When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

food / travel

After The Revolution, Tunisia Looks To Revive Tourism Of Sun, Sea And Desert Treks

Bypassed as a tourist site since the revolution, the southern Tunisian city of Douz looks to regain its hold as an entryway to the Sahara. The country's tourist industry as a whole has been hit hard by the political unrest.

Waiting to be sent (wallygrom)
Waiting to be sent (wallygrom)
Martine Picouët

DOUZ – It's 7 a.m. in the market of Douz, an oasis town in southern Tunisia. Merchants cloaked in their burnouses, a long hooded robe, have placed their wares on the ground: open bags of dates, couscous, fruit, vegetables, spices and dried fish.

The stores begin to open their doors as merchants hang wool carpets for sale outside. In the middle of Douz's square, the oldest of the merchants chat and drink mint tea. This square, adjacent to the cattle market, is a male-dominated world – women and children will arrive later.

For now, it is time for business. Potential customers browse the products, weighing, comparing, quietly negotiating. Transactions take place covertly, with cash passing from hand to hand, and in less than one hour, several horses, donkeys, chickens, goats, sheep and camels have changed owners.

More than a year after the Jasmine Revolution, only a dozen Germans and French tourists have come to hike and enjoy the winter sun. Busy with sewing the pointed, leather slippers common in North Africa, Mohammed, 55, doesn't understand why: "Where are the tourists?" he asks. "The French, Italians, Germans – why aren't they coming?"

Following the ouster of former President Ben Ali from power, the inhabitants of Douz, known as Mrazigians, are worried about the recovery of the tourism industry, which is the leading economic engine for the region, ahead of dates.

Nationally, the number of tourists over the past year has dropped by 40 percent, while revenue fell by 33 percent, according to the Tunisian National Tourism Office. "What are they afraid of?" asks Mohammed, who, like the majority of families in Douz, has long earned money by organizing camel rides and hikes through the desert for visitors.

France's foreign ministry still discourages French citizens from traveling to the eastern Sahara, south of Douz. "You can see that there is no danger," says Ali, who runs a small general store nearby.

Entry point to the Sahara

Mohammed, as do all his neighbors, counts on the harvesting of dates and the few foreign visitors to get by while waiting for the flocks of tourists to return to Douz, a starting point for numerous camel rides in the Tunisian Sahara.

This southern region is shaped by the wind, where the dunes seem to move at the whim of Aeolus. It does not compare with the grand deserts of Algeria or Mauritania, but it serves as an introduction to the Sahara. On this night, we sleep in a tent encampment after a day moving on foot and by camel through the hot sand.

After a night under the stars, we leave in the morning to go east toward Matmata, a first step toward the hilltop villages in Dahar, further south – remote sites that the Berbers fled to during the Arab invasions from the 7th to the 12th centuries.

Soon we leave the erg, the desert dunes, for the reg, the famous desert of stones and pebbles. On the asphalt road, there is little traffic with the exception of some sheep. "In the winter, people stay in their villages waiting for the rains of February and the arrival of spring in March," explains the guide, Dominique Harari.

The moment arrives to go back down to the valley to plant barley and feed the animals. "We see entire families pitching their tents and staying for three months on their plots of land," Harari says.

Meanwhile, we head by car to Tamezret, the last Berber village where Tamazight is still spoken, and Matmata, where amidst the lunar landscapes several scenes from Star Wars were filmed. Flanking the mountain and carved into it, the cave-like homes reinforce the feeling of something supernatural. Such a home is built around a well, with windowless rooms shooting off from it, whitewashed and transformed into bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms and pantries.

Last summer, Myriam and her husband dug through the earth to open up an extra room within the cave in order to accommodate travelers passing through. It is a Berber-style accomodation, where guests sit on colorful mats and taste traditional dishes such as lamb, pomegranates and Deglet Nour dates.

Further south toward Tataween, the landscape is home to the steepest ksours, the cave-like barns stacked on top off each other and dug into the top of the mountain. The ksours are comprised of a multitude of ghorfa, a Berber term for the vaulted rooms where grain is stored. These so-called fortresses served at one time as citadels, and in the event of conflict, inhabitants could find refuge there with their herds. Some ksours have since been converted to lodgings.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - wallygrom

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ