From broad sweeps of beach, overlooked by a tumble of sugar cube houses, to grand ancient ruins, and the vast, rolling dunes of the Sahara; Tunisia is a fusion of everything that makes North Africa enticing. It may be most famous as a summer beach break destination but there's something for everyone here.
Lose your way by following the scent of spice amid the twisting maze of medina alleyways in Tunis or Kairouan to stumble upon remnants of grand Ottoman glory. Stand on the edge of the glittering Chott El Jerid salt pan to see the silver crust shimmer mirror-like as it stretches boundlessly across the land. Walk through the underground tunnel of El Jem to arrive in the middle of the amphitheatre arena, the way the gladiators of Rome once entered this mighty colosseum. Or hoist yourself onto the high camel saddle and venture out into the desert dunes. It's no wonder Tunisia is such a favoured spot for shooting movies. The diversity of landscapes and experiences, over such a small nation, is its greatest appeal.
Traditionally seen as North Africa at its most laid-back, Tunisia manages a delicate balancing act between traditional Islamic culture and the encroaching tide of modernity. Gender equality rights are written into the constitution, alcohol is freely available, and the state and religion are treated as two separate entities. But that's not to say that the fascinating rhythms of the Islamic world have disappeared.
Sit down at a street side cafe after the last notes of the muezzin's evening call to prayer have faded. Then sink into a hypnotic stupor of apple-scented shisha smoking while old men slam tiles onto the surrounding tables in a clatter of competitive domino playing. Get scrubbed, rubbed and steamed until your skin is smooth and pink, upon a marble slab, under the tiled domes of a centuries-old hammam. Haggle your heart out with the craft vendors in the souks, consuming dozens of tiny glasses of mint tea while you barter for the best price. The age-old customs and traditions of Tunisian life are still alive and well for those who wish to look for them.
It is the beach life though that most visitors come here for and the sun-dappled Tunisian coast doesn't disappoint. Straddling the Mediterranean, the long, rambling coastline has something for every kind of beach-lover. There are modern resort towns boasting all the facilities sun-seekers need, perfect for families looking for an easy summer escape. And there is the gentler pace of the tiny coastal villages with cobblestone streets framed by walls of flowing bourganvillia and jasmine that lead down to the sea.
The Tunisian Revolution of 2011 may have kept the tourists off the beaches and out of the monuments for a while, but it's not hard to see why they're coming back. As a destination, Tunisia balances natural beauty with a pulse-quickening - at times turbulent - energy; a place where you can have as relaxed, or as adventurous a trip as you decide. If you're looking for an evocative taste of North Africa you're in the right place.