Itinerary & Map
We often have multiple itineraries so please check to see which itinerary is suitable for you, by selecting the relevant tab.
The tour starts at the airport. You will receive full details of exactly where to meet your Group Leader on the Joining Instructions which will be sent to you 2-3 weeks before your trip starts.
Hotel (AAA) - 2 nights
Sousse; old town medina
Sousse wears many hats as it is a commercial port, tourist beach resort and an old fortified medina. It is this last element that interests us most and you’ll spend the morning exploring the narrow twisting alleyways of the old town. Stalls selling everything from spices to trinkets spill out onto the streets; the variety is amazing and really gives a flavour for North Africa. After your orientation tour you’ll be free to investigate further on your own. You may choose to visit the Ribat, a 9th century stronghold built to defend the coast against Christians, although many of the elements used in its construction are older and there are antique columns either side of the main door. There is also the Grand Mosque – which also looks much like a fort – and an archaeological museum housed in the 11th century kasbah, the highest point in Sousse. With beaches nearby you could also opt to spend some time relaxing in the sun. (B)
Matmata; via El Djem
Today's agenda contains what is arguably Tunisia’s greatest highlight – the Amphitheatre of El Djem (63km/1hr). The tiny town of El Djem - little more than a village really - stands at the centre of an extensive plain covered with olive trees. Somewhat incongruously for such a small place, it’s the site of an enormous amphitheatre – the third largest in the Roman world (after the Colosseum in Rome and Capua near Naples), and the largest Roman monument in North Africa. After Emperor Hadrian fostered the planting of olive trees, the town became such an important centre of olive oil production that its population reached 30,000. Quite who took the decision to construct such a huge building remains unknown, but it was never completed. It was obviously a massive undertaking as the nearest quarries are around 30kms away, and although the stone is relatively soft and so easy to cut, it still had to be transported to the site! The amphitheatre remains incredibly intact and you can climb up several storeys for a great overall view. You can even explore the tunnels under the arena itself where the animals and gladiators would have waited before being released into the bright sun to fight for their lives. It is not difficult to imagine what it was like when the Romans enjoyed the spectacle here or the atmosphere as swords clashed.
You then leave the desert behind as you drive on into the lunar-like hills to Matmata (243km/3hrs). The Roman historian Herodotus first wrote about its underground houses in the 4th century BC, when he described the Berbers who lived here as troglodytes (cave dwellers). Homes have been excavated out of the softish yellow rock of the rounded hillsides – some are still inhabited although the number is dwindling. The main advantage of living in this kind of dwelling is that it provides a relatively constant environment (much like a wine cellar) in an area which suffers wide extremes of temperature and so it feels warm in winter and cool in summer. There’s not much to the village, and little in the way of agriculture - due to the almost complete absence of water - the principal reason why most people emigrate from here to work in the north. Cinema enthusiasts will immediately recognise the location of Luke Skywalker’s home as featured in Star Wars. Tonight it’s easy to imagine how it might have been to live here as you stay in a troglodyte hotel – this means suffering a few privations in exchange for an interesting experience. Waking up in the morning to the sound of the Muezzin calling the faithful to morning prayers and realising that you are in a cave is truly unique.
Basic hotel (AA) - 1 night (BD)
Douz; Camel Trek & Desert Camp
The journey continues today on to Douz. On the way you visit a troglodyte house. At Douz you spend some time exploring the souks, then after lunch you visit the Sahara Museum. Later on in the afternoon you’ll leave your motorised transport behind, trading it in for camels – the ships of the desert. The area is covered in rolling sand dunes and you’ll head off across them for a camel trek (roughly an hour) to the camp. There’s nothing quite like the rhythmic motion of a camel to make you feel like Beau Geste or a true explorer (anyone who prefers can walk!). At the end of the day the sight of the sun setting makes a splendid conclusion to a fun day. Tonight you dine on traditional fare under the clear, starry skies of the desert and sleep in Bedouin-style tents.
Communal Gite (A) - 1 night (BD)
Tozeur; Chott el Djerid salt flats
This morning you follow the tarmac road across the barren Chott el Djerid, a wide expanse of salt flat. It was in this area that some of the filming for the original Star Wars movie took place and there is certainly the feel that this is another planet. The southern edge of the Chott comes up against the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Cutting much further inland, you head to the fringes of the desert and arrive at the green oasis of Tozeur. The sleepy capital of the Djerid (which means ‘palm’ in Arabic) region has a traditional feel that is further enhanced by the sight of women dressed in all-enveloping black wraps. You’ll be able to visit the old town where the facades of its mud houses are decorated with geometric brickwork - the bricks are all made locally by hand. Due to its remoteness, Tozeur is an introspective sort of place - all life revolves around its palmeraie, a broad swathe of date palms in whose shade market gardens produce citrus fruits, pomegranates and vegetables. Everything depends on an intricate system of irrigation - first established in the 13th century - that ensures an equal distribution of this precious resource. Improved modern techniques mean that water can now be brought from deeper inside the earth’s crust, so the area under cultivation has expanded in recent years.
Hotel (AAA) – 2 nights - with swimming pool (B)
Tozeur; Mountain Oases
Today you drive out of Tozeur into the nearby Metlaoui Mountains, which rise abruptly out of the plain close to the border with Algeria. Your visit to some of the most beautiful sites in southern Tunisia starts at the oasis of Chebika. The Roman settlement of Ad Speculum looks out over the Chott el Gharsa salt flat to the south, and a dry and dusty plain to the west. Its Roman name comes from the Latin word for mirror (speculum). The garrison here would have used a mirror to flash messages in a sort of primitive Morse code up and down a line of forts to report on the size and composition of caravans which passed through on the principal east-west route. The decline of the caravan trade meant a reversal in the fortunes of this and other villages that once played an important role in controlling and taxing this traffic. Further on, the ancient walled village of Tamerza, abandoned since 1969 due to disastrous flooding, still exudes enough atmosphere to have been used as a location for several film shoots - despite the decay that has set in. At its heart, beside the mosque, is a white-painted marabout, the burial place of a holy man; shrines of informal saints like this are common throughout the Maghreb. Midès, an abandoned Berber village right on the Algerian border, clings to a rocky outcrop in an impregnable position almost entirely surrounded by sheer-walled canyons. The only access road leads through yet another working oasis, where the old system of cultivation is still used and pomegranate trees and vegetables are planted in the shade of date palms. Late in the afternoon you drive back to Tozeur. (B)
Sousse; via Kairouan & Monastir
Today contains the longest journey, as you travel back to Sousse. Heading first to Monastir, you drive via Kairouan (292km/3hrs) where you stop for lunch and to briefly explore. Established in the 7th century when the Arabs first arrived, Kairouan is now one of Islam's most holy cities. It became so important that seven visits to this tiny place equal one visit to Mecca. Once you have finished wandering through the souks and the hauntingly beautiful but crumbling houses, you get back in the bus and continue on to Sousse where you will have time to spend the remainder of your holiday relaxing on the beach, or doing some last minute shopping in the souks before your flight tomorrow.
Hotel (AAA) - 1 night (B)
The trip ends after breakfast. (B)