Sananda Sahoo checks into a new luxury boutique hotel in the ancient medina of Tunis.
Hotel Insider: Dar Ben Gacem, Tunis
After a gruelling attempt to convey the location to my taxi driver, the medina – Tunis’s old town – marks a break from the urban sprawl. Don’t let the bumpy ride over the cobbled streets put you off. The area, after all, dates back centuries. Dar Ben Gacem, which opened on Rue du Pacha in September last year , is in a 300-year-old restored private residence – the charm is that you’re sharing a slice of history.
The medina dates back to the eighth century. Despite a school and a couple of restaurants nearby, Rue du Pacha is quiet during the day. Evenings are also calm and the only people that you see are local residents going about their business, quite a contrast to the traffic snarls and crowded streets right outside the medina. Cobbled streets and private residences in various stages of repair lend to the storied atmosphere. Hemmed in by residences, parking is not available at the hotel, and taxi drivers can be a bit grumpy to come here because of the traffic. Unless you’re coming from the airport, because of the possibility of overcharging you. At times, taxis dropped me off at the entrance to the medina, which is only a short walk from the hotel.
I stayed in two different rooms. The first was the deluxe Chamla, a cosy hideaway at the end of a black-and-white-tiled corridor. The room is off a small, square enclave, its walls decorated with colourful, original tiles. Chamla has a smaller unit with a glass roof and includes a bathroom with cheerful, green, hand-painted doors. The smaller, basic Houita, on the other hand, is too small for decoration, but it’s the only room with a window that opens on to the street. The hotel has seven rooms, including four luxury suites, which have intricately-carved gypsum decorations above the double beds, original painted wooden ceilings and more decorative tiles. Most of the rooms look out into the corridor and one into the big courtyard. Outdoor views are not a strong point of the hotel, but the rooms that I stayed in are comfortable and airy enough.
The hotel is quiet, though I did meet a few guests during the day. The rooftop offers medina views.
The staff are helpful, and the deputy manager gave me a tour of the house, pointing out the historic markings, such as the Ottoman Empire sign of a half moon on original marble pillars. The staff are neatly dressed and well-informed about the area, including transportation options.
Currently, the hotel has the option only for breakfast, which is included in the room rate. It is continental and filling, with half-boiled egg, baguette, cream, butter, jam or honey, a pastry or its variant and a pot of coffee. For other meals, one has to try the nearby cafes, and there are not many. The freshly prepared fast food available in the souq includes shawarmas and French fries. There’s also a pizzeria.
The atmosphere. Originally dating from the Ottomans’ annexing of Tunisia, the house bears testimony to the past. A huge wooden door leads you to a narrow passageway and the reception. Decorated with old pottery and dark furniture, the hall leads past another, smaller door and into a courtyard. The white walls are covered with Tunisian tiles, in a riot of blue, green and yellow.
It’s hard to get a taxi at times from the medina. Also, limited options to eat out.
I will be back.
The bottom line
Chamla costs from €240 (Dh1,193) per night for two people, including taxes. The El Alia and Esfina luxury suites are €400 (Dh1,988); the royal Echekh and Ennajma suites are €500 (Dh2,485). 38 Rue du Pacha, Tunis 1006, Tunisia, 00216 71 563 742, www.darbengacem.com
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