Long beaches, old stones, high palm trees… Sousse is a city ripe with seductions where entertainment and exoticism coexist harmoniously. As a major modern city, it’s one of Tunisia’s most lively coastal resorts. As a historic city, it has conserved a magnificent medina and exceptional monuments from the Middle Ages. Just a few minutes away, a tourist town with Andalusian charm has been built especially for holiday-goers, around a marina: the integrated resort of Port El Kantaoui.
What to see ?
Sea and history
Listed by UNESCO as an example of World Heritage, the Sousse medina ascends in layers along the hillside, facing the sea. It’s a pleasure to explore the alleyways with an atmosphere of a time long past, haggling in the souks. Dominated by the tall silhouette of the Khalef Tower, the old town has kept its medieval stone walls and numerous monuments that bear witness to its past as a stronghold: the Ribat, small fort and religious retreat, the fortress-like Great Mosque, the imposing Kasbah. Third biggest city in Tunisia, Sousse has a lively town centre with numerous places to shop and entertainment venues, and a superb seafront promenade. A few minutes away, explore the docks of the marina in Port El Kantaoui. Breathe in the air of the surrounding countryside: around the city can be found fields, villages and especially the vast olive groves that have given the region its wealth since ancient times.
What to do ?
Clubbing or culture
White sand, swimming pools, water sports and activities… the high number of hotels in Sousse respond to every holidaymaker’s desire. Beautiful spas and thalassotherapy centres will take care of your well-being in winter as in summer. Well-known nightclubs, three casinos, a wide choice of lounges and restaurants make Sousse an animated place to stay. Port El Kantaoui, equipped with a scuba diving centre, is a popular stop for boaters. In the medina, a number of exceptional monuments are worth a visit (see p. 38); some offer a panoramic view across the city. The archaeological museum of the Kasbah, completely modernised, exhibits Roman mosaics of great beauty, while the Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions shows the everyday life of the inhabitants and artisans of Sousse in the form of a wax museum. Around Sousse, don’t miss visiting three other historic cities: Monastir, Kairouan and Mahdia.
What to eat ?
Sousse is at the heart of a major olive growing region. In addition, olive oil is present in countless local recipes: salads, stewed dishes and pastries. A coastal town, Sousse will delight you with flavourful fish, squid and octopus dishes. If you prefer a more typical lamb dish, try the borghol sahli, dehulled and steamed wheat, accompanied by meat and vegetables. Finish with a mint tea accompanied by a maqroudh from Kairouan or another type of pastry. But in Sousse, an eclectic and open large city, you can also find excellent places to eat sushi, tapas or Italian specialities. A variety of restaurants await you in the tourist complex, in the city’s palaces, or on the quays of Port El Kantaoui with a view of the sailing boats.
Where to sleep ?
Holiday club or aparthotel
From Sousse to Port El Kantaoui, the immense seafront is dotted with big coastal hotels for a holiday of your dreams. From palace to club, they offer all the activities and services that you may desire. For more independence, you can stay in an aparthotel on the marina in Port El Kantaoui. And if you are looking for more charm and privacy, some small hotels and guesthouses open their doors in the medina or next to the beautiful surrounding beaches.
Mosaics and fortresses
In ancient times, the Sousse region was prosperous and famous for its magnificent mosaics, exhibited in the city’s archaeological museum. As for the medieval city, it grew up in the 9th century around the Ribat, a place of religious retreat for Sufi adepts (see p. 43). Close to Kairouan, the former capital of Tunisia, Sousse was a military port: from here the Muslim conquest of Sicily in 829 was launched. The Great Mosque, devoid of a minaret, is an excellent example of the architecture of this era, just like its perfectly preserved city walls, the Ribat and the Kasbah (fortress) dominated by the Khalef Tower. Another remarkable monument dating from the Middle Ages is the large sculpted and striped dome, Kobba el K’haoui, which is next to the Museum of Folk Art and Traditions. In the modern age, Sousse remains a major commercial port.
Did you know that Tunisia is the leading olive oil exporter outside of the European Union? At the end of the Ancient era, Tunisia was the leading olive oil supplier in the whole Roman Empire. Even today, the country landscapes are dotted with olive trees that could be centuries old. Olive oil has always been one of the major sources of wealth in Tunisia, and the Sousse region, an important centre of production, as wrote the 11th century Andalusian geographer Al-Bakri: “Among the marvels of Kairouan, one must stress the importance of its olive grove”. Each winter, the olives are taken to the press where they are crushed by a grindstone, then pressed to produce extra virgin oil. So take advantage of your stay to taste the delicious Tunisian oil, tasty and fruity. Real experts like it best pure, with a piece of traditional bread. Excellent for your health, it is the principal ingredient in the “Mediterranean diet” whose benefits are well-established.
International airports in Monastir (20 km from Sousse) and Enfidha (35 km from Port El Kantaoui). A train line links Sousse to Tunis, Monastir, Mahdia, Sfax. A regional train line allows easy access to Monastir or to Mahdia passing through the villages of Lemta (archaeological site) and Moknine (pottery workshops).
The souks of Sousse are stuffed with Tunisian artisanal products like the thick carpets of Kairouan, the engraved copper lamps, the embroidered dresses, the tea sets in decorated ceramic, the multicoloured leather slippers… Take note of the beautiful objects in olive wood: statues, cutlery and kitchen utensils. Stock up on oil from the olive groves in the region.