Tunisia - Facts and Information

Day by Day 2: Southern Tunisia

Based at Tamerza, Ksar Ghilane and Tataouine

Friday March 30th
Dull and dreary run (which became steadily wetter) to Sbeitla. Soon dried up after we put on waterproofs to go round extensive and impressive Roman site, perhaps high spot is splendid baptistry at St Vitalis Basilica. Not many there but very noisy group of Chinese moving slowly and taking pictures of each other. Went off main site to see if we could get to see reconstructed Roman bridge, just managed to after negotiating prickly pears with care. Headed to Tamerza via some depressed and depressing mining settlements. After finding room went for walk across wadi into ruined village but chickened out when black clouds started to produce big rain drops. Tamerza Palace, Tamerza
Large, sprawling development with annoyingly intrusive muzak. Staff very pleasant but with limited English. Room excellent, but some rooms could present mobility issues as there are many steps. Breakfast thin and poor for a hotel of this standard. Was buffet when numbers greater and things could then be a bit stale/not replenished. On a quiet morning waiter served breakfast which was fresher but still limited. Dinners a bit pretentious with a rather limited menu with a bit too much quail and duck for our tastes but were nonetheless good. Currency exchange available but they were usually scratting around to find enough dinars for you.

Saturday March 31st
Lovely morning for drive up over hills and down to Chott el Gharsa, very flat with quite a lot of camels. Drove to Tozeur, big town with many buildings decorated with brick patterns. Wander in old part and interesting Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions. Went to palmerie to find statue of  Ibn Chabbatand (medieval mastermind behind irrigation), but difficult to see much of irrigated plots as private. Went up to Belvedere - very big mistake is dirty and noisy amusement park with no worthwhile view.  Tozeur disappointing. Drove to Nefta, first to Corbeille at head of irrigation system, potentially impressive view but demand is lowering water table and area was beginning to look dry and scruffy. Interesting walk in part of old town then fascinating visit to tiny brick works where process was shown to us. On way back went to Chebika to walk up gorge, late so no tourists (or salesforce). Fascinating walk on lovely evening, would be hellish during day when busy.

Sunday April 1st
Back through Chebika on way to Metaloui for Red Lizard train. Travelled in brake van, wooden seats meant few people. Initial run out of town a bit scruffy but then amazing scenery as line cuts across incised river gorge with many tunnels and bridges. Couple of stops en route going up. Not really worth going outside as get better view from train which is clear of people if you take pictures as soon as train stops or just before it starts. Back to Tamerza via phosphate working area, very hot so had rest then went for wander in old village (mosque in use and locked, mausoleums being restored and open).

Monday April 2nd
Drove up to mast behind hotel from where there is an easy walk up the ridge with good views, definitely worthwhile. Then to Mides and had pleasant little walk in palmerie. Then to gorge, good view from stall-infested top but much quieter a little lower down if you walk through ruined village and with even better views. Hot so midday break at hotel, afternoon went to Tamerza ‘cascades’ (just a trickle), neither really worthwhile. Main one has nice bit of gorge but a lot of stalls, older one now very sad and run down.

Tuesday April 3rd
Back south towards Tozeur before turning east to head for Chott el Jerid, bit of salt flat to start with but most is sand covered and uninspiring. Stopped in Souk Lahad to see cooling system for irrigation water which comes out of the ground at 85°C. Stopped in Telmine to try to find alleged Roman cisterns, did find knowledgable chap who said best bits were in mosque (closed for rebuilding) but showed us a few remnants. Next to Douz, wandered round market, stalls interesting with a range of stuff and not much hassle. Some allegedly fixed price which fell when lack of interest shown. Nice climb through mountains to Tamerzet with deserted Berber village on hill. Next to Matmata and taken to cave dwelling on dirt road so not reached by coaches. Interesting to see in rooms and life style, given bread and tea. Next to Hotel Sidi Dross (against our better judgement) which is run down, tacky with a load of stalls outside. Definitely only for people with terminal Star Wars addiction. Superb drive along dirt road with great scenery and many stops for pictures and flower examination towards Ksar Ghillane. Last bit along main road flat and boring. Yadis Ksar Ghillane Did not live up to its hype. There are several other hotels and tourist facilities adjacent and the desert is beyond a hedge and fence. Our tent was beginning to get tatty, but bed was comfortable. Bathroom a bit ancient and shower cramped and dark but plenty of hot water. No electricity during day (so no air conditioning then). Staff pleasant with fair English. Breakfast fairly extensive but a bit pre-packed, perhaps due to location. Dinner first night a very good buffet, second night a traditional Berber meal cooked in a fire (apparently standard offering if stopping two nights). Can only change Euros and then only when person who does it is around.

Wednesday April 4th
Woken by quad bikes going out on dawn patrol so got up and wandered and went up watch tower. After breakfast went through dunes in car to remains of Roman fort, interesting to see and did give taste of sandy desert. Drove through parts of stony desert later, vegetation interesting as were some animal shelters and watering points. Very hot and oppressive afternoon so collapsed in tent. Dusk enlivened by power failure in tents which ended just before total darkness enveloped us (had decided not to bring torch - bad move). Traditionally cooked Berber meal for dinner, interesting to see process, bread cooked in ashes was superb.

Thursday April 5th
Headed east on dirt road. Extensive stony desert at first with surprising bits of vegetation when you looked for it, gradually turning to lovely green hills and valleys. Back on tarmac and began to see old settlements on hills. First to Douiret, most tourists only get to the cod bit at the bottom but Lahki took us up the dirt road to the old village where we had a good nose round. Met man who was getting a 300 year old olive press ready for work and showed us how the process worked. Went into mosque (not used but open). All fascinating. On to Tatouine, To Chenini after tourists had gone. Drove part way up then used series of well-made zigzag paths up to houses. Lot of conservation work evident, amazing place with great views. Back to hotel via Ksar el Ferech, well preserved buildings worth seeing. Sangho Privilege, Tatouine Pleasant place on a hillside some way from town. Bedrooms are grouped in small blocks, furthest from hotel could be quite a trek. We had an excellent room with a huge lounge. Vast basket of fruit arrived for us. Didn’t have much staff contact but seemed friendly with good English. Breakfast a good buffet. Dinner also a good buffet, but slow to replenish popular dishes. Dining room a bit barren so noise of wooden chairs scraping on floor reverberated in a way rather reminiscent of a large staff canteen.

Friday April 6th
Spent morning visiting several ksour to south of Tatouine (they’re all over the place round there). Found an old well and got talking with some women, ended up having some tea. Then to Ksar Ouled Sultan (Star Wars which was devoid of tourists and tourist tat much to our surprise) and was impressive. Next to Ksar Ezzhara, remains of ksar still inside village, very definitely not on tourist beat so needed to be particularly circumspect with camera. Back to Tatouine after stopping at a number of small ksour.

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