Sidi Bou Said – Tunisia

On a Clifftop, a Coastal Village of Great Charm

Its very name makes you smile. Sidi Bou Said is a painting-perfect blue-and-white Tunisian village that has drawn tourists for two and a half centuries, yet one whose silent back streets retain their simple charm.

The view of the indigo-blue Mediterranean below blends with an im­maculate blue sky and the town’s brass studded sky-blue wooden doors. It’s almost too intense against the dazzling whitewashed, domed houses smothered in bougainvillea.

Discovered by wealthy French and other European ex-pats at the turn of the 19th century, and again in 1942 by André Gide, Sidi could have been overbuilt had not the government issued orders in 1915 to preserve its character.

They have been surpris­ingly effective: very little here is not wonderfully Tunisian, except the tourists. The irony is that non-Muslims were not permitted to roam these streets until 1820, when followers of Abu Said lifted a centuries-old ban. Abu Said (who died here in 1231 and is buried in the local mosque) was a teacher of Sufism and was adopted by the anti-Christian Corsair pirates as their protector against the European infidels – the very ones that now flock here for the almost obligatory mint-tea-with-a-view on the open terrace of the much-vaunted Café des Nattes.

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