It’s hard to imagine a better location to explore Tunis than from the Hotel Carlton (it’s the building on the left in the photograph).
It fronts on Habib Bourguiba — the main drag — that’s sometimes called the Tunisian Champs-Élysées because it’s lined with grand French colonial-era buildings filled with shops and galleries, and separated from the street by meticulously pruned rows of trees, their fluttering green leaves shading pleasant sidewalk cafés. The avenue is named in honor of Habib Ben Ali Bourguiba, a Tunisian lawyer, nationalist leader, and statesman who served as the country’s leader from independence in 1956 to 1987.
For a national capital, with a metropolitan area population approaching 3 million, Tunis is an easy place to navigate. If you stay in a downtown hotel, as I did, much of what you want to see and do is within walking distance, including the Medina (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). If you want to buy something (most anything), it’ll be there. Often, craftsmen (think leather workers and metalsmiths) are plying their trade in the front of their shops.
Headed other places? Perhaps Carthage or Sidi Bou Said for an afternoon? Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful, and (although I didn’t ride it) there’s a tram system that’s supposed to be easy to figure out.
The Hotel Carlton, built in 1926 with an Art Nouveau façade, is completely modern on the inside. It’s air conditioned (a most welcome amenity in North Africa). Rooms have flat screen televisions with both local and international channels, bathrooms with a shower or a tub, and original artwork hanging over the beds. An outlet over the desk facilitates laptops and phone chargers. There’s complementary WiFi throughout the hotel.
It’s obvious that Tunisia was once a French colony (note the French “accent” in the hotel lobby furnishings, above). Although Arabic is spoken, almost everyone involved with tourists also speaks French — and, usually, English. As an American woman on my own, I felt perfectly comfortable walking the streets during the day (and I wasn’t the only woman without hijab).
Cab drivers used their meters without prompting — and I did use taxis to go to dinner. Every cuisine in the world is on offer in this most cosmopolitan city.
Single rooms at the Hotel Carlton are about $54, and doubles are about $70 — including a plentiful buffet breakfast with European and Mediterranean choices (both the croissants and the dates were divine). You can make a reservation on the hotel’s website (both MasterCard and Visa are accepted) or via one of the usual booking sites such as Expedia or Hotels.com.
(Photos by Susan McKee)