WANDER through the Tunis Medina’s labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets and you’ll pass a myriad of colourful doors embedded in the ancient walls.
Behind one of these is the beautiful, historic Dar Ben Gacem guest house where I’m looking forward to lunch.
But first, my hosts want me to join in the sourcing and preparation of local produce for the feast.
So, before I am let loose in the kitchen, it’s off to the Tunisian capital’s sprawling food market to buy lamb, couscous, vegetables and salad.
The market showcases an abundance of regional farm produce, from fresh meat and fish to vegetables and fruit, at prices you can only dream of in UK supermarkets.
Back at the guest house, the hosts casually mention that Jamie Oliver was cooking at the very same marble table just a couple of weeks earlier, so no pressure.
He was here to sample and celebrate the country’s cuisine for his new show, Jamie Oliver Cooks The Mediterranean, due to be screened on Channel 4month.
Soon, my hosts’ expectations of this new “cook” come crashing down as I join chef Amel in cutting up the vegetables and quickly expose my less-than-dextrous knife skills.
Fortunately, she is very patient and despite my amateur efforts, we produce a sumptuous dish of spiced, slow-cooked lamb with couscous, peppers and potatoes — a Tunisian favourite.
Dar Ben Gacem has seven traditionally appointed rooms surrounding a beautiful courtyard where the cooking takes place and meals are served.
It’s remarkable value, too, at £50 a night per room including breakfast — especially given its location in the heart of the vibrant old town.
While British tourists love the Mediterranean beach resorts of Sousse, Hammamet and Monastir, the capital Tunis is definitely worth a visit as part of a twin-centre trip this autumn, when temperatures are warm, not intensely hot, but sunshine is guaranteed.
The base for our stay is the 5H El Mouradi Hotel in the Tunis suburb of Gammarth.
It’s a modern, slick, facility-packed hotel with four restaurants and a spa backing on to a private beach boasting the biggest swimming pool I’ve ever seen, as well as a heated indoor one for chillier days.
A week in late September for two costs around £325pp with breakfast.
From here we headed to the outskirts of the city, to an almond farm which also hosts guests in characterful accommodation sur-rounded by nature.
Dar Zaghouan sits in ten acres of almond trees with flowers from the farm’s botanical gardens used to produce beauty products and teas.
We enjoy a typical Tunisian feast overlooking gardens and a swimming pool.
With its 20 guest rooms, Dar Zaghouan is claimed to be Tunisia’s first eco-hotel and accommodation is from just £50 a night.
It’s a tranquil place filled with the scents of nature, perfect for families or couples, where you can buy beauty products and delicious bread and cakes made on the farm.
And the gastronomic treasures kept coming at Riviere d’Or, a unique shop selling Tunisia’s finest olivein the new upmarket Tunis suburb of Les Berges du Lac.
Founded in 1928 by Abdessalem Louedi senior, Riviere d’Or is now run with a continued passion by the fourth generation of the family, including sisters Nouha and Mariem Louedi.
It has won international prizes for its oils, but also for the beauty of its bottles and packaging, including one bottle in a dipped-gold casket.
And yet it is remarkable value, costing just £12 for premium organic extra virgin olive oil from its private estate collection.
More polite than pushy
A must for history buffs to explore are the remains of the ancient city of Carthage.
It was destroyed during the Punic war in 146 BCE and various sites are scattered across the Bay of Tunis, where you can stroll among a tumble of crumbling columns and piles of marble with stunning views of the Mediterranean.
From the centre of town you can take the Tunis Light Railway direct to various Carthage stops, although some of them are close enough to be walked between if it’s not too hot.
Also worth a visit are the towering remains of the 80-mile Roman Aqueduct of Carthage, which once brought water from the mountains to the heart of Tunis.
Farther out from Tunis, one of the prettiest villages has to be clifftop gem Sidi Bou Said, overlooking the Mediterranean.
Its narrow cobbled streets are filled with pristine whitewashed buildings, all with blue doors and shutters, a local planning requirement to maintain the village character.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you were walking through the streets of Mykonos or Santorini.
The bustling streets are filled with artisans selling crafts, who are more polite than pushy, and street cafes where you can sip strong Arabic coffee and watch the world go by.
There’s a choice of restaurants, too, with meals available from as little as £7 — a nice surprise, given the village’s popularity.
Just 15 minutes’ drive from central Tunis, it also has several boutique hotels and a small but pretty beach.
Of course, if you want a break simply lounging by the pool or on the beach, you’ll be well served in Tunisia.
But the country’s capital also has lots to offer and a twin-centre trip this autumn will offer up the best of all worlds.