Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said near Tunis in Tunisia
Sidi Bou Said

This is said to be one of the most beautiful villages in the Mediterranean, and it is certainly up there with the best of them. You might be in the Greek islands or in southern Spain as you explore the narrow streets with their literally dazzling whitewashed houses and blue shutters and doors. In fact you’re just about six miles from the bustle and noise of Tunis, perched on a cliff overlooking the Gulf of Tunis.

If you decide you want to live in Sidi Bou Said then you will need to get in a good stock of whitewash and blue paint, as the colours are now legal requirements for house-owners here. They seem to have long got used to the fact that hundreds of tourists visit their village every day, and like to do nothing more than take photographs of their doors and windows. The large front doors are especially appealing, as they have intricate patterns made from black-painted nails of various sizes. The blue and white palate is broken only by occasional dashes of other colours – the greens of plants or the purple flowers of bougainvillea tumbling over the white walls.

The name of Sidi Bou Said comes from the Arabic word for a Saint, which is Sidi (and is the reason there are so many Sidis in the country), followed by the common Arabic name of Bou Said. Bou Said was a Muslim from the 13th century who was considered to be very holy and who came to settle in the village. He is now buried here and has a mosque named in his honour, to which pilgrims come each August to celebrate the life of Sidi Bou Said.

As you would imagine, there are plenty of souvenir stalls and shops greeting you as you step off the coach. However, some of the stuff on offer is rather better than the usual array of carpets and fluffy camels. You might well be tempted by one of the paintings of street scenes or doorways, which can be expensive if you buy an original or much cheaper for a print. The number of shops and stalls is fairly small when compared to most other tourist attractions, though, so there isn’t quite the relentless pestering that you get elsewhere.

The village is also known as one of the places in Tunisia where they make the very ornate bird cages, which you see for sale in many places. The cages, topped with a dome, are made from olive wood and usually painted white, the Muslim colour of peace.

Do find time to explore the back streets, as there are a few shops hidden away from the main throng of visitors, with one or two galleries where you might find an attractive souvenir. You are not limited to views of the village, as the paintings and prints on display also cover other aspects of Tunisian life, and there are sometimes dramatic desert scenes or atmospheric looks at life in the souks and medinas.

*** Go along the main street to the headland where there is a lovely view looking down over a small marina and along the coast.

*** Explore the side streets instead of sticking to the main street, as there are some lovely scenes to photograph, with no one else to stand in the way of the view.

People don’t usually come to Sidi Bou Said to sunbathe, and on organised excursions there isn’t time, but there is a small beach if you continue along the main street.