Bizerte - Not so grim up North!

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March 24th 2010
Published: March 27th 2010
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Having said a sad and fond farewell to our friends in Sousse, we headed up North on the train to Tunis. We were supposed to be met by a car rental agency after we had negotiated a really good rate on line. They didn’t turn up and they wouldn’t answer their phone! Oh well, the best laid plans and all that!! So we took a taxi out to the airport where Russ did some hard bargaining and before long we were on the road up to the city of Bizerte, some 40km North of Tunis. The further North we got, the more the scenery looked like England, but with sunshine and the occasional palm tree!

Bizerte was a bigger place than we had imagined. It’s not exactly over developed when it comes to tourism which is part of its charm. We stayed in the Hotel de la Plage which is located just 50m from the town beach. It’s just a shame the beach is closed as major redevelopments are underway!! The hotel is also close to the picturesque Kasbah and old port. The old port had a bit of a Greek Island feel to it, but without the raucous bars and the drunken European holidaymakers! Just finding a restaurant was a challenge, more so if you didn’t want to eat by yourself. We managed though, as we always do.

Having a car meant we could get to some of those out of the way places that public transport just cannot reach. After a night’s rest we headed up the coast to Cap Blanc but the drive was pretty disappointing. It just wasn’t that beautiful and when we reached the beach called “La Grotte”, we felt it was more like “La Grotty”. Driving back towards Bizerte we were surprised at how much military land there is. Some of it even obstructs the views back towards the city but the no photography signs have all seen better days!!

Our drive took us back into the city then out again to the West. That took us past the Martyr’s Cemetery. The enormous monument and numerous unmarked graves represent the 1000 Tunisians who fought and died against the French to clear the city of its unwelcome post-colonial hangers on in 1963. The gates were closed but it was easy to get a good vantage point to view the memorial.

We continued out of town and down the road which bisects two large lakes: Lac Bizerte and Lac Ichkeul. The latter was our destination for the afternoon. It’s a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its natural beauty and varied wildlife. Now this was the splendour of Northern Tunisia we had hoped to see. The fields were resplendent in colour and we immediately passed a small flock of huge white storks after negotiating the sheep strewn across the road.

At the foot of Jebel Ichkeul, the small mountain which rises above the lake, someone (the Romans perhaps?) had discovered some hot springs. A series of small hammams, or baths, were built and today they glow white when the sun comes out, marking the parking area and the start of the steps up to the “Ecomuseum”. The museum wasn’t bad for a freebie but it lacked a lot of detail and some English wouldn’t have gone amiss! Still, it was good to get an overview of all the wildlife the park contains.

The Jebel is also good for trekking. We spent a good few hours walking along the paths and enjoying the scenery. We met many people along the way including a large group of Scouts who had spent all day hiking up to the summit, something we didn’t quite have enough time for. It wasn’t too strenuous but we are expecting a few aching limbs in the days to come! Along the way a few bird hides have been constructed but it seems we are between the two migration seasons and there wasn’t a lot of avian life to be seen.

Leaving the park behind, we drove out alongside the wetlands hoping to see a bit more wildlife. There were no water buffalo around but there were hundreds of cows to nudge out of the way! As for birds, egrets were plentiful and we saw a few birds of prey, but nothing unusual came our way, much to Trish’s disappointment. It was a beautiful place though and given the chance we would spend another day there for sure.

After another quiet night in Bizerte we then set out along the roads across the North Coast of Tunisia towards Tabarka and the Algerian border. But that’s for the next blog so you’ll have to wait and see!!!

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Phoenician ShipPhoenician Ship
Phoenician Ship

Horrific! It's a restaurant:

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