Of all the places we visited in Tunisia, and we traveled the country as extensively as possible in our two week driving trip, Sidi Bou Said was both the most beautiful and the most touristy city we went to. The contrast of the striking white buildings with the deep azure blue window dressings and ornately decorated doors is mesmerizing. It is hard to take the eyes away from the scene, and equally hard to not take an amazing photo in almost any direction you point. One has the feeling that the city is a mixture of Greek Island, what I imagine Santorini must look like, with an Ottoman twist to the architecture–beautifully simple and elegant at the same time. But walking through the pedestrian zone is as bad as any major tourist site in the world.
We were accosted by hawkers pushing everything from dinner on their terrace restaurant, to a chance to hold a hunting falcon your arm. I’m pretty good at avoiding pushy trinket dealers so they weren’t a big problem, but the couple with the falcon were extremely obnoxious, following us the length of the road and disrupting our explorations. We finally found a restaurant with a bustling terrace overlooking the ocean and no pushy waiters out front so we escaped the “hawker” for the cushy confines of the sun-soaked terrace. A tip for travelers–if there is a waiter out front trying to entice people into the restaurant, don’t go in. There’s usually a reason why no one is going in of their own accord. We enjoyed some delicious food and some even better views and angles of the city of blue and white. By the time we left the falcon was nowhere to be seen. We were able to peak down alleyways, into perfectly sculptured courtyard gardens, and of course, photograph the equally famous doors of Sidi Bou Said.
We hadn’t had to make reservations for accommodations anywhere along the route so we were surprised to discover there were no rooms at the inn, or the hotel, or the guest house, or the hostel, or even the manger. So we cut short our stay in this scenic but crowded little town and drove on up the coast. I hear if you stay in the town, the tourist drain out by nightfall and you’ll have the place to yourself. That sounds like the way to go!