The International Writers Magazine: Christmas in Tunisia
for instance, holds its own Saharan Festival over the Christmas and New
year period every year. It is based on an ancient Bedouin gathering, when
Saharan tribes met to trade and, legend has it, to marry off their daughters.
These days, the nearest approximation to this exercise was a visit by
‘Blind Date’ competitors to the nearby five-star
Tozeur Palm Beach Hotel, while the present day Saharan Bedouins, compete
in camel, horse and dog races, folklore performances and traditional plays.
Their backdrop is the 150 mile-long salt lake of Chott El Jerid, which
set the scene for the film, ‘The English Patient,’
and the golden sand dunes that were a setting for ‘Star Wars.’
Christmas in Tunisia
is a secret on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Under
three hours away it is possible to find contrasting delights of
desert, sophistication and the freshest sea food, all in the middle
Tunisian Tourist Office runs tours over this period to Douz and the
surrounding area. It is two hours fifty minutes to Tunis, and a further
one-hour internal flight to Tozeur. This town has developed around a
2500-acre oasis of palm trees, irrigated by 200 natural springs. It
has daily flights to Tunis, a collection of international standard hotels
and is the nearest airport to Douz.
in the shadow of the Bouhlel, a pleated offshoot of the majestic Atlas
mountains, and across the shimmering salt of Chott El Jerid, known to
Pliny and credited with being the source of the legendary Lake Triton.
Motor on, past fossilised sand dunes, through small towns, where road
police check for seat belts and children swarm in and out of compulsory
schools. As the sounds of the Bedouin Festival waft over the desert
air, it is obvious why Douz styles itself the ‘Gateway to the
it is possible to walk about, listening to bands from competing tribes,
ride a camel called Mustapha, attend a busy market, watch the first
arrivals of the endurance horse race, or the beginning of the dromedary
international Marathon. There are poetry and painting competitions,
with ‘Sahara’ as a theme, for children, who rate highly
in Tunisia. A visit to the cultural fair at the M’hemed El Marzougui
centre is worth a few minutes of anyone’s time.
The El Mouradi hotel offers a buffet lunch that must be one of the most
comprehensive anywhere. Fresh fish, such as red snapper, sea bass, bream,
grouper, red mullet, tuna and prawns, is served with fresh vegetables
and salads of all kinds. There is couscous, the national dish, with
a vegetable, lamb or poultry stew. A sweet tooth helps, as the baklava;
honey-soaked flaky pastry is to die for, as is the mint tea for afters.
is possible to race back and catch the sun setting on dunes in Star
Wars country. No words can capture the peaceful silence or the colour
of the desert at this time of day, particularly now that the war-like
ones have departed.
are many other excursions on offer during these tours. The Lezard Rouge,
a refurbished Beylical train leaves Metlaoui, north of Tozeur, to run
through the Selja Gorge, which compares favourably with anything Colorado
can offer. Oases beckon from the desert, none better than that near
Tamerza, where the Palace Hotel offers a luxurious and peaceful switch-off
for a few days. Their barbecue, eaten on a balcony, under brilliant
bouganvillea and blue skies, overlooks the ruins of an ancient Bedouin
village whose houses are slowly reverting to the desert from which they
came. A bottle of the local Chateau St Augustine, Graine d’Amour
taken purely medicinally of course, sets the seal on a spiritual revival
of spectacular proportions.
day spent in Tunis on the way back can prepare for a return to normal
life. There is a magnificent shopping centre there, with all the designer
wear that one could wish for and at prices that compete favourably with
other cities in Europe. There are cosmopolitan cafes in town, and also
romantic Roman ruins. The Bardo museum holds the largest collection
of mosaics in the world.
Tunisia is a country of contrasts with golden dunes and green oases,
700 miles of sandy beaches and Roman pools, modern hotels and Bedouin
villages, golf courses, museums, mosaics, souks and the Festival of
Douz, all under almost-guaranteed blue skies. These are real incentives
for those who feel the need to escape the gloom of a British winter.
Tunisian National Tourist Office: Telephone 020 7224 5561.
Ann Dymond April 2006
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