A Place to Stay. Hotel Dar Ben Gacem, Tunis
We went to the Medina of Tunis for lunch.
The Medina of Tunis is the Medina quarter of Tunis, capital of Tunisia. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The Medina contains some 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and fountains dating from the Almohad and the Hafsid periods.
It was very busy, but with local people hurrying around, not tourists.
To my surprise, unlike the usual souks, almost all the shops were selling jewellery. Windows were clean despite the dusty streets and the jewellery gleamed. But there were no customers! It was obvious we were visitors, but we weren’t approached or hassled to buy at all. Maybe they make their money from weddings and festivals.
Finally after asking directions several times, we found the door of the Dar Ben Gacem and knocked loudly. The door opened almost at once and we stepped into a hallway. At the end it curved right and opened up into a courtyard in the middle of the building.
The owner, Leila Ben Gacem, was there to greet us. She explained about the house.
Leila bought it in 2006 from the Anoum family who had owned it for over 300 years. They’d bought it from another family, so the building has only had three owners!
It’s a traditional Medina house. The front door opens onto the long hallway which curves sharply, so nobody can see into the house when the door’s open.
There are no windows on the outside of the house. All the windows face into the courtyard.
When a son got married, he was given one of the rooms for his family, and when a daughter got married, she would go to live with her in-laws.
Leila gave us a tour of the house. There are seven bedrooms, all architecturally preserved. You’d never believe it was that large from outside.
The house is much bigger and more compact than it first looks. It’s all on different layers with walkways open on one side and hidden alcoves where visitors can sit in privacy.
At the top is the roof level with chairs and tables, and great views of the Medina in every direction.
The strange thing is, out on the streets all is noise and bustle, but in the house it’s completely peaceful!
Leila works with the Community, introducing visitors to workshops, like book binding, cookery classes etc.
It’s 15 minutes to the beach by car.
The average stay of her guests is 2-3 nights, and they’re 50% tourists and 50% business people. So far she’s had 58 different nationalities staying there!
Lunch was served in the courtyard. We had a selection of breads, soup, and brik, which is served in different variations with most Tunisian meals. These were quite small and known as Fingers of Fatima. We also had squares like Spanish omelette. But these are called Tagines as they’re cooked in the traditional tagine. And there was a delicious salad, cut into tiny pieces with a distinctive aroma of mint.
The main course followed. It was a rice chicken dish flavoured with cardamom. On top of the dish were some hot peppers and a fish which we were told was baby shark. Of course we sang that terrible song (Baby shark doodle-oodle-oodle-oo) and even the Germans knew it! Apparently it’s a German folk song.
We had to leave, so we said our goodbyes and walked through the Medina streets again. We recognised shops and signs. It was much easier to find our way to our car this time!
DAR BEN GACEM
38, Rue du Pacha, 1006 Tunis La Medina – Tunisia
Phone: +216 71 563 742
Fax: +216 71 563 724
Website : http://darbengacem.com/
For further information on Tunisia, www.discovertunisia.com
- Tunisair flies daily either from Heathrow Terminal 4 (Sundays, Tuesdays, Fridays & Saturdays) and from Gatwick South Terminal (Mondays, Wednesday & Thursdays)
- Flight duration around 2h.45mn
- £1.00 = 4.00 TND
- All year round mild temperature with lots of sun
- Local cuisine influenced by French & Italian food plus several local pleasant wines (among the best Tunisian export)