Visitors choose Tabarka for its exceptional location, between the sea and the mountains. The beaches of golden sand are framed by rocky spurs and forests of pine and cork oak. The crystalline waters hide the precious red coral in its depths. The characteristic silhouette of the Genoese Fort, perched upon an islet, is the emblem of Tabarka. The mountainous backcountry holds the promise of fantastic excursions and hiking around the village of Ain Draham, the entry point to a vast forested mountain range.
What to see ?
Forest and wild coast
The centre of Tabarka, built at the start of the French Protectorate, has an air that feels a little old fashioned. Have a refreshing drink in the Cafe des Andalous, a Moorish cafe in the heart of the town, then stroll along the charming marina where fishing boats rub shoulders with yachts. Not far from here are the jewellers, who make marvelous creations in coral pearls, the pride of the town. The artisans also make beautiful objects out of cork, harvested in the region, and in carved wood. Find a high point of the town to enjoy a sublime view of the bay. The sunset sets the Needles on fire, tall rock formations eroded by the sea. Further inland the landscape becomes mountainous and covered with a thick layer of forest. Here you can find the village of Ain Draham, unusual in Tunisia with its red-roofed houses terraced along the hillside. Awaiting you along the mountain roads are pastoral scenery and charming lakes deep in the forest.
What to do ?
Diving or hiking
“Ne bronzer pas idiot” – “Don’t be a stupid sunbather” was the first motto of the Music Festival of Tabarka. And it’s true that this small destination offers much more than just its beaches and hotel entertainment. Tabarka has a long tradition of scuba diving and incredible dive sites. Popular amongst boaters, it offers numerous possibilities for sea outings towards neighbouring coves or towards the island of La Galite. Added to this is a remarkable golf course, thalasso spa centres (in Tabarka) and hot springs (close to Ain Draham). In summer, Tabarka is livened up with several events dedicated to jazz and world music. The Northwest of Tunisia, with its thick forest and well-preserved nature, is an ideal location for hiking, nature observation and hunting. Two world class archaeological sites can also found in the area: Chemtou (marble extraction, Numidian civilisation) and Bulla Regia (underground Roman houses).
What to eat ?
Lobster or marcassin
During your stay in Tabarka, don’t miss tasting lobster in one of the portside restaurants who will also spoil you with fish and seafood. During your stay, the hotels of the seaside resort will serve you an international cuisine in good standing. You can also dine in an old hotel in the town centre, while contemplating the superb view of the coast. In Ain Draham, a choice destination for wild boar hunting, you can try a delicious stew of marcassin – young boar.
Where to sleep ?
On the beach or in the forest
Seaside resort of a manageable size, Tabarka has a dozen or so resort hotels on the beach. You could also choose hotel accommodation at the edge of the forest or a small boutique hotel in the town centre. Around Ain Draham, you can find a number of comfortable hotels: hunting lodges with rustic decor, luxury establishments in the wilderness, or big hot spring hotel surrounded by forest.
A well-preserved forested mountain range
True water reservoir of Tunisia, the Northwest is watered by numerous rivers and covered with lush vegetation. Dams are plentiful, forming charming lakes. Its also a region with sharp contrast in terrain where the mountains can reach heights of over 1000 metres. But it is particularly for its forest that this region is remarkable. Pines, cork oaks, Mirbeck’s oaks cover a surface of several tens of thousand hectares, with very little disturbance from human activities. In these landscapes, where one can’t help but think back to those of Corsica or Sardinia, live a whole host of wild species: wild boar, booted eagles, woodpeckers, chickadees… in the extreme west of the country, the national park of Feija extends for nearly 3000 hectares. It is well known for its magnificent forests and for sheltering an important population of red Barbary deer, the only deer species in Africa. This deer has been a target of protection measures since the 1960s.
Coral and jewellery
Did you know that the red coral jewellery on offer in Tabarka has a story that goes back a very long way? Since ancient times, this precious material has been the target of greed and longing in a veritable “gold rush”: the red gold of the Mediterranean, as the coral is sometimes known. Coral appears to be made of branches bearing small white flowers. But in reality it is a limestone skeleton inhabited by minuscule creatures from the same family as sea anemones and jellyfish. Rare in present times, red coral was once particularly abundant along the north coast of Tunisia. In the 16th century, Genoese merchants obtained a monopoly on its trade. To protect their activities they build a fortified village in Tabarka of which remains the Genoese Fort, the emblem of the town. Today, one has to dive to great depths to find it in abundance. But this does not stop diving enthusiasts from admiring the splendid brightly coloured branches of the gorgonian sea fans.
Good to know
Tabarka Tourism Board
Tel. : 78 671 491 / 78 673 496
Tabarka Jazz Festival, Tabarka Latino Days (July-August)
Monday: Aïn Draham. Tuesday: Ghardimaou. Wednesday: Nefza, Jendouba. Thursday: Bou Salem. Friday: Tabarka. Sunday: Fernana.
Tabarka is accessible by plane (international airport) or by road (180 km from Tunis, with 70 via motorway).
Do the rounds of the jewellers close to the port, there you’ll find original ornaments in red coral and silver. Bring back souvenirs from Ain Draham in carved wood: canes, statuettes of eagles or of deer… You can also buy beautiful wicker baskets, pottery from Sejnane (see p. 19) or objects made from cork harvested in the area.