Djerba: good value and family friendly

By | Category: Travel destinations
spices in Houmt souk

spices in Houmt souk

Two and a half hours flying time from London the island of Djerba, off the South East Coast of Tunisia, has a Mediterranean climate with miles of sandy beaches, and high standards of accommodation. The biggest plus factor is that you can stay in a luxury hotel or Dar, their answer to a Moroccan riad, without having to spend a fortune.

The people of Djerba pride themselves on welcoming people of all religions. The island has one of the oldest synagogues in the world El Ghriba, built over 2,600 years ago. We had to go through a security check before we were allowed to visit. Beautifully decorated with tiles and chandeliers, it is on the list of must-see tourist attractions. It is open everyday to visitors except for Saturday. Jewish visitors can attend the Saturday service if it is arranged in advance.

For presents and souvenirs, Houmt Souk is a must. Bargaining is essential and part of the fun as the initial price is usually more than twice the amount you eventually pay. Spices, fresh pepper, paprika, and lots more sprinkles that I had never heard of are displayed in rows. I eventually bought a ready made-up grill mixture only to find that a fellow member of my group had spent half the amount I paid, about £1.00, and had been given twice as much.

Houmt Souk potteryRows of brightly coloured glazed pottery items – plates, jugs, and tagines were very tempting. Mindful of our baggage allowance, several of my companions were drawn to the less heavy copy designer handbags that the stall vendors pointed out were slightly different to the originals.

Hidden behind the shops and worth investigating is the fresh fish market a place where the locals come to buy their food. Rows of different specie of fish are on display, some recognisable, but also varieties not seen in the UK. A visit there is worth it if just to see the characters selling their wares. More importantly, the freshly caught fish reiterates the fact that Djerba is a small island, and the fish served in the local restaurants is therefore very fresh.

let's play pirates

let’s play pirates

An outing on a pirate ship is great fun. It’s an occasion where the more you participate the more likely you are to enjoy yourself. Having said that I really enjoyed watching. Although it is a sailing ship with masts, there is also a motor. The crew, dressed as pirates  entertained us climbing up masts, and singing songs. On the return journey, with music blearing from loud speakers, they rallied those of us brave enough, there must have been about thirty to forty people on board, to join them in a dance routine.

One of the major drawbacks with Djerba is that Arabic and French are the main languages, and few people speak English except in the international hotels. Announcements on the ship were made in a variety of languages French, Italian, and German but sadly not English. I am fortunate to speak French so was able to translate for my friends. Anyway, they were still able to enjoy themselves, as so much of what was happening was visual. We sailed, with the help of a motor, to nearby Flamingo Island although sadly bereft of its namesake as Flamingos only nest there in winter.

onhorsebackWith time to spare, we lazed on the sandy beach in the sun. Some of us, having brought swimsuits, took advantage of the time to enjoy a swim in the warm water. Vendors came along trying to sell us local trinkets including pieces of Amethyst stone. Lunch was served in a large tented area on the beach. The menu of typical local food began with brik, a triangular pastry pocket with a soft egg inside; couscous and vegetables served with barbequed dourade (sea bream), followed by chunks of watermelon.

There are several museums on the island. The modern Lalla Hadria Museum is devoted to the island’s heritage. The exhibits portray the different periods and civilisations that have settled on the island. Displays include objects that have made the island what it is today. Within the complex, a camel with its keeper were standing in the back yard of a Berber house, demonstrating how it was once used to turn the outside water wheel.

An unexpected part of the museum was the park with what looked like thousands of crocodiles. They were all basking in the sun or sprawled out alongside one of several pools. Segregated by age, pregnant females also had their own area. A highlight for some of our group, although thankfully not for me, was holding one of the babies, while having a photograph taken to commemorate the occasion!

at the crocodile park

at the crocodile park

As well as the sandy beaches and warm sea, many hotels also have a swimming pool, and an authentic hammam. The hammam is similar to a Turkish bath and not to be missed.  They are segregated so you won’t find someone of the opposite sex sitting next to you. Not that I would want to as you sit in a hot room, and sweat out the toxins in your body. Depending on where you have it, and how luxurious it is, there are often several rooms of differing temperature. The bonus is that usually there is someone there to give you a rub down afterwards with a special glove that removes the dead skin, and leaves you glowing.

Riding on the beach while watching the sun setting sounds idyllic, even romantic, but a bit scary for someone who hasn’t been on a horse for ages, and can’t ride. However, despite the fact that I was only wearing sandals I was persuaded to join my friends. My mount Renzo was a beautiful dark brown Berber horse that was fortunately extremely docile. Needless to say, the ride or should I say walk along the seashore turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me.

As well as visiting the island, Djerba is also the stopping off point for exploring the Southern tip of the Sahara dessert, a reason to return.

For more on Djerba and Tunisia, click here.




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