We had been travelling through such spectacular scenery all the way along the western edge of Tunisia, so that the much-hyped drive from Aïn Draham to Tabarka, on the coast, didn’t stand out as extra special to us. Perhaps it would at a different time of year, when the rolling grain fields further south were not freshly green and luscious compared to the forests covering the Kroumirie Mountains.
Tabarka began as a Phoenician settlement (Tabarka means ‘shaded place’), but it was a backwater until the Romans started exporting the Chemtou marble. In the 16th and 17th centuries, pirate corsairs plundered vessels along the Barbary Coast. I mentioned earlier that the name given to the North African coastline was derived from the name the Romans called the indigenous peoples living in the region, now known collectively as the Berbers.
The most famous of them all was Barbarossa (Khair ed-Din Barbarossa) who was forced to give up Tabarka Island to the Genoese as ransom for his partner in crime, Dragut. The castle the Genoese built enabled them to hold onto the island until the arrival of the more powerful Ottomans in 1741 AD. Much later, the French built the causeway linking the island to the mainland. The modern marina sits at this location, under the looming fortress, which creates a wonderful photographic backdrop for all who visit.
Tunisians love Tabarka, but it hasn’t caught on with the foreign tourists for some reason. There didn’t appear to be any suitable hotels in the center of town, so we drove east along the coast to check out the large resort hotels. The Independence Day weekend holiday was over and most visitors had returned to their regular routines so we were able to score a great room in a lovely hotel for a fraction of what we paid in Tozeur. We were shown to a sea view room as a special bonus.
If we had more time at our disposal, it would have been nice to stay two nights instead of just one, but we made up for it by opting to enjoy some of the facilities. We planned to drive into Tunis, a mere three hours away if one drove straight through, so we knew we had plenty of time to enjoy the morning hours and still have time to stop in Bizerte, north of Tunis, and reach the city before dark.
Anil headed to the golf course for a round of 9 holes and I descended into the hotel’s hammam (traditional spa) for a steam, a scrub, and a massage. We both reveled in our delights, mine Turkish and Anil’s Scottish. I had one of the best massages ever, after telling them I wanted a very strong hand. The hamman was huge, but I was the only guest that morning, so it felt like it was my own private domain.
Anil returned to our room shortly after I did, all excited to have been out on the links after a long hiatus. He was happy to have a round of his favorite new sport, days before the driving range even opened back in Edmonton. It was a challenging course, with terrific views of the Mediterranean with the fortress off in the distance. It’s too bad he was in such a hurry to pack his gear that he forgot to take the camera with him as I had suggested. Maybe its just as well, we wouldn’t want to make his golf buddies back home ‘green’ with envy.