We’ve stayed in some pretty interesting places in the last few years in Africa, but we have to admit to being skeptical about the idea of spending a night at Dar Hassine Allani. It was, after all, the first time that we’d slept in a museum. Nestled between the winding white alleys of the medina of Kairouan – the fourth holiest city in the world, according to Islam – Dar Hassine Allani (rooms from US$65) was originally a house owned by an important Islamic scholar and teacher, before he transformed it into a museum showcasing 18th century daily life in Kairouan. Visitors can visit the living and dining areas, sip mint tea in the central courtyard, explore the basement and of course, bed down in the three ancient sleeping chambers.
As we pulled up in front of the medina, we had more than a few questions about this new kind of hotel experience. Would there be labels and plaques attached to the artefacts in our room? (Yes, as it turned out.) Would we be woken early in the morning by visitors peering into our bed? (No, thankfully.) Would our room be haunted? (No, to the best of our knowledge.) Would we be brave enough to venture into the empty basement after dark? (No, absolutely not.) And lastly: would we really sleep well, knowing that our bed was an ancient museum piece? (Yes, and it was the best night’s sleep we’d had in days.)
Although a stay here is comfortable, quirky and pretty special, it’s not luxurious. The bathrooms (with clean shower stalls) are shared with other guests, and at night you might meet the occasional mosquito, but the fourposter cutout wall beds do come with nets. If you have a choice, opt for the Main Chamber, which has two doubles and ornate furnishings. The Little Girls’ Room across the way comes with two single beds and eighteenthcentury outfits hanging in the closet.
Throughout our stay we were served sticky date cakes, fresh tea and given orange blossom water with which to freshen up. A hearty breakfast is served each morning on the rooftop terrace, which has spectacular views out over the medina.
The charming family who run this museum-house couldn’t be more considerate. It can be a little hard to find, so your best bet is to take down the number and have them meet you once you reach the Grande Mosque, Kairouan’s main calling card. Dar Hassine Allani is about a 10-minute walk from there inside the medina, which itself is spectacular, with long haunting alleys, beautiful carpet shops and a traditional souk complete with old-fashioned pastry stores, cobblers, milliners and leather traders. So many tourists come to Kairouan and only see the Great Mosque, but a stay at Dar Hassine Allani ensures that you get to experience the medina as well — and that comes highly recommended.