The village of Sidi Bou Said, on top of a hill, stands out from all over Tunisia for its whitewashed walls with turquoise doors and windows and an imposing view over the Gulf of Tunis, which is well worth the effort of climbing through cobbled streets full of merchants waiting for tourists to present jewelry, perfume bottles, and aromatic oils. It looks like a Greece I haven’t visited yet. No doubt a place not to be missed on a visit to Tunisia.
Sidi Bou Said was named after a Sufism, Sidi Bou Said (1156-1231), who ended up staying there on his return from the pilgrimage to Mecca. The village, formerly known as Jebel el-Manar, then became a Sufi center attracting pilgrims from all over Tunisia. Although today there are no more processions to the Sufi saint’s tomb, the grave and mosque are still visited by the Muslim faithful.
Sidi Chabaane Cafe, also known as Café des Delices, is perhaps the best café in Sidi Bou Said overlooking the whole village and gulf of Tunis. Don’t miss a visit and try a glass of mint tea and the traditional pine kernel, but watch out, although I didn’t notice then, there are now several reports in TripAdvisor that prices are over-inflated.
The best time to visit may be at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day as with the constant arrival and departure of excursions, tourists can easily fill the space. When I was there, it was so easy to lose track of time with that immense view over the Gulf that the return was rushed through alleys full of tourists on tour or shopping, and yet I was the last to get into the tour van… But it was worth the effort, even with the scolding by the guide of the excursion.
Another well-known coffee is Café des Nattes, perhaps even the most popular but not with a view like Café Sidi Chabaane. It is situated where Hussain ben Ali Bei once had a mosque built in the early 18th century. The entrance to the mosque was through a magnificent staircase where the coffee is now.
The village Sidi Bou Said has grown over time in size and beauty, filling itself with freshly-washed flowers and walls that reflect the strong midday light and still remains today as an artist’s village, full of galleries and studios.
The summer day in Sidi Bou Said is only broken by a long siesta when a long and quiet silence seizes the cobbled streets where women, wrapped in veils, disappear behind the blue doors of the houses. If the heat is not too intense, it is a good time to explore the center of the village where only the traders keep the doors open.
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The whitewashed walls and the turquoise doors and windows are due to the Baron d’Erlanger. At first glance, they all look identical, but they’re not. They all differ in size and ornamentation from each other. Some of the most popular motifs inscribed on doors and windows include lunars, stars, and minarets.
Sidi Bou Said is still known for its bird cages, unfortunately, the most beautiful ones don’t fit in the suitcase to bring back home, however, there are smaller versions that can bring as a souvenir. The cages are made of wire and mostly painted white.
The shape of the cages resembles the curved railings on the wooden shutters of traditional Arab houses. These cages are used by Tunisians because they like to have pet birds, or they are used as decorative elements that you can find at hotel entrances, for example.
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Location of Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Google Maps Coordinates: 36.870220, 10.341268 | Sidi Bou Said on Google Maps
GPS Coordinates: 36°52’12.8″N 10°20’28.6″E
Cafe des Delices in Sidi Bou Said
Google Maps Coordinates: 36.87009,10.351237 | Café des Delices no Google Maps
GPS Coordinates: 36°52’12.3″N 10°21’04.5″E