In the Djerba post, we mentioned that we spent our last night on the island “treating ourselves” to a night in a Fondouk, an old inn or caravanserai. In a way, it wasn’t much of an extravagance, since hotels here in Tunisia tend to be inexpensive, certainly by European standards – our en-suite room, including breakfast, was no more expensive than many European campsites charge – even off-season. We’ve been staying in other hotels here – but mainly when there were no campsites within easy reach of a city centre. Yes, we could wild-camp in the street, something many of the people we’ve met on the road do regularly – but it’s a lot easier for them, having “proper” motorhomes with loos and better washing facilities than we have.
On Djerba, that clearly wasn’t the case – we’d had several nights in a perfectly respectable campsite just a few miles away. What really swung it for us was the opportunity to stay in a traditional type of accomodation, something we’ll never be able to do again – a “landmark” to the area. We’ve long discussed having some time away in the UK in Landmark Trust property, rather than a B&B or pub or whatever, but (partly given their premium prices) haven’t got round to it yet – we will one day. It’s a lot less certain that we’ll ever come back to Tunisia, so it seemed rude not to have a night in a Fondouk.
Similarly, as we’ve started to head inland into the deep south, we’ve been coming across plenty of Ksour. A Ksar (Ksour is the plural) is an old fortified grain store, used for many hundreds of years by the Berbers to store their produce in safety. Each family or tribe would have had one or more storage units (Ghorfas) in a Ksar. A guardian would have been responsible for the safety of the Ksar, in return for a small percentage of each harvest as a safe-keeping fee. The Ksour are located in easily defensible positions, and had various defensive measures to help protect against nomadic raiders and thieves.
Our first night’s stop after Djerba was in a small village, Metameur, near Medenine. Our guidebook said that there was a Ksar there with Ghorfas converted into hotel rooms, but you could also camp in the courtyard itself. It turned out that the hotel had long since closed, but camping was no problem.
The lovely little old lady who ran the Ksar (there was also a handicraft exhibition, as the Ksar is a regular on the day-tour circuit for those in Djerba package hotels) gave us a guided tour, including the rooms which had been accomodation. Very simple and plain to the point of austerity – just a mattress on a cement bed base – I think we’d probably have opted for the comfort of the van anyway, since the courtyard was so dramatic.
Not far outside Metameur lies Ksar Jouamaa, described by the book as “dramatically perched on (a) scarp, with sheer drops on three sides” but near derelict. Certainly, the location is absolutely fabulous, but when we arrived, we found that a good chunk of it had been recently restored for hotel use.
Since it was barely lunchtime, we had no intention of staying – but the rooms looked so welcoming, divided into a living and sleeping area, en-suite showers and sinks all sympathetically incorporating the original structure of the Ghorfa with traditional materials, that we succumbed. The fact that the place is very newly opened, and we were their first paying clients, had a little bearing, we will admit.
Finally – for the moment – I’m typing this in a Ghar, a troglodyte cave dwelling in Douiret near Tatouine. Not dissimilar to Matera, in Southern Italy, this is a village composed of a series of caves dug into the soft stone of the hillside. Mostly abandoned now, several have been restored by the <deep breath> Association pour la Sauvegarde de la Nature et Protection de l’Environnement de Douiret (ASNAPED), a local not-for-profit heritage group who’ve also been restoring the region’s other landmarks, agricultural terraces called Jessour with a series of clever and complicated mechanisms to retain, store and manage the limited rain water for the crops. A series of steep steps lead up from the dirt track to the courtyard of the residence, where small doorways open straight into the sheer rock face.
One of those opens into our room – which would originally have been one family’s home. Again, treating the space very sympathetically, a living area passes through an archway into the sleeping area, with walls gently curving through strata of rock into the ceiling.