Travel: Fezzing with city life

Alongside the tourist hotels at Sousse, Tunisia, is a teeming North African town with good-natured bazaar traders and a natty line in headwear, writes Annie Bennett

Sousse is a big package tour destination, but don't let that put you off. This is a proper Tunisian town which just happens to have a resort attached. The touristy bit is quite straightforward, with a strip of hotels based with varying success on the vernacular style - you know, lots of arches, fountains and tiles, that sort of thing. As you saunter along the pristine promenade towards the town centre, however, the carefree holiday atmosphere is rudely brushed aside by the mayhem typical of a North African city.

The clash of cultures comes to a head at the Place Farhat Hached, a vast space bombed into existence by the Allied Forces. The lack of planning is painfully obvious: the square looks as if the pieces of several different jigsaws have been jammed into place by a recalcitrant toddler.

The bottom end skirts the harbour, but there are no fancy yachts to gawp at or colourful fishing boats to photograph. This is a working port, full of cargo ships that dwarf the neighbouring buildings. The centre of the square is a chaotic mass of tooting cars and filthy buses, which have to give way to the trains trundling to and from the main station plonked at the top end. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a plane swooping out from a gap between the buildings, Hong Kong style. Now this is the kind of challenge Richard Rogers could really get his teeth into. Not just an urban hotchpotch to hammer into some sort of shape, but loads of historical references for Lord Rogers to play with too.

It is quite a relief that one side is what you'd expect to find in the main square of a large town: a broad pavement lined with cafes. Although the ubiquitous cappuccino has frothed its way on to the menus, it is much more traditional to drink a capucin, the doll-sized local version.

Opposite is the ancient stone wall of the medina, where the bombing of half a century ago has left a broad gap in the fortifications. I wandered in and came upon the Ribat, built a thousand years ago for the warrior- monks who used to defend the town. Displaying a singular lack of monastic tolerance and restraint, the brothers used to dissuade their enemies from entering the fortress by pouring boiling oil on to them through slits in the walls.

Nowadays, the locals have different ways of dealing with foreign visitors. As you walk through the souks you get bombarded by shopkeepers desperate to draw your attention to their stuffed camels and gaudy kaftans. Unlike in Morocco, however, there is no aggression and they take your lack of enthusiasm in good part, shouting "Cheap and nasty!" or "Cheap price, Asda price" as you pass by.

Something that is cheap, but neither nasty nor available in Asda, is the Tunisian fez - or chechia as it is called here. While a lot of older men still wear the traditional dark crimson felt hats, most young people regard them as seriously naff and you rarely see anyone under 40 wearing one.

Unsure of how to ask for the one I wanted in French, I eventually ventured into a tiny workshop and blurted out the unequivocal words "Colonel Gaddafi". I emerged with a black chechia that feels a bit like a damp dog, but fortunately does not smell like one.

Sousse is in the heart of the fertile region known as the Sahel, which means Sea of Olives. Strangely, however, it can be rather difficult to buy olive oil here.

With so many tourists around, you would think some enterprising soul would have packaged it in dinky little bottles with fancy labels, but it is not even sold in supermarkets, just in unmarked shops called huileries (there is one to the left of the main entrance to the medina). A litre of dense, fragrant extra-virgin oil costs about pounds 1 - recycled pop bottles are provided free - and is a much more evocative souvenir than a stuffed cameln

Sousse facts

Getting there: GB Airways, an affiliate of British Airways (0345 222111), has flights from Gatwick to Tunis each Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Tunis Air (0171-734 7644) flies from Heathrow on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. From 3 to 24 June, Tunis Air has a special fare of pounds 178.60 return, including tax. BA has a World Offer of pounds 192.70 (plus pounds 5 each way if you travel on Saturdays). You must book before 4 June to get this fare.

From Tunis, there are frequent trains south to Sousse.

Cheaper deals may be available on charter flights between the UK and Tunisia, in particular to Monastir - only a few miles from Sousse, and accessible on the "Sahel Metro"

Further information: Tunisian National Tourist Office, 77a Wigmore Street, London W1H 9LJ (0171-224 5561). The best map is Michelin sheet 972, covering Algeria and Tunisia. The most recently published guidebook is Tunisia Handbook (Footprint pounds 10.99), which appeared in January this yearn

Suggested Topics
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick