Janice Fuscoe finds Tunisian tranquility on the island of Djerba
Homer – the ancient Greek poet, not the Simpson – described Djerba as the Land of the Lotus-eaters. This mythical tribe gorged themselves on the fruit and flowers of the lotus to lull them into a state of total relaxation.
Just off Tunisia’s east coast, the island is lapped by warm Mediterranean seas and bathed by sunshine for much of the year, so while there may be no evidence of the lotus plant today, Djerba is still somewhere to kick back and chill out.
SELL: SUNNY SERENITY
Tunisia is growing in popularity with Britons. The number of UK arrivals in 2013 was just over 400,000, an increase of 24% from the previous year, with the recipe for success a heady mix of exoticism coupled with affordability and easy access – and relative stability since 2011’s Jasmine Revolution.
Djerba has been particularly booming, with tourist arrivals in January this year up 49% on last. Selling points include its climate – a few degrees warmer than more northerly resorts – and its perfect sandy beaches.
Summer brings 10 hours of sunshine a day and average temperatures of 28C, and the hotels in the Zone Touristique, right on the golden sands, are perfect spots to make the most of the weather. From budget-friendly options to five-stars with spas, there’s plenty to appeal to families and couples, with the excellent value for money on offer a plus point for all.
Thomson offers a direct flight from the UK, with a weekly summer service from Gatwick, starting on May 7 until October 29. Otherwise, clients can take an hour-long connecting flight from Tunis, where British Airways flies four times a week from Gatwick, and Tunisair five times a week from Heathrow.
Djerba is Tunisia’s largest island – it’s about the size of the Isle of Man – and alongside the modern hotel facilities, has a traditional feel. High-rise construction is prohibited, and many buildings are Moorish in style, the colours of the white walls and blue domed roofs signifying purity, as well as reflecting the tones of the sea and sky.
Watersports and a golf course provide action on the doorstep, and for those with the desire to venture further, trips into the desert or to visit Roman ruins can be organised.
STAY: ON THE SANDS
The majority of Djerba’s hotels sit along one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, Sidi Mehrez.
The five-star Hasdrubal Thalassa & Spa is an established choice with an extensive thalassotherapy spa. Rooms are light and bright and there’s a choice of six restaurants and bars. Tunisia First offers seven nights’ half-board from £1,029 including flights in May.
For the ultimate in luxury, sister property Hasdrubal Prestige lies further down the beach, offering all-suite accommodation, with more opulent public areas. It too has a selection of restaurants and a large thalassotherapy spa.
Clients who want to book all-inclusive are well-served by the big two. The 287-room Club Magic Life Penelope Beach Imperial is popular with First Choice’s family clients – little wonder, with its interconnecting rooms and two-bedroom suites, four pools, entertainment team and activities from archery and aerobics to volleyball. The operator offers a week all-inclusive from £646 including transfers and flights from Gatwick departing July 16.
Also on Sidi Mehrez beach, the four-star Fiesta Beach Hotel is designed along the lines of a traditional Djerban village, offering a choice of room types including triples and family rooms, and four pools (outdoor pool, slides, thermal and relaxation). There’s a kids’ club and even a kids’ restaurant open during summer school holidays.
A seven-night, all-inclusive package for a family of three starts from £1,299, travelling on June 6 with Thomas Cook.Adults may enjoy the nearby four-star Sentido Djerba Beach, with its thalassotherapy centre, outdoor pool and à la carte restaurant included in the package. Thomas Cook offers seven nights’ all-inclusive from £545 including transfers and flights, on June 13.
Away from the main strip of hotels, on the south coast, Thomson offers the ClubHotel Riu Palm Azur. The 391 rooms of this Thomson Platinum Resort have modern décor, there’s a large main pool and a small kids’ pool, and à la carte choices alongside the main buffet. A week all-inclusive with Thomson starts from £2,426 for a family of four including flights from Gatwick departing July 16.
Those who prefer their hotel small and individual could choose Hotel Dar Dhiafa, a historic house conversion in the quiet village of Erriadh in the centre of the island. The 14 simply but sleekly furnished rooms and suites open on to a patio or one of the two swimming pools, and there’s a Turkish bath, lounge and an à la carte restaurant.
Tunisia First offers seven nights with breakfast from £819 including flights from Gatwick in May. The operator also offers stays in the up-and-coming resort of Zarzis, 40 minutes from Djerba airport over the causeway to the island’s south. There’s a long white beach, whitewashed houses and a pretty fishing port.
The boutique, 20-room Residence Sultana is a family-run property with beautiful gardens, a sun terrace and pool, and a stretch of private beach. A week with breakfast starts from £859 with Tunisia First, including flights.
SEE: SPORTS AND SOUKS
Houmt Souk is a charming little town where the tranquillity of its ancient streets contrasts with the bustle of its market, where visitors can haggle for carpets, spices or Berber silverware (a speciality) and observe the fish auction that takes place every Monday.
The whitewashed village of Guellela is the centre of traditional pottery production on the island, with souvenirs to buy and a museum about Berber life. The island is home to more than 400 mosques and one synagogue, El Ghriba, one of the oldest in existence, and open to the public every day except Saturday.
Djerba’s history is one of almost constant invasion, and evidence of the many peoples that have passed through is displayed in the art, ceramics and jewellery of the Lalla Hadria Museum. It’s part of the Parc Djerba Explore complex, also home to a crocodile farm where visitors can experience late afternoon feeding time, as well as a traditional village set-up and a cluster of shops and restaurants.
Most hotels offer watersports and for the more relaxed, thalassotherapy centres, plus there’s championship golf on an 18-hole links course. Operators’ excursions include island tours, quad biking and camel rides, and full day or overnight trips into the southern Tunisian desert.
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