I’ve spotted the first green shoots fighting their way through the thawing ground, the clocks are going forward this weekend and there’s been a definite rise in the level of tweetiness of our garden birds. This can mean only one thing – Spring has sprung! Well, it’s certainly in the process of doing so anyway. About time too, after the record breakingly freezing winter we’ve endured I think the nation is in dire need of a blast of sunshine. Living on this northerly wind battered island, however, we all know we can’t count on it – no matter how many experts tell us ‘this is definitely going to be the hottest summer on record, no really it is, I know I said that last year but I mean it this time, I’ve got a graph to prove it, look!’ So we must take matters into our own hands, which means leaving these shores and heading for warmer climes. Time to book the summer holiday!
And it just so happens I have a recommendation for you. So let us assess our needs. As a wine lover (you are one, right?) you will want somewhere where you can enjoy the local tipple at reasonable prices, where the sun is considerably more shiny than at home, where there are plenty of cool things to keep you occupied and the people are freindly, welcoming and a good laugh. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tunisia! I have just returned from a fortnight in this brilliant country (apologies for the lack of tattling whilst I was away) and was bowled over by the place. If you like old things (and I mean reeeally old) you’ve got fantastically well preserved Roman remains coming out of your ears. Beaches? Oh yes, plenty of them, all white sand and blue seas. Mountains? Yep, got a ton of them too, jutting up all over the place. Like spending money? Oh the stall holders in the medinas will gladly help you out with that. Not mentioning any names but somebody I was with checked in two bags on the way out and four on the way home. Rugs, ceramics, tagines, brass trays, teapots, Star Wars robes. You can really sate your thirst for spending in this place.
And what about the food? Barbecued seafood, tuna (by the lorryload), huge delicious charcoal grilled steaks for less than a tenner, cous cous filled with spiced veg and the most tender slow cooked lamb. They like food and they do it well. At first we made the mistake of ordering starters – we soon realised there was no need. The Tunisians have a sort of pre-meal meal. Where we might have a basket of bread and a piddly little bowl of olives before the major chow down commences, they bring to the table dish after dish of spiced, fried, grilled, pureed, toasted, marinated, brined, baked, gratinated, skewered….oh you name it they make it into a tasty little morsel and serve it up. A less polite diner could easily gorge themselves on a feast from these little bites then leave without ordering a thing off the menu. Of course the thought never crossed my mind.
And who knew Tunisia made such excellent wine? Certainly not me. I’ve seen the odd bottle on a few online retailers’ lists but never heard anything about it. As a country with a largely Muslim population you’d be forgiven for thinking wine was pretty low on the list of priorities, but you’d be wrong. (There’s some interesting info about alcohol in Tunisia here.) But then again, with all those Romans lounging about drunk in their villas way back when, I guess it makes sense that the winemaking craft has survived to this day. We certainly saw a fair few mosaics illustrating the long heritage of the vine in the country.
If you lean towards the richer, spicier reds, with elegant oak in perfect balance with the fruit – this is the stuff for you. We drank Tunisian wine every night and were not disappointed by a single bottle. Vieux Magonwas our star choice (and I now have a couple of bottles stashed away under the stairs for later). Smooth, velvety red with lovely cocoa and vanilla oak. (As always, click on the wine to find out more.) We also tried a couple of whites, which tend to be made from Ugni Blanc. Whilst I didn’t think the quality was quite as high as the fantastic reds, they were aromatic, refreshing and perfect with seafood. What more could you want from a holiday wine? It’s always fun to seek out some of the local booze and so I enthusiastically ordered a Boukha Gold. It’s a fig brandy, quite similar to Hungarian Palinka though a lot smoother and with more flavour from the fruit. After my second glass I decided I really quite liked it. Like alcoholic fig rolls, though that makes it sound utterly disgusting. We also tried a nifty little aperitif – Muscat de Carthage. We’d visited Carthage (or what’s left of it) a few days earlier so it was quite a nice touch to find this little tipple. A really dark raisiny wine, with lovely gingerbread and cooked pineapple notes. A most pleasant way to start the evening, before embarking on the epic pre-dinner feast.
What can I say? I can’t recommend the place highly enough. It’s appeal is extremely wide and it’d make the perfect destination for pretty much anyone as far as I can see. Particularly (and unexpectedly) for wine lovers. So if you’re bored of Bordeaux, tired of Tuscany and really over Rioja (that one doesn’t work so well) then give Tunisia a try. Plus, riding through the Sahara on a temperamental camel is a pretty good way to get to the pub.
If you’re not convinced yet, I have an ace up my sleeve. Did I mention large parts of Star Wars were filmed in Tunisia? Yes, you can visit the locations, recite the lines and make swishy light sabre noises to your heart’s content. And let me tell you I did……
Behold tippletattle herself in the very same underground house that Luke Skywalker’s aunt & uncle lived in on Tatooine! (or Tataouine if you want t be Tunisian about it) Swishhh swooosshhh, zzzzzappp…..