Tunisia - Facts and Information

Day by Day 1: Tunis and the North

Based at Tunis. El Kef and Kairouan

Monday March 19th
Had dropped car previous night and stopped at Sofitel at Gatwick North, expensive but easy walk into terminal next morning (had checked in and dropped bags previous evening). In afternoon went for general wander through Medina mainly to north of hotel. Went into Dar Lasram, one of the old houses  now used as offices and open to public - very worthwhile. Later into souks and came to realise that every carpet shop has not only an exhibition (last day today) but also a panoramic view. Dar El Medina, Tunis A very pleasant hotel ideally situated near the Great Mosque in the Medina. Good sized room, bathroom a bit tired and mildewy. Staff very pleasant and helpful. English reasonable at Reception provided you stuck to generalities but very limited in dining room. Good breakfast and dinners. Found it simplest to ask receptionist what was on offer for dinner when we came in and order then.

Tuesday March 20th
Morning with guide (good). To Place du Gouvernement and Place de la Kasbah, then through souks looking at various crafts. Went to Great Mosque and Tourbet el-Bey. Afternoon (also with guide though not scheduled) to Bardo Museum. A little disappointing as most is closed for renovation but what we did see (mainly mosaics) very good. After that wandered on our own in souks for a while.

Wednesday March 21st
Day out round Cap Bon peninsula. Called at Ain el Atrous which was busy with local tourists, stopped at small village to look at market much to interest of locals. Les Grottes uninspiring. On to Kerouane, interesting site with worthwhile museum. Next to Kelibia to look at fish dock and the fortress, more impressive outside than inside. Asked to go back through hills rather than through tourist area on south coast of peninsula.

Thursday March 22nd
Into the souk after breakfast. On Rue de la Kasbah paving stones are highly polished and were very slippery from shops being washed out. Michael discovered this the hard way, measuring his length and doing a knee no good at all. Down to Central Market for nose round then to RC and Greek Orthodox cathedrals (ask in office for latter to be opened). Tried to find Dar Othman (suspect map was wrong) eventually taken there after wandering in circles round it for 20 minutes, not really worth it. After lunch to Dar Hussein, interesting house with good courtyard. Got lost again so headed uphill to find Kasbah which we had been told is always at highest point of Medina (if town is flat you’re on your own).

Friday March 23rd
Good drive to Thuburbo Majus through green countryside with lots of wild flowers. Site interesting and quiet. After that had asked to go to Ain Tounga, very worthwhile site which no one visits (no facilities). Then to Dougga, big and impressive site with few tourists but quite a few locals having picnics under the trees. Dar Chennoufi, El Kef
Interesting restored 150 year old house quietly set in olive groves in countryside some way from town. Large room and a stylish bathroom with a rather temperamental and inconvenient shower. Room quite cold in evening but gas heater provided on request. Very good breakfasts and dinners, the latter aiming to provide a range of local dishes. Mme Chennoufi very helpful and with limited but adequate English (here as elsewhere French came in handy).

Saturday March 24th
Good run through mountains and nice scenery to Bulla Regia, extensive and rather confusing site with not much standing to any great height (except Baths which are big). Some underground houses closed for restoration but got into one. Asked to drive through hills via Beni M’Tir, worthwhile as good scenery and some interesting cork working. Went to Ain Draham but not really worth it, quite large, uninspiring and spread over considerable area. Next to Chemtou, probably need to spend some time here exploring to get best out of it but old bridge and watermill site and theatre interesting as was museum.

Sunday 25th March
Needed passports this day as frequent police controls near Algerian border. West to Jugurtha’s Table which is incredible flat limestone plateau on top of sheer cliffs. Access via old gateway with 150 steps, some good others a bit of a pull over polished limestone which might be slippery if wet. Marvellous up there on lovely day. Note that most impressive approach is by old track which runs anti-clockwise round north, west and south with great views and assorted things to stop and look at. A new road is being built on the east side which will allow coach access (intentions to provide facilities at bottom of steps will doubtless spoil the place). Then to Haidra, extensive site with reasonable Roman remains on one side of road and huge Byzantine fort on the other (kids can cause problems in the fort, best to have local with you when there).

Monday March 26th
To  Hammam Mellegue, interesting bath house site reached through lovely country. Had walk by river. Back to El Kef and went to Kasbah which is impressive (free tour with official guide), remains of C4th St Peter’s Church. Next to Roman baths (extensive but confusing as was later used as church) and cisterns. Up to Sidi Mansour, pleasant views of hills.

Tuesday March 27th
Pleasant run into mountains to Elles tombs, main site is intriguing asymmetrical tomb, walking out of village onto hillside showed many more some of which we went to look at on glorious day. (Custodian offered use of toilet which turned out to be WC pedestal incongruously set diagonally in a store room and minus seat, cistern and paper.) Took back road through hills to Zouakra passing other tombs and a Roman site deep in the country, all excellent. On to Punic/Roman site at Maetaris which was interesting and pleasant. Next to Kesra, high on a hill with Byzantine walls and an excellent new museum looking at role of women in the home which was very well worth a visit. Finally to Kairouan with a quick look at Aghlabid pools. After checking in went to have a quick look in Medina (where we politely declined frequent suggestions to visit assorted mosques/mausoleums which doubtless had carpet shops on the way to them). Hotel La Kasbah, Kairouan Very cleverly developed in the old kasbah with pleasant staff (good English) and a wide range of facilities. Truly excellent buffet breakfast and dinner. Room fine but did not quite live up to rest of hotel standards and could be a bit noisy in the afternoon if groups were by the pool. Only one small lift which could not cope when a busload came or went.

Wednesday March 28th
To APPC ticket office for multi-site ticket and up tower (busy with tourists) to view Aghlabid pools from the other side. Then round Medina with Lahki, first to Zaouia Sidi el Ghariansi then to House of the Bey. This is worth going into to see the different rooms which are splendid, however it’s also a shop but the carpets (can see weaving) stopped being trotted out for us when we made our lack of intent to buy plain. General wander round souk looking at different shops and to Bab Barouta to see the camel pumping water before heading to Great Mosque with its huge courtyard. Getting very hot so back to hotel for rest then later to Zaouia Sidi Sahbi which was large and interesting. Asked to be dropped at Place des Martyrs to walk back through Medina and down to Place de Tunis (slightly downmarket outside market).

Thursday March 29th
Early start and rather boring run to Mahdia which was pleasant, clean and interesting, visited fish docks, fish market and old town  area. Went into Great Mosque then to interesting fort of Borj el Kebir with view of Fatimid port. Then through tourist zone to Monastir and into Ribat (impressive). Our driver insistent we went to Bourguiba Mausoleum (he is revered by many Tunisians) which was quite interesting. Boring run back.

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