The deep blue and turquoise waters of the Mediterranean sparkled below as my flight from Tunis came in to land on the island of Djerba. The contrast between the brilliance of the sea and the dusty brown of the land was stunning. The lure of the water was almost enough to make me abandon my half-baked plan to hire a car at the airport and head into the southern Tunisian interior. How much more rewarding, I thought, would it be to return to this idyllic-looking place after a week in the desert?
I hired a car from a local outfit, largely because they were the only place that was open. It wasn’t the newest of vehicles but I thought that would help me to blend in with local traffic. I acquired a fairly old looking map, figuring that there was unlikely to have been a radical road building plan that made it obsolete, and set off for Star Wars country: Tataouine. First though I had to get off Djerba and onto the mainland. My route took me past one of the most ancient sites on the island.
The brilliant white 14th century Fadhloun Mosque is a stunning sight seen across the dusty landscape, but somehow it seems to fit perfectly with its surroundings of olive trees. The shape of the mosque is both attractive and surprising, I’d assumed its thick walls were a result of the climate, but it doubled as a fortification in case of invasion. It was one link in a chain of fortified mosques. I found myself alone in this atmospheric and photogenic place.
I stopped to visit a couple more mosques before heading off for the two to three hour drive. I didn’t want to miss out on seeing Ksar Ouled Soltane, one of the most famous of the fortified Berber granaries. A good place to base yourself, Tataouine is an eminently missable modern town that was established by the French as a garrison town at the end of the 19th century. The surrounding countryside though, holds some of the most extraordinary places in the region.
It is also home to some of the most evocative and gloriously beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen, especially in the ‘golden hour’ of sunrise and sunset. Which was lucky since it had taken longer than expected to reach the area close to Tataouine, and by the time I arrived at Ksar Ouled Soltane the sun was getting low in the sky. This brought with it the benefit of having the ksar to myself. This is definitely one of the more visited of the region’s sights but, with the exception of someone selling pencil drawings, I was alone.
The vaulted store rooms known as ghorfas that once would have held grain, and were built to be defended against marauding bandits, were glowing an impossible golden orange in the sunlight. I wandered around in the silence of the gathering twilight and tried to absorb the atmosphere of this truly magical place. As I left I stopped to chat to the guy selling drawings, I really wanted a cold drink but everything was closed in the late afternoon.
Back in the car I headed to Tataouine and the pleasant Sangho Privilege Tataouine, my hotel for the next couple of days. The landscape all around me glowed red and orange, it was so beautiful I kept stopping to take photos. On the outskirts of Tataouine a small miracle occurred and I found the hotel without a satnav or a functioning smart phone – in the dark. I was tired and just wanted to eat and sleep, but the lure of having a beer by the hotel pool as the stars came out was too enticing.