Lovers of nature and authenticity, the beaches and valleys of northern Tunisia will take your breath away. Wild coves, forests, vineyards and vast fields of wheat… On the coast, Bizerte, sentinel of the Mediterranean, is a historic city with well-preserved charm. This lush region also is home to two locations designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One is a cultural site, the Roman city of Dougga, and the other, the natural reserve of Ichkeul where the lake attracts thousands of migratory birds.
What to see ?
Medina and landscapes
The old harbour is the heart of Bizerte, a body of water framed by white houses and centuries old walls where fishing boats glide silently by. A place full of charm and rich in history. On the quays, enjoy the atmosphere by taking a seat on a cafe terrace. Then delve into the silent Kasbah ringed with stone walls. Explore along the narrow streets of the medina, visit the souks, admire the 17th century Turkish fountain as you walk past. Climb up to the Spanish Fort which dominates the city, to enjoy the view across the harbour. Take a stroll through the city centre, which still keeps its look of an old colonial city with its wide avenues. Relax by the new marina or the commercial harbour bustling with activity. Around the town, you will no doubt have your breath taken away by the lush green landscape of hills, fields of wheat and orchards: this region is one of the most fertile in Tunisia.
What to do ?
Swimming or archaeology
While not as popular a destination as Hammamet or Sousse, Bizerte has a number of beautiful hotels to best take advantage of the sea and summer sunshine. It’s also a favourite destination for pleasure sailing and scuba diving. To either side, the coast is made up of magnificent beaches, barely frequented by tourists: cap Serrat, Raf-Raf, Ghar el-Melh… In the natural reserve of Ichkeul, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s possible to walk along the lake banks and explore the mountain via marked trails. Lovers of history can discover Tunisia’s Andalusian heritage in Testour, the beautiful Ottoman fortresses of Ghar el-Melh, the Fort of Bizerte, the archaeological site in Utica and especially that of Dougga, one of the most spectacular of the Roman world (see also page 18).
What to eat ?
Fish and seafood
Cosied up around its old port, Bizerte is a grand destination to taste quality seafood. As a starter or main course, feast on cuttlefish, squid, shrimp… Your fish may be served grilled and accompanied by fried vegetables, or cooked in the oven with cumin and saffron. The northern valleys are a rich agricultural land where cereals, livestock and olive groves rub shoulders. In the region, a speciality during the festivals is t’bikh, a kind of simmered wheat soup with lamb meat, perfumed with spices and orange peel. You will also taste a delicious delicately perfumed couscous with grouper. Couscous is an old Berber dish made from semolina cooked with steam, usually garnished with lamb and vegetables; however in the coastal towns, it is often happily prepared with fish. You will find the best restaurants to dine at close to the beachside hotels, the old harbour and the marina.
Where to sleep ?
Hotel, ecological farm or seaside bungalow
While Bizerte has a typical hotel zone for seaside vacations, the region also offers some more original accommodations. For example, a guesthouse in an ecological farm in the countryside, bungalows by a deserted beach, a luxurious villa with a sea view, or an ancient house in the old city.
Forts and birds
The ruins of Utica, the first colony founded by the Phoenicians in Tunisia, and of Dougga, a small indigenous town that later became Roman, bear witness to the ancient past of this fertile region. In Dougga, one can see an exceptionally well conserved ancient city, where emerging from the ruins are monuments such as the Numidian mausoleum, the theatre and the capitol building. Bizerte occupies a strategic location in the Mediterranean which has determined up until the present day its military vocation. Its interior harbour and its great lake linked to the sea would welcome privateer’s galleys up to the 17th century. To the south of Bizerte, Ghar el-Melh once housed the Ottoman navy; one can still see there the ruins of the arsenal and three fortresses. The surrounding region was built up and enhanced in the same era by the Andalusians, the Muslims who were chased out of Spain. They also made their home in Testour, a small town where one can find uniquely designed mosques, inspired by Spanish churches. Lake Ichkeul is one of the most important wetland areas in the Mediterranean. It is a unique ecosystem, characterised by the seasonal variation between freshwater and saltwater, which attracts thousands of waterbirds. A forested mountain overlooks the lake, it shelters remarkable flora and fauna.
The potters of Sejnane
The small village of Sejnane is known for its traditional pottery that dates back to time immemorial. Here, women learn from a young age how to knead and model clay. Their dexterity is astonishing: without ever using a potter’s wheel, they make perfectly formed dishes, pots and vases. If it takes their fancy, they also make little toys and decorative dolls that they paint with traditional Berber motifs, with red ochre and vegetable dyes. Zigzags, triangles, chevrons… these little characters come to life under their fingers. On the plates and dishes, they also paint ancient symbols, of palm trees, turtles, fish, human figures. Their tools could not be more simple: a few sticks, boards, fragments of plastic, and shells to polish the surfaces. The village of Sejnane, surrounded by hills and lakes, is also known for its little French station and for the colony of storks that nest in the old industrial scaffolding. Plenty of wonderful reasons to come and visit the clay artists of Sejnane.
Good to know
Bizerte Tourist Board
Tel. : 72 430 999 / 72 432 897 / 72 432 703
Tuesday: Bizerte, Béja. Thursday: Sejnane, Teboursouk. Friday: Ras Jebel, Mateur, Testour. Saturday: Mateur, El Alia, Thibar. Sunday: Bizerte.
Tunis-Carthage airport is 70 km from Bizerte. A motorway and trainline connect Bizerte with the capital. Another motorway connects with to the west of Tunisia in the direction of Testour and Dougga.
In Bizerte as in all of the cities of Tunisia, the shops and stalls of handicrafts and souvenirs offer you a wide choice of ornaments, embroidered tunics, leather bags and slippers, carpets, woven baskets… Don’t miss out on the chance to bring home the Berber pottery from Sejnane, original and decorated with stylised red and black graphic motifs.