Tunisia’s Sparkling Island of Djerba

By | Category: Travel destinations

prepare to haggle

One of the first things that strikes you about Djerba is the light – that high bright light of North Africa and the Mediterranean beloved by painters and photographers the world over. And of course those living in large cities can see the stars at night for a change. Djerba is an island off the South East coast of Tunisia. With 80 miles of near perfect beaches it’s joined to the mainland by a 4 mile causeway built on Roman foundations.

The obvious question: is Tunisia safe? The answer is yes, in as much as any place ever is. I say that for two reasons. What Tunisians called the Jasmine Revolution was over by the end of February 2011 and the FCO (our Foreign and Commonwealth Office) withdrew any restrictive advice and, today, travel insurance for health and all the usual risk criteria is at the same rate as for EU countries.

Another “confidence indicator” has been the May 2011 launch of two new carriers from UK direct to Djerba in addition to Tunisair. Direct flights take two and a half hours. Because of the Jasmine revolution, tourism dropped. At present Tunisia is amazing value with some high street packages starting at £399 per week including flights and half board in four star accommodation.

El-Ghriba Synagogue

There are some special qualities about Tunisia. They became independent from France in 1956 and women got the vote very soon afterwards. This was forward thinking for the region. There is more of a free and open atmosphere than many other Arab countries and they are enjoying the freedom to talk openly about life, politics and so on without undercover police noting what people are talking about in the cafes and coffee shops. The promotional campaign to encourage us to visit the country actually majors on the new shift in being able to talk openly.
But remember this is an Islamic country and follow the guidelines about what to wear and what not. The mosques and the Muezzins’ five daily calls to prayers can live side by side with synagogues such as the splendid El Ghriba Synagogue, one of the oldest in North Africa which was completed in 586 BC. Inside it has superb blue walls and arches. Remember to remove your shoes and cover up arms and legs before enjoying the wonderful signs within.
I was very impressed the horse riding arrangements at the Royal Carriage Club. Like those TV adverts we used to see of a tough he-man or a gorgeous blonde, an early morning canter through the surf is wonderful. The quality of the horses – Arabs of course – was high and they use English style saddles. The owners, Jaqui and Montef, came from Paris to set up their riding business in 2007. And they have different levels of evaluation which combine the rider’s experience with regular riding habits. The principal is based on common sense – ranging from the highest level of “currently used to riding for up to 6 hours” to absolute beginners who can join a gentle 5 day introductory course that has the tyros cantering on the beach by the end of a holiday. This is a first class opportunity to try something different and there’s no better way to make a really early morning start in warm places. www.royalcarriageclub.com

Thalasso-Spa

For those who ride a big longer than many do and then feel the need for relaxation, there are abundant opportunities throughout Tunisia to enjoy the great remedy of the Thalasso pools and spa. Spa tourism is one of the fastest growing types in the country. Based on warmed sea water, modern Thalasso treatments became very popular in Brittany in the nineteenth Century. They can include applications of mud and seaweed – all very relaxing.
A very popular outing is the mini-cruise in a replica galleon from the capital Houmt-Souk to Flamingo Island which has excellent snorkelling. Good value at less than £25 with lunch included and music from drummers and musicians on the island. Check before turning up as they don’t go in bad weather.
Other places to see include the Guella Museum and pottery village which has a tower with great views and, of course, the Souks. There are trips to the Sahara, diving centres, quad bike hire for whizzing over the sand dunes and two golf courses – both receiving good reports from those who played.
After Arabic, French is the main language and the French legacy extends to the food which is generally very good. Recommended restaurants include the Bissat, the Hasdrubal Prestige & Spa and the Partouche Casino. The latter has music and belly dancing. But if you go to the casino remember to take your passport if you want to go in the gambling area. As for hotels, there are over 140 on the island so you can be spoilt for choice from up market ones like the Hasdrubal to self-catering ones and hostels.

Right now, Djerba and Tunisia are good buys.

Read more on www.cometotunisia.co.uk

All images and story© Anthony Lydekker

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