ROUGH GUIDE: Great Roman ruins, shame about the vandalism

Daniel Jacobs, author of the 'Rough Guide to Tunisia', can still taste that perfect fish couscous

Best fish supper

The La Sirene restaurant by the port in Sfax offers a meal of freshly caught fish that is hard to beat. Seafood starters include an octopus salad so huge that after eating it, you will be hard put to get through your main course. On the other hand, you will want to try, having selected the fish yourself and had it barbecued to perfection while munching your way through the starter. And with beer or wine to wash it down, you will still pay only around pounds 12.

Should you fancy something a bit more North African, your best bet lies just up the coast in the brine-battered ancient port of Mahdia. There, in the Restaurant de la Medina, the perfect fish couscous will be brought to you by a waiter wearing a handlebar moustache and a canary-yellow three-piece suit. And this time, you will get change from a tenner.

Best pastry

In the south of Tunisia, the town of Ghoumrassen is known for its doughnut- style fritters called ftair which are sold by Ghoumrassinis nationwide. But the real sweet treat of the south is kab el ghazal, or "gazelle horn", which comes from the nearby town of Tataouine. These sticky pastry horns filled with honey and nuts are sold at cake shops everywhere, but the best, naturally, are to be found in Tataouine itself.

Most bizarre sight

Tataouine is actually a very pleasant little town, off the beaten track so far, but due to be marketed in a big way by the tourist authorities very soon. It is the best base for exploring the bizarre fortified granaries called ksour (singular ksar) which are scattered over the countryside in this part of the world.

The local people here, traditionally nomadic, moved with their flocks according to the season and stored their grain in small cell-like silos called ghorfas. Each tribe's ghorfas were built together, around a central courtyard, with their doors facing inward and a solid wall on the outside for protection against raids by other tribes. It is this structure that is called a ksar.

Many ksour are now in ruins: eerie, stark and almost gothic against the rocky desert; but one or two still function and serve not only as grain stores but also as meeting places where members of the tribe gather of a Friday to pray and exchange news. The two best examples are Ouled Zoltane and Ezzahra, reached on a newly surfaced road that loops through both of them before returning to Tataouine.

Best Roman site

Tunisia has no lack of Roman remains, but the most impressive site by far is Dougga in the north of the country, chock-full of ancient theatres, triumphal arches and massive temples. The biggest temple, the Capitol, is reckoned to be the most impressive Roman building in the whole country, but I must admit a greater interest in the town brothel. Not that it is still functioning, I hasten to add - indeed, even the stone phallus that once advertised it has been discreetly removed - but a beautiful row of sit-down loos remains there, showing that the Romans had no qualms about doing their business communally.

Meanwhile, just down the hill stands an even older monument, a pre-Roman Punic mausoleum dating to the second century BC. Unfortunately, the mausoleum was destroyed in 1842 by the British consul, Sir Thomas Reade. He had it pulled down to remove the inscription, which he sent to the British Museum. The mausoleum has since been rebuilt, but even today, Reade's act of vandalism hardly inspires patriotic pride.

Biggest regret

The Romans had a quarry at Chemtou, in the north of the country, where they hewed a red-veined yellow marble that was renowned across the empire and used to decorate all the best houses in ancient Rome. Alas, the quarry no longer functions, despite a brief revival in the last century, because the marble is considered too gaudy to sell nowadays. A pity, as I rather fancied a tabletop made out of it.

Favourite drink

Tunisian beer is weak and flavourless. Some of the wine is not bad, especially the dry muscat produced in Kelibia. But my favourite is laghmi, a palm wine milked from date trees. Fresh laghmi is sweet and non-alcoholic, but it ferments in a day, and must be drunk within the next two unless you want a seriously upset tummy. It is an acquired taste and available only in the south of the country in season, from April to October.

FACT FILE

tunisia

Getting there

GB Airways, a franchisee of BA, flies three times a week (four in summer) to Tunis from Gatwick. Tunis Air has four flights a week from Heathrow. The cheapest scheduled tickets, with pre-booked and unchangeable dates, cost around pounds 200 to pounds 220, plus departure tax. Charter flights to Tunis and Monastir are available from operators such as Thomson and Airtours, from pounds 140 and pounds 260 before tax. The leading package specialist, and the best, is Panorama Tunisia Experience (tel: 01273 206531).

Getting around

The main form of transport is bus, with regular services run by national operator SNTRI. Buses connect Tunis to all the places mentioned, except Dougga - which can be reached on foot or by taxi from Tebersouk, 6km away - and Chemtou, which can be reached in a louage (a taxi carrying five passengers on a fixed route) from nearby Jendouba. Sfax and Mahdia are also connected to Tunis by rail.

Further information

Tunisia tourist board (tel: 0171-224 5561).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone