are everywhere.
With only 155 rooms and nine luxury suites, The Residence looks palatial when you see it externally, but it is really small enough so that you will never feel lost in a crowd. And you will delight daily in a rich gastronomic palette at six restaurants found within the compound, so that at any time you can enjoy fresh seafood, traditional Tunisian and Mediterranean delicacies, authentic Chinese cuisine, or, for times when you wish for something lighter, you can dine al fresco at the Néroli salad bar.
And what will The Residence cost you? A double occupancy room can be had, without discounts, for 215 Euros a night, or $140 per person! You will leave The Residence with sadness and a resolve to return as soon as possible, and you will enjoy the convenience of Tunis-Carthage International Airport being rarely more than 30 minutes taxi ride even on days with traffic. Be sure to check The Residence website for current pricing and availability.