Old port, atmospheric medina, Kasbah, deserted beaches
Tunisia's quieter tourist desitination
The French decided the original channel running through the heart of the old city would not be suitable for what they had in mind, so a larger, deeper channel was dug a bit further to the west. The old channel was filled in, leaving what is today the old port, and a new colonial city was built on reclaimed land between the two. From the end of the...more
Bizerte has a third beach worth mentioning, not for its beautiful sands or its clear water, but because this is where Bizerte's young and beautiful parade themselves in the early evening. If you cross under the bridge by the kasbah on the "wrong" side for Sidi Salem beach, and continue along to your right, you'll find yourself on a palm-lined...more
If you don't want to get sand in your shoes, but feel like taking the sea air, then I suggest you walk along the breakwater between the beach and the entrance to the old port. Fishermen line the path, fishing on the port side, where the water looks remarkably clear. Further on, large concrete bouldersprovide hiding places for more fishermen, and...more
Despite the name, there are only about four or five hotels standing forlorn and neglected along the coast to Cap Bizerte 5 kilometres away. The beach narrows after the Bizerta resort, although the water is a bit clearer. You can walk almost all the way to the Hotel Corniche, before the beach disappears and you'll be forced to head inland to the...more
This huge expanse of pure white sand begins at the mouth of the old port, separated by a long breakwater. I'd read about Bizerte before going and all the guidebooks were quite negative about the beach, so I was amazed to find this so close to the city. The main problem is that it is exposed to fierce winds coming straight off the Mediterranean, and...more
If you take the alleyway between the last cafe and the kasbah, and instead of entering the small kasbah gate, instead turn down one of the roads to the left, you'll find yourself in the thick of Bizerte's medina. No walls encircle the medina, so it can be a bit difficult to know when you're out of the medina, but it is certainly a great place to...more
Ksiba means "little Kasbah", and this name was given to the collection of picturesque houses lying on the same side of the port as the Fort Sidi El Hani. Look out for the man lurking in an archway selling sandwiches. Also a cafe along this stretch sometimes overspills onto the quayside, with great views over the rest of the old port. The view is...more
I have to admit to being a bit miffed at this. I'd been led to believe that after paying a small fee to climb some stairs inside a northernmost tower of the Kasbah, I'd be able to walk all round the Kasbah walls. In reality, the best bits are fenced off, and you're left with a cafe, the seats too low down to take advantage of any views. To get a...more
If you find the tiny gateway I mention in the previous tip, you'll find an amazingly preserved mini-city inside. The gate is too narrow to allow cars, so, save for a few rogue scooters, the Kasbah is just for pedestrians. The streets are narrow and twisting, and usually full of children playing...don't expect to go unnoticed! The houses within the...more
If you only have ten minutes to spend in Bizerte, spend all of them walking round the old port. There are no particular sights, as the local people form the entertainment...Fishermen mending their nets beside brightly painted boats, groups of kids play football perilously close to the edge, while further along the quay, young and old alike sit...more
Nightlife in Bizerte is based around cafe life. As the sun begins to set, people flock to the old port to walk up and down the quayside in family groups, stopping at one of the cafes on the way. Most of them are the typical Tunisian male-only places, serving coffee, tea and chicha, but there are a few where women tend to go to. One option is the cafe on top of the Kasbah walls, which has great views over the whole town if you skip under the ropes and climb on an old antique or two...otherwise, you might as well be down by the water. the Fort Sidi el-Hani has an outdoor cafe with sometimes quite loud music, again with good views. One of the cafes close to the Kasbah (there are about 5 in a row) has tables by the waterside, and one or two women customers, but the rest seem totally male.
Set back from the water a bit (although only across a not-very-busy road) is the popular Cafe Pacha, with smoky tables inside, and an outdoor section sheltered from the wind. Opposite, on the Ksiba side, is another nice watreside cafe, much quieter than the others.
If you want to be young and trendy for the evening, head over to the town beach area, where there are some more expensive cafes, more women-friendly.
Dress Code: Dress codes in the cafes run the gauntlet from the latest jeans to black cloaks and red chechia hats...wear what you like! Although Tunisian women would not enter places like Cafe Pacha, a foreign woman would probably be accepted, as long as she dressed fairly modestly...i.e. no beach wear.
Louages leave from Bab Saadoun in Tunis (just past Bab Sawika in Halfaouine) for Bizerte, costing around 3TD for the 1 hour 30 minue trip. On the way, look out for views of Lac Bizerte and Menzel Jemil, a town which has a few colonial buildings by the roadside. The louage will drop you some distance from town, the wrong side of the Qantara, so the best option is to take a taxi...a trip into the town centre costs around a dinar, more if you want to go to the Corniche area.
Leaving Bizerte for towns south and east, you have to make your way to another louage station, outside the train station beyond Bizerte's port. I saw a louage heading for Tabarka, and it was a toss-up between Jendouba and Beja for me, depending which one filled up first...thet's how I ended up in Beja! The road out passes Lac Bizerte and also the more impressive Lac ichkeul, which is a national park, fairly difficult to visit without your own transport. To Beja, a two hour trip, the driver asks for 5TD.
This was an unexpected find for me, as I thought i'd seen all of Bizerte. But on my last evening, I took a walk behind the kasbah and came across a couple of old streets beside a cemetery. Above this was a Spanish fort, containing a modern outdoor theatre and far too many barking dogs for my liking. Apparently this used to be the Andalusian quarter of town, and dates from the arrival of Muslim and Jewish refugees from Andalusia in 1609.
You can follow the remains of the fortress walls up and over the hill, but they don't take you anywhere exciting...just the town prison and the youth hostel, easily confused. On the way back, you can enter the medina and try to navigate a path back to the old port...not easy, especially when you consider how small the medina is.