One lays claim to Star Wars, the other to Casablanca, but which of these exotic north African stars is most alluring? Our duelling experts help you decide.
By AMY COOPER
Morocco is Hollywood-famous, thanks to Bogie and Bergman. Sure, they'll always have Casablanca, but Tunisia really rocks my kasbah. Why? The clue's on the Mediterranean map, where stiletto boot Italy dropkicks Malta towards the North African coast and Algeria seems to be trying to catch it with two hands. The right hand, reaching for Italy, is Tunisia.
Just a swim from Europe, Tunisia throughout history was a hotbed for humanity's two main forms of cultural exchange: slaughter and shopping. The legacy: a Euro-Afro-Arab tagine of music, food and architecture you can savour today among the cobbled mazes of medinas and souks in Tunis, Sousse, Kairouan and cities where every step offers a new angle on antiquity: here a ninth-century mosque, there a Roman bathhouse or an Ottoman hammam.
The Roman relics are a revelation. Carthage, as once it was known, was the Empire's entry point to Africa - and the invaders didn't arrive quietly. They built so many grand structures that Tunisia is almost more like ancient Rome than Rome itself. Exhibit A: El Jem Colosseum, the third largest Roman colosseum ever built. With capacity for 43,000 spectators, El Jem is also the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre today - and even better, you can roam its expanse without the crowds that congest Rome's version. El Jem has about 150,000 annual visitors compared to the big daddy's 7 million.
Tunisia throughout history was a hotbed for humanity's two main forms of cultural exchange: slaughter and shopping.
Near the capital, Tunis, you can wander among the remains of BCE superpower Carthage with remarkably intact baths, theatres, mosaics, basilicas and the port where a mighty naval fleet backed up by 300 elephants tried to repel the neighbours. Tunisia's history is the gift that keeps on giving. While other countries occasionally unearth some bones, this one yields entire cities, like Neapolis, a 1700-year-old submerged citadel discovered in 2017.
Prefer to stay on the surface? Tunisia has all the Euro Mediterranean's sunkissed sands, spa-bath seas and coastal resort vibes, minus the overtourism, plus desert landscapes and exotic Arabian aura. And camels.
On Cape Bon Peninsula, Hammamet is a beach paradise with palatial modern hotels. Sidi Bou Said, with gleaming white buildings on a turquoise backdrop, makes Santorini look second-rate. Tunisia's famed thalassotherapy retreats are today's Roman baths.
And while Morocco might have Casablanca, Tunisia has Star Wars. The desert dunes feature in several of the movies as Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine, shot mainly in the real Tunisian Berber settlement Tataouine. Diehards love Hotel Sidi Driss, a prop-filled shrine to Star Wars that lists its address as Planet Tatooine, South Tunisia. That's going to impress your youngsters a lot more than Rick's Bar. Here's looking at Chewbacca, kid.
By MAL CHENU
If your only exposure to this intriguing country is via an 80-year-old Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman movie, you need to know things have changed.
Kicking Nazis out generally improves places, and this was true for Casablanca, where you can now visit Rick's Café Américain within the walls of the Old Medina, listen to As Time Goes By being played on the grand piano and see who walks into this gin joint, of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world.
Casablanca is just one of Morocco's marvellous metropolises. The others you've probably heard of - Fes, Tangier, Rabat and Marrakesh - all offer historic, cultural and gastronomic delights.
If you do just one major city, make it Marrakesh. Hire a local guide and haggle at the energetic souks. Visit the Majorelle botanical garden and its Cubist villa restored by Yves Saint-Laurent, now home to the Berber Museum. Check out the extravagant Bahia Palace, where Grand Vizier Bou Ahmed housed his four wives and 24 concubines.
The heart of the Medina quarter in Marrakesh is Jemaa El-Fna Square, which is filled with a heady mix of grill restaurants, street theatre and snake charmers cajoling cobras with whiny flutes. Only one voice rises above the din of the square, that of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from the nearby 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque.
Moroccan tucker is an adventure too. And very Moorish. (Sorry).
The finest and most dependable accommodation in Morocco is the riad. These hotels or guesthouses are often built within restored mansions around interior gardens centred on a fountain and are a welcome oasis at the end of the day. One recommended riad, while we're still in Marrakesh, is the Condé Nast Gold-Listed boutique El Fenn, where an ornate rooftop bar overlooks Koutoubia Mosque, Jemaa El-Fna and the Atlas Mountains in the distance.
Moroccan tucker is an adventure too. And very Moorish. (Sorry). You don't have to slurp snail soup, eat the entire baked sheep's head or have your tagine with goat unless you want to be supremely authentic, but whatever your protein of choice, expect plenty of fragrance, courtesy of cumin, saffron, cinnamon and cloves. Pretty much everything comes with khobz, couscous and mint tea.
Beyond the cities, you'll find a rich cultural tapestry, especially if you have a crack at traditional carpet weaving in the Berber village of N'kob. The landscapes are as breathtaking as they are varied. You can trek through - and even ski - the rugged Atlas Mountains and warm your toes in the otherworldly Sahara Desert. And you can have beach holidays on two seas, maybe in the resort town of Agadir on the pounding Atlantic, or at one of the many resorts along the calmer Tangier coast on the Med.
So get your babouches on and head to Morocco. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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