I have been intending to go to El Jem for quite some time but being up…
Funny thing perception. I left Bizerte feeling that Tabarka would be miles away (much like Tunis citizens feel about Bizerte) but found it to be a 2 hour but very enjoyable trip. I visited Tabarka from Bizerte and it is likely that you will come either from there or Tunis so please hold this in mind if you want to see some of the things that I took photos of.
Literally, as soon as you leave Bizerte (which is also a lovely place) it immediately becomes obvious how sparsely populated the countryside is and frankly how beautiful the North of Tunisia is as a place. The town fades out and you are met with miles of beautiful rolling hills and, with the Lake Itchkeul, you have scenes that would not look out of place in any epic.
As for the road itself, it is quite windy but of good quality with only the odd hole but the main concern should be that it is not the widest and given that this is a very agricultural area you keep an eye out for the odd cow or old lady walking across or even an old lady with a 400kg cow which is my personal favourite, please slowdown as they cannot stop!
When you arrive in Tabarka you can see the change in the buildings. The area has its own style which is that of reddish tiles on the roves of the houses. What is most pleasing for the NIMBY in me is that almost all of the buildings keep to this style which makes it that much more attractive.
Just before entering the town proper you come to the Ras Rejel graveyard which thankfully is in good order and makes me feel proud and sad as many of the men buried there are a lot younger than me. After leaving the cemetery you have a simple job of driving the short distance into Tabarka itself.
If you’re like me and staying in the zone touristique, this is easy enough to find as it’s actually like an extension to the main town to the east running along the beach. This is new and has many modern hotels and a golf course.
The Town centre
After having a little rest in the hotel, we decided to head into town for some photos and walkabout and what immediately strikes you is how compact, spacious and nice Tabarka is. Driving out of the Zone Tourisque you find yourself bearing right and you are in front of the marina with plenty of parking spaces with the town centre to your left and the beach to your right navigation is simplicity itself.
Opposite the pretty tourism office is a area for sports in front of the beach which seemed popular and well maintained which was nice as much of the time you do not see such good community facilities in Tunisia for kids.
Walking through this area, you then come to the beach which is excellent and sweeps from the Fort, past the marina and all the way around to the zone touristique and is both wide and clean which is always good.
After taking some photos we decided to have some lunch in the marina in the Touta restaurant. The marina itself looks quite recent and is small and intimate and notable for the captain’s building and the driving building which looked like giant packets of refreshers with banded paint. Again, the walkways around this area were large and clean making walking safe and a pleasure. The port is situated between island with the fort and the mainland.
The port is in the process of being redeveloped with a new shopping area being added to the back of the marina. This promises to bring more apartments and facilities to the marina which already had a good selection of restaurants and places to grab a coffee.
Coming out the other side of the Marina and you see why people like Tabarka, with the fort to your right and the hills curving around on your left, it is a lovely place. Even the houses look well spaced out and consistent, which definitely gives it a more European feel.
Another bonus is the well-maintained and wide walkway that leads around the side of the hills and leads you toward another attraction in Tabarka which is the “needles” of Tabarka. The needles themselves are a dramatic result of sea erosion and the walkway passes through them so that you can feel the size of them.
After you have admired the needles you can continue your walk right around the bay to the “amphitheatre of the sea” which is a new construction enjoying an fabulous position at the bottom of the hill in front of the houses and overlooking the bay and fort. When this is finished, it’s sure to provide both a useful venue and also a fantastic backdrop for the performances, which I hope to catch when I come to the internationally renowned Jazz festival.
If you like, you can walk to the top of the hill which is dotted with existing and newly constructed houses. I decided to head back at this point but I came back in the car (too lazy) and took some photos from the top of the road which winds up the side of the hill.
After our exertions walking around the bay, we decided to head into town for a cup of tea in the welcoming and unusually quiet streets. Tabarka’s French feeling continues in the town proper with a nice selection of colonial buildings many of which are still in good condition. The roads seemed a lot wider than many places in Tunisia and the relaxed atmosphere was obvious, people do not die of stress in Tabarka that is for sure!
In the centre there are also some tidy gardens with pride of place given to a statue of Habib Bourguiba as he was exiled here by the French in the early 1950’s which so far to me doesn’t seem so bad.
The Tourist Route and the Fort
If you are either energetic or have a car for you trip you can drive down the tourist route which goes round the back of the town and then snakes its way though the residential area and up the hill which overlooks the fort, amphitheatre and the bay. This is worth it if you can do it as the view is fantastic. Also if you can walk/take the car up the road which is next to the marina and follow it up to the top of the hill on which the fort stands ( it’s a bit twisty and you have to keep an eye out for the drivers coming down) you get to see the fort closely.
Tabarka castle or Genoese Fort is a interesting place. Basically, a Genoese family built the fort to keep a garrison to protect the harvesting of coral in the region. This was a valuable trade and what made their situation rare was that, at the time, Tunisia was a part albeit autonomous of the Ottoman Turkish Empire and the Genoese family were Christian, so what you have here is a situation where a foreign Christian force is allowed in a Muslim country – a strange situation indeed. Given the nature of this arrangement, some at the time speculated that the Lomellini family leveraged influence on the Genoese to gain the rights as a contra payment for the ransom of a Turkish Admiral held prisoner.
The Castle itself is lovely and in good condition benefitting from its excellent position. Unfortunately there was some renovation work being undertaken at the castle when I was there and I was only able to go up to the front entrance. When Tore came here he was able to go into part of the castle but said that the majority is a government facility. However even without going into the building the views from the top of the mound are worth the effort as you can see everything.
Tabarka is lovely and offers you a very relaxed and enjoyable environment, which is perfect for the young family and/or couples who enjoy a romantic walk. You may be hard pressed to find nighclubs but for relaxation nice food and healthy atmosphere you will have a hard time beating Tabarka.