Tunisia - Facts and Information

Day by Day 3: East of Tunisia

Based at Er Riadh on Jerba, Sfax and Ksar Ghilane

Saturday April 7th
Fairly boring drive to Djerba. Once there stop at Menix, very extensive but little visited Roman site. Wandering around came across a number of visible structures, including the forum. Large amount of pottery on ground. Some excavation at one point. Then to Guellala to hear about the pot making process. Tried to find Guellala Mosque by sea, didn’t but ended up at interesting old Mosque Sidi Yati. Headed into centre of island becoming increasingly disillusioned by rapid development of many large, new houses. To Erriadh and our hotel. Went for a wander into town centre but not a lot of interest there, ended up nosing around the old Jewish quarter which is fascinating and with some lovely houses. Dar Dhiafa, Jerba Intriguing and stylish restoration of five deserted houses in the Jewish quarter of Erriadh to give collection of rooms around various courtyards. We had a very pleasant if smallish room with a large bathroom where the shower was a bit like a Victorian Corporation cattle trough. Pleasant staff with limited English. Nice breakfast usually served outside. Dinners in restaurant excellent but pricey with not over-generous portions. Tap water not potable but no complimentary mineral water in room. No currency exchange.

Sunday April 8th
To Synagogue, was shut for three days (Passover), try tomorrow. Drove to Mahboubine, small village off main roads and found interesting group of menzels to explore (told to beware of snakes). Then to Fadloune Mosque, allegedly not in use and open to non-Muslims but not so, is now in use and out of bounds to us. Drove through Houmt Souk (not impressed). Went to look for fortified mosque near Mellita, found it. Then to west coast and  fishing station near Borj Jillij, this quiet and fascinating with fisher huts, nets and octopus pots all over the place. Had lunch sitting on shore. Next down west coast, flat and a bit uninspiring but with some nice views. Road quiet but a lot of locals having picnics along it. Found some flamingos near Alim and then spied mosque by the sea Eleanor had been after visiting so went there. General verdict on Djerba was disappointing, not what we had been led to expect.

Monday April 9th
First thing to Synagogue, shut for a service, may be open at 0930 - or might be later. Gave up on synagogue. Drove to ferry at Jorf and boarded after a short wait. Back on mainland felt much better than Djerba with a lot more space and well tended olive groves (OK. so we didn’t reckon Djerba much). To Gightis, quite excellent as is an extensive site with a lot left. Should be on 'list' for visitors in this area. Has recently acquired a ticket office, toilet and cafe but gets virtually no visitors at all. Back to main road for pretty scary drive north (very busy with a lot of lunatic Libyans in large limos and terrifying Tunisians in tatty trucks). Stopped in Gabes for wander round spice market, uninspiring. Then to Sfax (where traffic rules don’t seem to exist, most incredible free for alls at every junction). Borj Dhiafa, Sfax A really nice hotel some way from the city centre with good gate security. In main building rooms are arranged around galleries overlooking the lounge area. Excellent bedroom. Staff very pleasant with good English. Good buffet breakfast. Excellent dinners, not cheap but large portions.

Tuesday April 10th
Taken into Sfax and dropped at one of Medina gates. Medina is impressive with walls complete. Headed for Borj Ennar, Michael suddenly had arm seized by woman who absolutely insistent we should go no further and led us back. Realised we had missed turning and were blithely heading into the red light district. Found Borj Ennar, not a lot to see and Medina map available from there not much use. Followed suggested route to Dar Jeliouli, very interesting house now an excellent museum (English labels) where we spent some time. Back to route to far side of Medina and market area, then back into walled town and meandered down to Kasbah (museum with displays of traditional architecture, moderately interesting). Medina very interesting, unsanitised and without any tourists apart from us so absolutely no hassle from shopkeepers. A little frustrating as virtually every door opened into a tiny workshop or shop which we lacked the brass necks to peer into so only got glimpses of activity. Picked up by Lahki, went to a supermarket to finish off present buying (strange choice but got what we were after) then back to hotel for rest of day.

Wednesday April 11th
Fast drive along empty motorway to El Jem. Tourist coaches outside museum so headed for nearby old amphitheatres, first cut into hillside had second superimposed on it in masonry, interesting but uncared for. Back to now tourist free museum which is quite excellent with superb mosaics and a few small exhibits (English labels), outside are remains of houses and a reconstructed villa. Next to later amphitheatre which is unbelievably huge and of massive construction. Spent some time nosing around below and above. After a spell on motorway into the countryside and called at hilltop village of Takroune, interesting but unfriendly feeling so we didn’t stop long. Now into really very pleasant country with good hill views. Ksar Ezzit, Zaghouan Has 80,000 olive trees and is set in lovely scenery with hills on three sides and extensive views across the plain to the north. Our villa (Huilerie) had a large lounge, bedroom and bathroom plus a kitchen area (no utensils).  Building was cold but oil-filled radiator in bedroom. Villa was in good decorative condition and was very clean but marred by missing lights and leaking patio doors. Restaurant was two miles away down dirt roads. Restaurant was in immaculate condition. Pleasant buffet breakfast. Lunch and dinners good and extensive but rather quirky. Two of the courses often based around salads using leaves and flowers from plants growing wild on the farm - sort of nouvelle cuisine meets Gardeners’ World. These provided aggressive roughage which, combined with the generous use of olive oil (80,000 trees, remember), had results best left undescribed. Fortunately a plea for leniency was heeded. Meat courses rather thin and sometimes a bit strange (would you believe lambs’ knees?) Staff very pleasant and helpful but surprised we would be there without transport (our driver left us this day) so agreed to ferry us to and from restaurant which was 3.2km from our villa.

Thursday April 12th
Dull start, after breakfast were taken to see olive press and how it worked. Cleared up so spent morning walking, lovely setting, splendid views, lots of flowers. Afternoon dull and windy so put feet up. Very windy and heavy rain overnight. Discovered rain coming into bedroom through patio doors, started putting bath towels down to stem the tide when power failed. Cursed decision not to bring torch, groped way to bed and completed operation by tiny light on travel alarm.

Friday April 13th
Bath towels, carpet, curtains sodden inside; dirt roads very slippery outside. Nice day after breakfast and had a trip in the farm pickup. First to Souar, tiny village up track in hills with some limited but quite impressive remains. Then to Zaghouan to Temple des Eaux (source of water for Carthage). Both interesting. In afternoon short trip through very nice country to see reservoir where farm gets water.

Saturday April 14th
Cock started crowing at 0300 (request to have it for lunch refused). Rather threatening clouds around hills but clear over plain so chanced it and did some walks keeping not too far from home. Became lovely and sunny but with very cold and strong wind, eventually found lovely sheltered spot in pine woods overlooking gorge and dropped out there. At some point had collected farm dog (very friendly fortunately as very big and a little worrying at first sight when we realised his thick chain wasn’t fastened to anything). Were told we could keep room after lunch (another would have been provided if this not possible). Pick up at 1640 by Lahki to take us to airport, stopping briefly at aqueduct on way. Airport chaotic at gates, flight good, long wait for bags at Gatwick. Eventually got into bed at Sofitel about 0120.

Sunday April 15th
Leisurely and good breakfast, arranged pick up for car. On road 0820, home 1315.
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