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krisek Tozeur - A travel report by Krys
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Tozeur,  Tunisia - flag Tunisia -  Tozeur
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krisek's travel reports

Over 400,000 date palmtrees on the Sahara. Tozeur.

  9 votes
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The small town of Tozeur, famous for its giant oasis and intricate brick work seemed laid back. The date trade must have been keeping the local population very happy. report of the month contest
Apr 2010

Tozeur's signature brickwork
Tozeur's signature brickwork
I had heard so much buzz about Tozeur for a number of years that inevitably my expectations had built up. I am not sure that the town lived up to them when I visited late in March 2010.

Tozeur is located on the Sahara desert and, more specifically, at one of the desert's largest oases. The oasis allegedly contains over 400,000 palmtrees, most of which are date palmtrees. The town is famous for its date production, and some of the world's best dates come from Tozeur. Their flesh is translucent. The town, as many of Tunisia's places geared towards tourism, was split in two. The new town, comprising of upscale hotels, restaurants and bars, was called 'zone touristique', and was located in the southern part of the town. The older, original (and authentic!) district was located right on the western edge of the main oasis. The link between the older district and zone touristique was relatively attractive. The distance between the two was not great, and the structures built along the way had been kept close to Tozeur's traditional and artistic brickwork. Fine brick patters decorated the facades and the walls, guaranteeing a pleasant walk.

Similarly to other places around the country, Avenue Bourguiba, was Tozeur's centre of activity. It boasted shops, a few places to eat, tourism information office and banks. It was running just south of the oldest part of town called Ouled el-Hadef.

Tozeur was smaller than it appeared on the map, which meant that when looking for Ouled el-Hadef, I ventured too far north. Much too far. Actually, it should take only about 10-15 minutes to walk from zone touristique to Avenue Bourguiba. There were a number signs around Tozeur, but they were misleading, stating much shorter distances than they really were.

Being branded as one of Tunisia's most important destinations for visitors and equipped with an airport, I'd expected a bustling, maybe glamourous, place full of great sights. Well, one day was sufficient to see everything there was to see.

Favourite spots:
Eden Palm rooftop cafe
Eden Palm rooftop cafe
The brand new (it had opened only three months before my arrival) Eden Palm - Les Trésors de l'Oasis was my favourite spot in Tozeur. It was a very nicely done exposition about the date palmtrees and offered a number of tours around the palmerai. The shortest was 45 minutes, cost TND6 (€3) and included an explanation of the irigation system, the method of measuring time for watering the palmtrees without a watch, and a workshop of objects made from the palmtree. The latter showed the ways to make chairs, armchairs, 'wooden' planks (the palm is not a tree but a grass), woven bags and similar objects. The culmination of the tour was a showcase of date products, most of which were preserves; butter made of white dates; date sirup mixed with hazelnut masse; and date jam mixed with lemon were all divine! I got a jar of each!

On the top of the building, there was an open-air and very pleasant tearoom. The service was very professional and they could do any type of tea, also without sugar!

What's really great:
Old Town in Tozeur
Old Town in Tozeur
Weather at the end of March was perhaps the greatest thing about Tozeur. It was about 32C during the day with a gentle breeze, and about 20C at night, so not too chilly. Very pleasant indeed. And this, of course, was in addition to the extraordinary brickwork. For centuries, the Tozeurians erected their houses from bricks laying them in decorative patterns. This way, they did not need to paint or decorate the facades and walls. Some of the patterns looked stupendous, and the structures looked splendid. Tozeur became very well known for the intricate brickwork, so even these days, new developments have been being built in a similar way. That consistency was indeed great. It reminded me of Bukhara in Uzbekistan, which also boasted artistic brickwork.

At night, Tozeur looked fine as well. The night sky was superb. The lack of light pollution provided an incredible clarity and visibility of all the star constellations.

Ouled el Hadef district
Ouled el Hadef district
The 14th century Ouled el-Hadef district, which boasted the original exquisite brickwork, was Tozeur's main sight. It was very compact and relatively easy to navigate. Sadly, it was not in the best of conditions. Many houses were crumbling, and the fantastic brickwork was becoming less and less prominent. The district had a number of very interesting tower-like structures which stood above, or rather looked like being suspended above, passages between courtyards and alleys. A very intriguing feature, which I had not seen that often in places around the world. By the way, the bricks' geometric patterns in relief of Tozeur were not unique to Tunisia. Similar style was also utilised in the town of Nefta, not far from Tozeur.

The vast oasis, also known as the palmeraie, was Tozeur's main sight! It was a fascinating place, dense and had this special calmness about it. The best way to visit the oasis was on foot. Inside, one could visit ancient Thuzuros and a tomb of a famous local holy man.

Dar Cheraït Hotel - main entrance
Dar Cheraït Hotel - main entrance
I stayed at the Residence el Arich. It was relatively modern with nice decor inspired by Tunisian traditional houses, and tiles floors. Rooms were en suite (double/twin TND40, single TND25, credit cards accepted) and good size. They came with air-con, small TV sets and a phone, but also with a few colonies of tiny ants. Completely harmless, but annoying. The roof terrace was great for lounging, and this was where breakfast was served (incl. in room rate). Staff spoke some English, were friendly and helpful. But there was no bar, although the rooftop would have been an incredibly good venue for it.

So, for the bar, I ventured to the 5* Dar Cheraït. The hotel was very plush and its architecture was magnificent. A bottle of Tunisia's red Vieux Magon was TND35 and was very palatable. It was served with peanuts, pistacchios and small canapés. I checked the room prices and was surprised that a single was just TND155, which seemed very reasonable considering the setting.

Entrance to the Ali Baba disco
Entrance to the Ali Baba disco
The Disco Ali Baba, near the zone touristique, was the only obvious night spot I noticed in Tozeur. At 10pm, it was still empty and the massive bouncer had his tout hat on trying to lure people to the venue rather than selecting and filtering the clientele. I was visiting the town out of season and I did not see many tourists, local or foreign, around. Not even in restaurants or taking the caleche - a horse or donkey drawn cart, sending the cart owners into a disarray of desperation to find customers. So, perhaps it would not be reasonable to expect crowds in the nightclub as early as 10pm. Yet, I was under the impression that nightlife started rather early in Tunisia, given that the sun was setting early. Still, having a giant bouncer at the door in the first place, would normally denounce anticipation of crowd wanting to enter that might be problematic. And those normally invade popular night spots. Anyway, I did not wait to verify whether the club was any good.

Cafe at the Centre Loisir Niffer
Cafe at the Centre Loisir Niffer
At the oasis, there were at least two large public parks, which were centres of social life, tea drinking, and scoffing pastries, but also for puffing shisha. One of them was the Centre Loisir Niffer, where a cafe at a pool with disturbingly green water was serving fabulous cakes for TND0.900 a piece (pistacchio was superb, but the chocolate one was angelic), great Turkish coffee for TND0.600 and very sticky mint tea for TND0.600. Tables were scattered among the palms, banana trees, fig trees and morus (mulberry) trees. The table service was professional and relatively efficient, considering the area they had to cover.

The other park, The Elberka Parc, closer to town centre, but still within the oasis, was gaining popularity after sunset. Mainly with locals, who drank their teas by the hectolitres. Perhaps that was the Tozeur's nightlife that I was wondering about. It was very lively and exceptionally sociable spot indeed.

Restaurant de la Republique
Restaurant de la Republique
Restaurant de la Republique, just off the Avenue Bourghiba was relatively popular, but their table cloths were not very clean. It seemed that the patrons did not really know how to keep them tidy. The menu was sufficiently short, but contained a couple of couscous varieties (TND9), fried rice with meat and sauce (TND7.500), roast chicken, and kefta served with salad and chips (TND8). For the quality of the setting and the dishes, I would have to say that the place was overpriced. Their non alcoholic beer (TND3.500) was however nicely cold! The service was almost efficient and polite.

Another popular place was Petit Prince specialising in more adventurous dishes based on camel meat. It was a more upmarket place with a lovely setting on the way to the oasis. It looked really attractive at night. I did not eat there, though.

Other recommendations:
Old Town in Tozeur
Old Town in Tozeur
Just outside Tozeur, there were a few sites, where a number of well known films were shot, including Star Wars and The English Patient. The Tozeur surroundings mainly catered for landscape backdrops like canyons, mountains and the stone desert, also those posing for alien worlds. It was difficult to get to the film spots without own transport. However, a few local travel agents were happy to organise escapades.

Tozeur had an airport on both domestic (flights to Tunis) and international (charter) routes. There was also a newly re-opened railway station from where overnight trains went to Tunis via Sfax.

Published on Tuesday May 11th, 2010

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Thu, Jun 10 2010 - 08:49 PM rating by hieronyma

Congratulation for winning the RoM, I nearly missed the report, which gives a good evaluation of the place and is written clearly and understandable.

Sat, May 15 2010 - 06:56 AM rating by rangutan

Excellently described, I enjoyed this arid region and remarkable oasis very much.

Tue, May 11 2010 - 06:20 AM rating by pesu

Again I really enjoyed reading your well-written diverting report full of details.

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