Monday, April 19, 2010

Cycling in Djerba, Tunisia

Many, including myself, have come under Djerba's spell. Perhaps even Ulysses. After all, this Mediterranean island has long been suffused with mythology. In Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses and his crew were said to have been seduced by the sweet fruit of lotus flowers -- most likely it was a fermented beverage that intoxicated them -- that they had difficulty heading back to their ships. No wonder this isle is sometimes dubbed the "Isle of Forgetfulness."


What I found was equally intoxicating from an atmospheric point of view. This petite lush Tunisian oasis that's trimmed with sandy beaches is a perfect place for bicycling: an almost year-round sunny land that's as flat as it can be, aside from a few minor hills. (For those not wanting to work up a sweat, the bus network is extensive or you can rent a scooter or a car.) But, for me, cycling allows for more of an intimacy with the land.

And though there are not the tantalizing lotus flowers -- or whatever fermented fruit they may have consumed -- that are said to have tempted Ulysses and his men, there is the sweet perfume of flowering fruit trees.


The golden swaths of sand is what attracts most everyone who steps on Djerba's shores. In fact, the northeast coast with its clutter of resorts and private beaches sees most of the tourist traffic. Instead, I headed further south towards the causeway where I found more solitude along the sandy stretches.


But, a much more magical landscape awaited inland where the scape is dappled with gnarled olive groves and tall date palms. Once I left the sandy coast, I found quiet country lanes where donkey carts rolled by, fields of grazing sheep, and even a young boy herding camels.


Djerba's villages dramatically sparkle in the sunlight, their whitewashed facades in stark contrast to their azure-blue trim and the colorful surrounding fields planted with a cornucopia of fruits, from pomegranates and apricots to mandarins and grapes. Each village displays the island's distinctive white-washed domed buildings. Even the mosques have an unusual architecture, more fortress-like than you might've expected if you're accustomed to the ornate Ottoman embellishments.


Many of the island's villages are noted for different artisanal goods: whether its hand-woven baskets from Fatou or straw hats from Sedouikech. And Saturday morning brings crowds to El May flocking to their colorful market. For generations, the village of Guellala in the south has been turning out pottery and ceramics that's still made the traditional way, on the potter's wheel, with the clay dug from small quarries just outside of town.


One morning, I wandered the vibrant souks in Houmt Souk, the island's picturesque capital that's brimming elaborate silver filagree jewelry, palm leaf-woven baskets, camel hide bags, boldly hued Bedouin belts.


My retreat was the snowy white village of Er Riadh with its network of narrow lanes. There I found the Hotel Dar Dhiafa, a boutique property that's fashioned from centuries-old houses. This is an idyllic place to walk through the tiled courtyards, past pools and niches where bougainvillea are draped and candles cast a warm glow. Plus, they have some of the best cuisine around, North African dishes with French accents.

One of the most surprising findings here is that a Jewish population has called this village home for some 2,000 years. In the modern-day synagogue, El Ghriba, North Africa's oldest, beyond the blue-trimmed white facade is a sun-speckled interior bedecked with ornate mosaics and painted pillars and archways.

Even if Djerba is mostly flat, it's nice to know that weary muscles can easily get some relief. That's because Djerba has become a center for thalassotherapy, spa treatments that revolve around sea water and seaweed treatments that are said to be especially rejuvenating. A firm massage or a soothing wrap could very well be as seductive as the beverage that once captivated Ulysses.



24 comments:

Tiny Timmy Neville said...

This is great! We were just thinking about a trip to Tunisia. Sounds like some great deals are happening now too. Know of any diving there?

JTravel said...

Hi Tiny Timmy Neville, I'm not a diver myself, but here's a link to a dive operator in Djerba: http://www.bluedolphin-djerba.com/ang/23.html
Hope that helps. Enjoy.

Leigh said...

I've done some cycling in Africa, but hadn't even thought of Tunisia. You just put it on my radar. Thank you.

JTravel said...

Hi Leigh, Great to chat with a fellow cyclist. And hope you enjoy Djerba if you get to travel there.

Alisa Bowman said...

Wow. So much beauty. And we love to cycle. This one is going on the life list.

JTravel said...

Hi Alisa, I'm glad you enjoyed this post, especially if it inspired you to place Djerba on your list of cool places to bicycle.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Anything + spa treatment sounds good to me.

Christine - Origami Mommy said...

How beautiful! I love how you cover all the different nuances of the land and culture. I would love to put this on my list of places to see someday.

landguppy said...

fascinating! And it looks so much more inviting in your pictures than I would have assumed it to be!

Kristen said...

Amazing pictures and what an incredible trip. I'd have to click through Google maps to even track down Tunisia.

JTravel said...

Hi Kristen, Thanks for your enthusiastic comments.

JTravel said...

Hi Christine, Yes, I do try to tackle the little-visited destinations or, if they are well traveled, at least to see them in a different way. Glad you enjoyed the post.

JTravel said...

Hi landguppy, Djerba is an amazing place and pictures don't even do it justice, for sure.

JTravel said...

Hi landguppy, Djerba is an amazing place and pictures don't even do it justice, for sure.

JTravel said...

Hi Roxanne, I agree. Adding a spa treatment to almost any activity makes it all the more enjoyable.

Kris said...

LOVE those beach umbrellas! You are always opening my eyes to new locations I need to see. I now need to live to be 190 years old to see them all!

JTravel said...

Hi Kris, I know how you feel. I have a list that's ever growing as well.

info said...

Yeah I know how you feel!

Carpool

Djerba said...

Nice travelogue :)

It's nice to see tourists who are still interested in cycling! The majority are looking for thrill-seeking trips and destroying our roads with ATV or buggies :(

I hope you had a nice stay in our island :)

JTravel said...

Hi Djerba, Oh, you'd never see me on an ATV or anything like that. I'm very much into protecting the environment and enjoying nature. Bicycling, hiking and walking are perfect for exploring landscapes without disrupting the environment.

Used Cars said...

Nice article about cycling, Surely cyclist will enjoy cycling experience in this beautiful place

Scooters For Sale said...

This is really exciting and perfect way for cycling, weather is bright and warm, really perfect for cycling.

JTravel said...

Hi Scooters For Sale, Yes, Djerba is perfect for cycling. Truly the way to learn about a land and its people. It's amazing how few people know about it.

canvas print said...

Thanks alot for sharing!