Home
  
 
 
 
Site Menu
Home
About Us
MagBazPictures
What is New in 2018
What was New in 2017
Countries Articles (879)
Current Travel Log
Cycling Articles (98)
Fellow Travellers (78)
Logs & Newsletters (169)
Looking Out
Motorhome Insurers (33)
Motorhoming Articles (120)
Photographs
Ramblings (48)
Readers' Comments (770)
Travellers' Websites (45)
Useful Links (64)
Search the Website
Contact Us

Photos
Swindails in Tunisia 2006 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

A MOTORCARAVANNERS' GUIDE TO TUNISIA

Jane and George Swindail

August 2006

The following notes are based on Jane and George's seven-week visit to Tunisia in December 2005 and January 2006, when they toured the whole country apart from the north-west. Sadly, their visit was curtailed when they had to return to England at short notice.

They openTunisia_022.JPG with a description of their Christmas at Camping Desert Club in Douz, in southern Tunisia, where they enjoyed the opening day of the
Festival of the Sahara. They continue with essential notes for any motorcaravanner or motorhomer intrepid enough to follow in their wheel tracks! The notes include details of 29 campgrounds and camping possibilities (the Tunisian Tourist Office told them there were only 2 places to camp!) and a map showing their route and the campgrounds they used. They also give advice, sharing their experience, on matters such as ferries, money, gas, location of LPG, local attitudes, alcohol and internet access.

We met Jane and George at Camping Aginara Beach in the Greek Peloponnese in December 2003. They were touring in their hightop conversion on a 1997 VW LT35. Later they wrote an excellent illustrated account of their 11-week tour of Norway (2003) for this website – see it at Swindails in Norway. We look forward to hearing about their next journey – perhaps to Bulgaria via Crete!

Many of George and Jane's photographs have been used to illustrate this article and to provide a gallery at the end.

To view a slide show of all 33 photographs, click here: Slide Show

DESERT CHRISTMAS 2005

Having spent our Christmases over the last fifteen years near the coast DesertChristmas_07.JPGin places such as Cyprus and Ascension Island (thanks to work postings), and Spain, Portugal, Sicily, Crete and the Peloponnese in our motorcaravan, we wondered where to celebrate Christmas 2005. After some thought we realised we could still aim for sun and sand, but omit the sea - the Sahara Desert became our goal. Reading of an oasis town which had both a campsite and a late December desert festival, we were left in no doubt - we would spend Christmas at Douz in southern Tunisia.

Our doubtsDesertChristmas_01.JPG arose when we first saw the campsite, almost empty and with ground that seemed like compacted mud, but it transpired that this was actually sand, so fine in this area that it is powdery rather than granular. Despite the emptiness of the site we were told that it would be full on December 26th and that we would have to move out that morning, but at least we could stay for Christmas Day. In the days leading up to Christmas we explored the town, visiting the bustling market in and around the central square, and looking in on the weekly animal market just behind the campsite. People we met in the streets greeted us with 'Welcome in Douz', and the atmosphere was very pleasant (apart from the air laden with fumes from a multitude of mopeds). Even the 'Publinet' office a couple of minutes walk from the campsite was reasonable: rather Spartan in appearance, but the fastest internet access we found in Tunisia, although still slow by British standards.

Of course, Christmas does not feature on the Tunisian calendar, but the site sported a tree bedecked in tinsel and several 'Bonne Année' signs, so there was a mildly festive feel. On the day itself we concocted our usual approximation of a traditional Christmas meal, combining potatoes, vegetables and gravy cooked in the 'van with chicken and stuffing from the barbecue, and consumed it outside in warm sunshine under a clear blue sky. The site itself was quiet, with just a handful of occupants (all German and Italian apart from us), but after lunch our visit to the first day of the Festival of the Sahara immersed us in a completely different atmosphere.

We walked throughDesertChristmas_02.JPG the oasis towards the festival site, along with locals on foot, horseback, or camelback, and it was only as we emerged onto the road for the last part of the 2 kilometre walk that we realised just what crowds the festival was attracting: walkers filled the roadway, moving aside just far enough to allow taxis, minibuses and private cars through to the large car park. Entrance to the festival ground was free, so it was just a matter of squeezing beside the barriers that lined the way under the entry arch and forcing a way through towards a vantage point. As the stands seemed crowded we headed for a position on the sand near the barrier in front of the stands - we never quite reached the front, so spent the afternoon craning our necks to see over the heads of earlier arrivals.

When the festival finally got under way, nearly an hour after we arrived (DesertChristmas_03.JPGand 30 minutes late), we were treated to a parade of instrumental groups from various Saharan countries, each in its own local costume, followed by parades of horses and camels, re-enactments of wedding scenes, a game of sand hockey (men in white robes and head-dresses brandishing hockey stickDesertChristmas_04.JPGs each of which seemed to be the stem of a palm frond, and chasing a ball across the sand with no goal or target in sight). The item which the locals (i.e. almost all the crowd) seemed to enjoy most was the one which we were most doubtful about - hunting with a slugui, in which a rabbit was released to be chased and killed by a greyhound-like dog, to the cheers of the crowd. Hot and tired, we decided not to wait for the camel racing, and our Christmas Day ended with a return walk through the oasis at dusk, below the date palms and past springs of steaming water.DesertChristmas_05.JPG

We left Douz the following morning to allow prebooked groups to arrive on the site, but after a night at Kebili we returned for another couple of days. This time the site was packed, not with Italian motorcaravans as we had expected, but with a variety of 4WD vehicles, and off-road motorbikes. There was just space for us to squeeze in, and experience the campsite on a not-so-quiet day, glad that peace had reigned at Christmas!

 

TUNISIA FOR MOTORCARAVANNERS

The following notes are based on our seven week visit in December 2005 and January 2006, when we toured the country apart from the north-west (our visit being curtailed when we had to return to England at short notice). Our route and locations of campsites, etc, are shown on the map.

FERRIES

Many motorcaravanners use the ferry from Marseilles, saving driving costs and time, while others drive to the south of Italy for the cheapest crossing. We chose to sail with Grimaldi Line from Civitavecchia near Rome, mainly because it was scheduled to arrive in the late afternoon, rather than after dark like the majority of others. If you do this, be aware that you should expect chaos at Civitavecchia, with many Italian registered (but Tunisian driven) cars piled incredibly high with luggage, parking wherever takes their fancy, and no signs indicating the correct procedure. Also be very wary if a customs man directs you to drive under a steel-framed canopy - despite querying the headroom, we ended up with a broken chimney!

We had not booked our return trip, intending to go direct from Tunisia to Sicily, but were glad of the CTN ferry to Marseilles when we had to return to England in a hurry. Be prepared for plenty of vehicle checks and form filling when both entering and leaving Tunisia, although foreigners seem to have a much easier time than the locals (the bulk of the ferry passengers, on their way to and from jobs in Europe).

MONEY

There are ATMs in all the main towns, and we never encountered any problems in finding somewhere to withdraw cash (using our fee-free Nationwide debit card). The exchange rate in December 2005 was 2.3 TD to £1.

GAS

LPG is available in the vicinity of most major towns (it tends to be at normal petrol filling stations on the outskirts, and there usually seems to be just one station per town). We managed to locate the stations we used just by keeping our eyes open as we drove about, but if in doubt try asking a taxi driver - they normally speak some English and it seemed that taxis were the main users of LPG.

The following are the LPG filling stations we used or saw:

Bizerte - Agil, on outskirts approaching on main road from Tunis

Gabes - Total, on main road from Sfax

Gafsa - Agil, on western outskirts (Tozeur road)

Grombalia - Total, at southbound services on motorway (near Hammamet)

Kasserine - Sagaz (gas only, I think), on main road from Gafsa (opposite military zone)

Mahdia - Total, on western outskirts

Tunis - Agil, on main road to Bizerte, just after start of motorway (beyond Géant)

Before leaving England we made enquiries about the availability of Campingaz 907, our reserve gas supply. The website was unclear, but, after several phone calls, their North African representative informed us that Campingaz is not sold in Tunisia. However, he said that a local equivalent was available. In the event we had no need of this, but did see a number of petrol stations and small general shops where there were 907-size bottles on display (mostly either red or green in colour). One shopkeeper we spoke to explained that if you want to exchange a bottle you can do it at any of these places, but if you want to purchase one (this would save releasing an official UK bottle) this can only be done at main suppliers. Hampered by our very basic French, we did not manage to get information on costs or details of these suppliers.

LOCAL ATTITUDES

Despite a generally welcoming atmosphere, there were a few occasions (both while in the motorcaravan taking a coffee stop and when out walking) when we were approached by local children demanding money, pens, sweets, etc. Some were very persistent, and on one occasion in the middle of nowhere even mother came to join in - we eventually drove several miles further along a rough track to escape! This seemed to vary from place to place, however - walking around Tozeur one morning several young children materialised from nowhere to request things, but the next day in a similar part of nearby Nefta children hardly looked up from their games of marbles as we walked by.

Our visit to Kairouan wTunisia_003.JPGas marred by unwanted attention from several men trying to provide us with a guide, show us where to visit or where to have a meal. It became very wearing, and weTunisia_014.JPG found ourselves rushing around the town to get out as quickly as possible. In contrast we thoroughly enjoyed visiting the medina in Sfax, where we were able to enjoy the bustling atmosphere of a traditional town with absolutely no hassle (in fact we were largely ignored as everyone got on with selling, buying, making or mending). Different again was Douz, a much smaller town, where many locals called out greetings as we walked around.

We were very conscious of the fact that more often than not, anyone who offered help expected a tip in return, something we have not been aware of in other countries. Also we had several encounters with men showing a 2 euro coin they had 'found', and asking us to exchange it for dinars: they might have managed to persuade a tourist who had just flown in to part with too much money, but it doesn't work with motorcaravanners who are used to dealing with different currencies! Beware, too, of prices charged in the little shops scattered all along the roadsides. Some will greatly inflate the price of items such as bottles of water - ask before you buy, and if the price is not brought down to something reasonable, go elsewhere.

Despite the above we enjoyed our stay, and most of our encounters with Tunisians were pleasant. The incidents mentioned above were annoyances only, and we never felt threatened, either when on foot or in the 'van.

INTERNET ACCESS

Most towns have internet offices, recognised by the 'Publinet' sign. We used several and found them to be well patronised by locals of all ages, but very basic in terms of equipment and furniture. They were cheap, but often with very slow connections!

ALCOHOL

Although we never set out to buy beer, it seemed to be on sale relatively widely. We were more interested in wine, which was very difficult to track down in some areas. We found a good selection at Carrefour near Tunis, in an aisle sheltered behind swing doors and with a security guard in attendance - if you wish to purchase wine on a Friday you must show a passport or other ID to prove you are a foreigner. Availability of wine varied from region to region, and seemed to be easier to find in the north-east (the main wine-producing area), with more problems in the south. On a couple of occasions we were directed to a supermarket that was said to sell wine, but we could not see any on the shelves. The problem was only solved when we asked the young man running an internet café in Gafsa, who explained that we had to go to a totally separate side door. When we did this we found ourselves in a tiny dusty room with a man sitting at a counter behind a grille, along with piles of crates of wine bottles, from which we selected using a list written on a blackboard. Presumably a similar system exists elsewhere.

CAMPSITES

The Tunisian TouristTunisia-map-final_Jpeg.jpg Office replied to an e-mail in the early days of our planning with the news that Tunisia has two campsites! It is far better than that suggests, but the sites take some tracking down. We obtained our initial list by internet searches, and by studying Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books for references to camping. Sites are not always signposted, and locals are often mystified about where you mean when you ask the way (or perhaps it was just my poor French!).

Sites we used with cost for two people and one motorcaravan per night, electricity extra (exchange rate 2.3 TD to £1 in December 2005). In every case we used our onboard facilities (our habit everywhere, including UK), just taking on water and emptying waste at the site: in general site toilet blocks seemed basic but clean. There was normally nowhere to empty the toilet cassette other than down one of the ordinary toilets.

 

 

Aghir: Centre des Stages et Vacances (7.50 TD)

Most pitches on rather rough looking ground behind old toilet block, but also several concrete hardstandings almost on the beach - site almost empty over New Year, so a beachside pitch was ours. At the end of the hotel strip, with eating/drinking possibilities.

Bordj Cedria: Village de Vacances la Pinede (16TD)

Mainly a holiday village with clusters of little concrete structures containing concrete sleeping plinths, just a short walk over sand dunes to the beach.

Douz: Camping Desert Club (12 TD)

Compacted very fine sand below palm trees. We saw more motorcycles and 4WDs there than 'vans. Site has bar/restaurant which is not always open in the winter. A few minutes walk into friendly town with a market, a selection of eating places and internet access.

Douz: Centre des Stages et des Vacances (4TD)

Mainly relatively loose sand under trees (designed for local tenters, I think, hence the price). Out of town on the road to Matmata, so perhaps best for those with alternative transport.

Gabes: Centre des Stage et des Vacances (9TD)

A small camping area under palm trees (and very close to a mosque!), surrounded by bedroom and dormitory accommodation. One of these areas was opened to give us use of toilet, shower, etc.

Gafsa: Camping Ghalia (12TD)

Rough grass by swimming pool. Part of a site including bar, restaurant and picnic area, used by locals for strolling, even when facilities closed (as they were in January). Well outside town.

Hammamet: Camping Samaris (8.40TD)

An area of olive trees and vegetable plots behind a small hotel of the same name, away from the main tourist area. Close to a busy street full of hardware shops, minimarkets, patisseries and rotisseries. Signposted off the motorway at Hammamet South junction (1km east)

Kebili: Les Amis du Camping (10TD)

A large compacted sand site, with palms, but more manicured than Douz. Toilet facilities tiny but very clean. Proprietor speaks English and is very welcoming (too much so?). Food is advertised, although we didn't try it - we were told later that he fetched what was ordered from a restaurant in the town.

Metameur: Hotel les Gorfas (15TD electricity included)

Situated inside a ksar, where a few of the rooms have been made habitable (just) as a basic hotel. Motorcaravans are catered for by a water tap and electric sockets around the courtyard (we have seen photos of a dozen or so Italian 'vans there on a rally). Worth a night for the experience.

Nabeul: Camping Les Jasmins (8.40 TD)

Part of small aparthotel complex, rather confined so might be difficult for large 'vans. The site bar/restaurant is mainly used by local men (alcohol available), so can be smoky, but the food is fine and reasonably priced. A long walk to the town centre.

Remel Plage (Bizerte): Centre des Stages du Remel Plage (9TD)

Camping was advertised, but really more for tents than 'vans. A couple of minutes walk to the beach. Well out of Bizerte itself.

Tozeur: Camping Les Beaux Reves (12TD)

Small, compacted sand under palm trees. Close enough to the town to walk to the outskirts for a meal.

OTHER CAMPSITES

Aghir: Camping Sidi Ali (6TD)

A large sandy site with palm trees, close to the beach but view blocked by cabins. Adjacent to Hotel Sidi Slim.

Hammamet: Ideal Camping

Signposted from motorway, Hammamet South junction (1km west). We did not visit but drove past and it seemed open.

Zarzis: Sonia Camping

This is mentioned in the local tourist literature, but we could not find it. When I asked in the town (no tourist office), no-one knew of it.

OTHER OVERNIGHTING PLACES:

If there was a campsite we used it, otherwise we either stayed on hotel car parks (at a price) or wildcamped.

Carthage: Roadside parking outside the Oceanographic Museum at the Punic Ports. Quiet at night and only five minutes or so walk to reach the TGM station for a 30 minute train ride to Tunis. The men in the ticket office outside the museum (right next to the parking) said it was OK to leave the 'van during the day.

Houmt Souk: Seafront car park (not far from tourist office). We later saw 'vans on a large, rough piece of ground close to the fishing port.

Kelibia: Large parking area at Mansoura Beach. Quite busy during the day but quiet at night.

La Goulette: Car/lorry park just outside port (between CTN/BNA Bank and police station) - surprisingly quiet overnight, but this may depend on ferry timetables. Overnighting here is definitely OK with the police - I checked because a night watchman at the CTN offices came across to try to persuade us it was a lorry park only, and that we should park on the road outside CTN where he could keep an eye on us (just hoping for a tip, of course).

Mahdia: Beachside lay-by on coast road to 'zone touristique'. There were other options nearer the old town which were rather too exposed to the salt spray on a stormy night.

Matmata: Car park opposite Hotel Koussaila, for which the hotel charged us 5TD. The tourist office had suggested any hotel car park would be OK, and this one was fairly central.

Monastir: A large area of rough parking on a headland above the old fishing harbour. Very peaceful overnight, and within walking distance of the town centre and marina, so plenty of opportunities for exploring and eating out.

Sbeitla: Large rough car park behind Hotel Flavius - a tourist office recommendation - 15TD just for parking (admittedly gated, so relatively secure).

Sfax: Small car parking area at the Maison des Jeunes (7.50TD) where we were directed by the tourist office. Not a particularly good place, and maybe not possible for a large 'van, but presumably safe and within walking distance (15 minutes at a brisk walk) of the medina (worth a visit - very un-touristy).

Tamerza: Next to the swimming pool at Hotel des Cascades (10TD, including access to basic facilities). Although the tourist office called this a campsite I would disagree, and I'm not sure what happens in summer when the pool is in use. Wildcamping is not a good idea here as it is so close to the Algerian border.

Tatouine: The car park of Hotel Sangho - 15TD, just for parking.

Tatouine: Small garden area behind Hotel Mabrouk, which the receptionist said was for camping, I think more for tents as there was a grassy area with no vehicle access, otherwise parking on gravel road outside hotel rooms. The outside toilets were out of action so we had to use a hotel room. We were charged 20TD, then asked for another 4TD each to pay for showers (which we hadn't had, and they were told as much in my best French!).

Thuburbo Majus: We hoped to spend the night on the car park outside these Roman ruins (near El Fahs), but the night guardian insisted on us staying inside the site railings (moving in at closing time and out before opening time next morning). He even wanted to know our names and passport numbers so he could notify the National Guard! There was no charge as such, but he obviously expected a tip.

Zarzis: Sandy little peninsula with a few small fishing boats north of the town (the area known as Ezzaouia?). Locals said staying anywhere along the seafront would be fine.

A sunny, peaceful Christmas lunch

 DesertChristmas_01.JPG

 The crowds inside the festival ground

 DesertChristmas_02.JPG

 Camel parade

 DesertChristmas_03.JPG

 

The wedding reenactment, with proof that we didn't quite manage to fight our way to the front row
 DesertChristmas_04.JPG

 The transformation in the site two days after Christmas

 DesertChristmas_05.JPG

 

More of the post Christmas influx

 DesertChristmas_06.JPG

 The semi-desert east of Douz

 DesertChristmas_07.JPG

 Our first night in Tunisia was spent in Nabeul, at Camping Les Jasmins

 Tunisia_001.JPG

 

The approach to reception, restaurant and hotel at Les Jasmins

 Tunisia_002.JPG

 The blacksmiths' souk in the still traditional Sfax medina

 Tunisia_003.JPG

 Camping Desert Club in Douz, one of our favourite Tunisian towns

 Tunisia_005.JPG

 

Plenty of room at Les Amis du Camping, Kebili

 Tunisia_006.JPG

 Part of the busy fishing port of Houmt Souk

 Tunisia_007.JPG

 

Aghir: Ben (our motorcaravan) is just visible on our beachside pitch
 Tunisia_008.JPG

 Looking out from the troglodyte village of Douiret

 Tunisia_009.JPG

 

The camping area just outside the hotel rooms at the rear of Hotel Mabrouk in Tatouine

 Tunisia_010.JPG

 This ksar at Metameur is one of the most unusual campsites we have stayed on

 Tunisia_011.JPG

 Soft sand prevents us venturing too far onto the Centre des Stages site outside Douz

 Tunisia_013.JPG

 These boys near Douz were keen to chat but, to our surprise, asked for nothing

 Tunisia_014.JPG

 Large 'vans might find it difficult to manoeuvre on the small site at Tozeur

 Tunisia_015.JPG

 

The mountain oasis of Chebika near the Algerian border

 Tunisia_016.JPG

 Hotel des Cascades in Tamerza, derives its name from this waterfall just outside its grounds

 Tunisia_017.JPG

 This 'pitch' at Hotel des Cascades (Tamerza) would surley not be available in summer!

 Tunisia_018.JPG
Camping Ghalia at Gafsa and the unusual experience of a pitch on grass!

 

 Tunisia_019.JPG

 Sheep joined us in the car park of Hotel Flavius in Sbeitla while their shepherd took refreshment at the hotel bar

 Tunisia_020.JPG

Amid the olive trees and vegetable plots of Camping Samaris, Hammamet 

 Tunisia_021.JPG

 Snow in the mountains above Zaghouan

 Tunisia_022.JPG

The Nabeul area is known for ceramics and orange growing!

 Tunisia_023.JPG

 At the Village de Vacances at Bordj Cedria, along with a French motorcaravan

 Tunisia_024.JPG

 Parked just inside the site gates at Remel Plage, to avoid the waterlogged pitches

 Tunisia_026.JPG