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I discovered a couple years ago that if you have a penchant for ancient Roman ruins, it’s far better to go to Tunisia than Italy. The quality of preservation is far superior to many Italian sites and the lack of tourists is more refreshing than lemonade on a hot day. It’s difficult in Italy to immerse yourself in silent contemplation of the past, in your imagination, for all the tourists distracting your thoughts. There were many spectacular ruins in Tunisia that were virtually deserted, but Bulla Regia was my favorite. With no red ropes or iron gates to restrict our exploration, we meandered through a city of well-preserved Roman villas, most built underground to provide relief from the heat and still containing perfectly intact floor mosaics. We shared the extensive ruins with one family of 3, a couple shepherds, and a handful of wandering goats.
“Old Guermessa is up there,” the locals advised us when we asked, pointing to a rocky hilltop. Needing the 4wd capability of our rented pickup truck, we climbed the steep path. The afternoon was sliding into evening, turning the abandoned traditional ksar village a golden hue. In the arid climate, the homes dug into the hillsides had not deteriorated; inside we found books, school papers, lanterns, suitcases, tomato tins, accounting ledgers, olive press equipment, clothing and more, as if the people had moved out only yesterday. I’ve always wished I was an explorer in the Golden Age of Exploration, discovering ancient “lost” cities. This day seemed like a dream come true. While in reality the population now lives only a short distance away from this traditional village, they could have been miles and centuries away.
Outside of Tozuer Tunisia in the middle of miles of dunes lies the now deserted but perfectly preserved set for one of the earliest Star Wars movies. While mostly just facade, the desert's lack of humidity has kept this place a virtual museum instead of creating a ruin. Our four wheel drive jeeps came over a large dune and we could see it from above. Moments later there was a lot of commotion and locals came on motorcycles and camels to offer us their handmade goods. They followed us down to the site (we became our own caravan!) and relaxed while we explored; a few chatted with us (our stilted French and their stilted English) and soon we were off - in search of a cold drink at the Chebika Oasis (not too far from here) and a view of the Mides Gorge. Stay in Tozuer, many options for activities including local markets, date palm plantations and camel riding - as well as ONE golf course (for those who can't give it up- LOL)
In 2008, I took my then 5-year old daughter to Tunisia to visit the family I lived with as an exchange student in 1987-88. That first time, as a teenager, was a trip that changed me completely! I wanted nothing less than to observe my daughter, at a much more open and malleable age, experiencing the sights, smells and experiences of REAL traveling. One highlight of the trip was visiting the Tourbet El Bey Mausoleum in the Tunis medina. While discussing the history with the caretaker, I caught a glimpse of my daughter, whirling like a dervish in one of the courtyards. The caretaker was as spellbound as I, insisting that she had felt the spirit of the place unlike anyone else he'd known! The other amazing moment came with the sound of the muezzin's call. I explained that if she sat quietly just outside the doorway, she could watch baba (father) pray. She did this and surprisingly stayed through the whole thing. While baba changed back into his day clothes, she demonstrated with amazing precision the prayer process, the stance, the bowing, the placement of the head on the floor, the lifting of hands, the murmuring. I was blown away. When baba came back, I told him what she had described, and from there we three had an amazing discussion of religion and the questions of life! Baba gave an amazing summary of religion, saying it was really all about three things: Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? My daughter got it completely!
Sit down! Have some tea! More tea! Rest your feet! The carpet sellers in Kairouan are all about your comfort… until it’s time for you to exit; then the pressure is on. Though it takes a dogged persistence not to give in to their sales tactics, it’s still worth stepping into one of these shops to watch a parade of beautiful carpets be unrolled before you. You are led past a Berber woman slowly tying the threads on a loom and told how long it takes her to laboriously make a carpet as you watch her hands move slowly, carefully. Having seen women in China use the same technique and work about 980 times faster, I knew this was a piece of salesmanship. If you are to buy one, stick to your bargaining skills! But don’t forego the experience of a carpet house.
The entrance to Kairouan (spiritual heart of Tunisia) is marked by four giant carpets (made of ceramic tile). If you have interest in handmade carpets (knotted or woven) this is the place in Tunisia. The souks here have everything you can imagine in the way of handicrafts and leather and metal work. Stay at the amazingly luxe Hotel La Kasbah; it is centrally located for all the shopping you could desire.
"Tourist claptrap," harrumph the grumpies in your travel group, dismissing the tables laid out with bowls and dishes and, yeah ok, keychains and the like. It's true that in every single town we visited in southern Tunisia (such as here in Tataouine), dozens of dainty bowls like these were stacked, hopeful and waiting to be purchased by groups of tourists. But I lingered over a few and chose a bowl I specifically liked, and chatted with the vendor who wrapped it carefully multiple times in newspaper, and carried it carefully through multiple airports in my carry-on. And now the bowl that is sitting in my home in the U.S., which was once one of many many many similar bowls, is one of my favorite possessions in the house and a permanent reminder of the market in Tunisia where I purchased it. So...just deal with that, grumps.
You can't come to the Sahara and not ride a camel through the dunes. Or, I'm sure you can, but would you want to? Also, the signs advertising camel treks - usually accompanied by packs of the bored-looking beasts themselves - are so ubiquitous throughout the region that you may as well hop on eventually. While you're indulging Lawrence-of-Arabia fantasies on a trek through the desert, it's also a great opportunity to chat with the guides, many of whom speak English and all of whom speak French. By the time you dismount your steed, you'll have had ample time to gather insight on good restaurants, cafes, or hotels at your destination. Nearly all towns on the Sahara tourism circuit have a "Zone Touristique" where you can work out a trek. While an hour on camelback outside of the town of Tozeur was enough for me, I'm told there are many opportunities for overnight trips as well.
one of the best things to do on any trip is to meet local people. one morning near the town of Tataouine, Tunisia we hiked up to a mountain top berber village. no running water, it was carried up from a well down near the road. no electricity, her tiny refrigerator and small old stove ran on propane. but Mauri was full of life and fun. we spent over an hour with her learning about her life. she has children in the city who would rather she live with them but she would rather live here in her home village. helpful neighbors haul her water up to her home far up in the village. here she shows us how her children keep in touch by pulling a cell phone from the folds of her traditional berber robes. she was one of several memorable characters we met as we traveled around Tunisia and it was especially enlightening to get their impressions of the Jasmine Revolution which started the domino effect of Arab Spring. so in the DO category I couldn't recommend a more intersting activity than talking to local people.
This is the oldest Jewish temple in the world. It is in Djerba island south east of Tunisia.Actually the temple was found as early as, the 6th century B.C. Just after the destruction of the Jerusalem first temple by the Assyrian Nabuchodnassar the II. The jews in this island are the real descendants of the israelites tribes and are believing not to be ashkenaze nor sepharads.Apart from the originality of the building itself, it is believed that the foundations of the edifice has and contains some stones brought by the founding forefathers, straight from Jerusalem temple. This temple and other sacred places rae subject to an annual event ( the hiloula) which is rather a pilgrimage for the whole jews of the European diaspora or of north african origins.
The ancient walled city of Tamerza, at the edge of a beautiful oasis, was abandoned in 1969 following 22 days of (unbelievable!) torrential downpour. A new, modern Tamerza was built to take its place, making use of the oasis in the middle of a canyon. The area boasts a few pretty waterfalls, but the panorama of Old Tamerza remains one of the most beautiful photo ops in Tunisia. Stop at Tamerza, as well as two other picturesque oases (Chebika and Midès) on your way to Tozeur, the largest city in the region and a veritable oasis for travelers looking for some creature comforts.
George Lukas, while searching for a home for the star wars hero Luke sky walker, found the city Tataouine very attractive. Already, he named the galaxy, far far away, the planet Tataouine. So this attractive structure on the photo is a Ksar, a granary, built some 1000 years ago , in the south east of Tunisia, where you still see some reamining 150 of them built by the berber inhabitants of this area. Where some of their villages could be visited today in the nearby area. Fawzi Zaga
This nearly 2000 years old, of an underground section of a Roman villa.In an archeological site known as: Bulla Regia ( Bulla the royal). In north west Tunisia. Reminds me, how we should learn from our ancestors, not how to save energy, but , how to live in perfect balance with our envirenment ! it would be an ecological answer for global warming ! do not miss the apportunity to visit the site, just marvellous !!
These guys skipped the afternoon tea for "the love of the game" (and the water pipe too maybe) We were spending the night in a camp in the Sahara south of Douz in Tunisia. It was several hours away from civilization and these men worked at the camp site. The afternoon was hot and the only shade available was next to the WC building. They set up their game and cooled off, while my friend and I hiked over a dune and scattered some of my mother's ashes so she could rest under the star filled sky for all time.
I was a bit weary and fatigued, i wanted to have a calm and rather special week end. The Residence, came to my mind as a place of choice. Very graceful, by its domed ceilings and alcoves.Looks like an Oasis, so calm and quiet, my room in the third floor ,decorated in nuanced tones, opens straight onto one of the pools, and the mediterranean sea crowns the whole view in front of my balcony. I will indulge myself either in the marine bath Spa, or the oriental bath, said to myself, before lying lazy on the fine sand beach, just to regain some vigour. On my way back to my room, a wonderful plate of local flavoured fruit was there on the desk, the temtation did not deter me from having diner in the lovely Zambretta beach restaurant, a goatronomical real treat, you have to be here to know what i really mean !
This charming Hotel, within the Medina ( the old Arab town from the 7th C AD), tells a special story , as the proprieotor himself a native of the Medina of Tunis, and belongs to a very known midle class family,the Belhouene's, who still have their photos decorating the vestibule and the walls of the tiny reception that leads to the café Maure and the library at the floor and the 12 rooms that bear person Tunisian nick-names, like Faffani, or Daddou. The cuisine in this Hotel is typically mediterranean ( Tunisian) with staple meals that probably are not available in the industry, if not only in traditional Tunisian families. There you are in the beating heart of the Bazars, the souks the Mosques , just wonder around .
the two weeks my friend and I spent touring Tunisia after the Jasmine Revolution brought us many wonderful experiences but right up near the top of the list would be the incredible food we had throughout Tunisia. Wonderful salads, soups, appetizers, main courses and desserts. It seems you can't get a bad meal there - we especially liked the brik (a stuffed pastry that is fried and served up hot and tasty) and the date based desserts. we certainly never went hungry!
we were lucky enough to be invited to lunch at a home in Kairouan, Tunisia. this lovely lady absolutely made our day. my travel buddy and I assumed she (being the grandmother of the family) was tired when she disappeared from the main courtyard of the family home half way through lunch. boy were we wrong! she returned in the head scarf made famous by Muamar Khadafi of neighboring Libya and began to rant and gesture just like Khadafi did in his years of ruling lunacy. little did we know we had a budding comedienne right here with us. meeting with locals after the Jasmine Revolution that started the Arab Spring movement was so exciting, everyone had an opinion and felt free to share it! (even Grandma- LOL)
Chenini is one of the best-known Berber towns in southern Tunisia, and with good reason: the second that white mosque comes into view, you're struck by how beautiful it is. (And you may also be struck by the number of visitors - as with all "best-known" places, it attracts travelers). The indigenous Berbers built homes and communities on these rocky outcroppings - several of these can be visited, although not all of them remain inhabited. Many comprise the ruins of the ancient towns spread across the tops of cliffs as well as a functional modern village in the valley below. In Chenini, park at the bottom of the ridge and climb up to the centuries-old mosque. It's windy at the top, but the view is worth it.
Never ever, you think you would see this wonderful roman mosaic, in nearly no where ! it is one of the most exquisite mosaic still to be seen in an underground section of a roman villa. The villa, with its dependances: kichen, bedrooms and the living room which is open directly to the open portico down. The few places in the world where you have to see them.
Tozuer, Tunisia is a town known for its location near the Sahara, the great dry salt lake and the algerian border. the main shopping street had a lot of local handicrafts but this shop for drinks caught my eye with its colorful display of pretty much every kind of soft drink you might want.
Tunisia's Chott el Djerid is an enormous salt lake stretching about 5,000km around the southern half of the country. Neat, tidy stacks of salt line the road that traverses it, and the sight of occasional souvenir stands make you scratch your head, wondering what they're doing there and who is there to man them. Then you realize how thirsty you are, and secondary questions disappear. The desolate, stretched-out, mirage-inducing landscape is the kind of place that invites pondering, as my friend is doing here, and as Luke Skywalker did before her. Yes, yes, a scene from Star Wars was filmed here, which I only found out later because I'm not a huge fan of the movies (...maybe). You can cross Chott el Djerid on a road running from Kebili to Tozeur, which is arguably one of southern Tunisia's most fascinating towns. While there are signs for camel rides throughout the surrounding desert, I would leave the camel behind on this one and bring the car instead.
Hungry for a snack after a bout of haggling Tozeur’s busy souk? You are in luck as the surrounding environs offer many options. Luckily, your "Set of Drifters" seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to picking out restaurants. In avoidance of a mild rain shower we ducked into the alley adjacent to the nearby Mosque el-Ferdous. It is here where we found Restaurant le Minaret. We were instantly attracted to the spot as it was slightly off the beaten path from the other eateries that were rammed with customers. In addition, the entrance to its pleasing courtyard featured large doors that showcased some of the best metal rivet work we had seen yet in Tunisia! Le Minaret’s interiors were equally as special, welcoming guests with comfortable poof seating, hanging lanterns and other familiar Tunisian/ Moroccan flourishes. Nevertheless, the decor of le Minaret is turned up a notch thanks to its brilliant turquoise painted walls and sexy, yet subtle, draped wooden bungalow booths. As owner, Paris expat Pierre-Maurice pairs the alluring design with chill-out music played quiet enough for you to engage in conversation with those at your table and beyond. Oh yeah, and there is good food too! Subtle tweaks made to the mostly Tunisian staple menu further help this stylish cafe rise up above its competition. While a simple “salade tunisienne” was further explored here, other dishes were more inventive: tagine with local dates and peaches, and even lasagna with dromadaire!
January is a lovely time to visit the Roman ruins at Carthage. Less people. Cooler temperatures. And, if you are lucky, beautiful blue skies over the adjacent sea. While the ruins themselves are quite small (especially in comparison to Pompeii or some of the other Mediterranean ruined communities), they make for a nice hour-long tour.
After a long morning touring the nearby desert sandunes and abandoned STAR WARS sets we headed to the waterfall located at the Oases near Chebika for a respite and cold drink. From here we headed to the Mides Gorge near the Algerian border. We were staying in Tozuer, where we can recommend the caleche rides to the date palm plantations to learn about the horticulture involved in growing dates and our hotel, the Ras El Ain. After we left town we were headed to the desert for a night of camping "in the middle of nowhere" but on the way we crossed the "Indiana-sized" dry salt lake, Chott El Jerid. The road runs through the middle of the glistening salt flakes, and is unique. From there we traveled to Tataouine, near the Libyan border and finally the island of Djerba. We traveled AFTER the Jasmine Revolution of the Arab Spring and can report we found the local people welcoming and desperate for the tourists to return - especially in the remote desert towns like Tozuer. This was one of my all time favorite trips and it was enhanced by the excitement that filled the air after the fall of Ben Ali.
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