Wahat Nefta - the oasis
South of the town, Nefta's oasis stretches as far as the Chott El-Jerid, and is worth a wander to see the small oasis villages and the tiny zaouias and marabouts dotted around among the palms. Follow the road from behind the Sidi M'Khareg mosque in Oueled ech-Cherif, and this will take you to Sidi Bou Ali mosque, which was a hive of activity as I passed. The road continues in a sort of loop, bringing you back to Nefta just the other side of the Zone Touristique where most of the big hotels stand empty.
Deeper into the oasis, there are a few cafes hidden away in the farms...they advertize various fruit juices, and look quite inviting, but I couldn't find anyone around to serve me...maybe I should have gone on a Friday or the weekend.
Splitting Nefta in two, La Corbeille is a tiny stream in a deep and wide valley filled with palm trees. From certain places, it lcan seem as if Nefta's domes float above the palms, with the shimmering Chott el-Jerid salt pans beyond. It looks peaceful, and the stream relatively harmless, but in the 1990s, heavy rain caused severe flooding and many buildings in Ez-Zaouia and El-Baydha quarters fell down into La Corbeille.
The best place to view La Corbeille is from a deserted cafe at the top end of El-Baydha, before you reach two huge tourist hotels. The cafe no longer functions, but the terrace is still there, and a couple of enterprising locals have set up souvenir stalls here.
"The White Quarter" is probably the most visually stunning part of Nefta, situated on the opposite bank of La Corbeille (see tip below). Here you'll find Nefta's busy market, narrow alleyways, and lots of architectural gems...in particular I liked the white-washed mosques overlooking La Corbeille. Unfortunately, El Baydha was also badly hit by the floods and is still recovering. The photos show the domes of Sidi Ibrahim Zaouia (a zaouia is a type of small mosque).
On the other side of the main road, the Ez-Zaouia quarter was probably once a very nice place to visit with lots of old buildings and mosques perched on rocks overlooking the palm-filled Corbeille. Unortunately, the floods a few years ago hit Ez-Zaouia hard, and you can see a lot of flood damage still...some of the roads running alongside the Corbeille have eroded away and are quite dangerous to walk on, and a few houses have obviously slipped down the rock and into the valley below. A couple of the mosques have been rebuilt though, and you can still find some impressive views over the Corbeille.
Sidi M'Khareg Mosque
Oueled ech-Cherif's main mosque is an impressive building on the edge of the quarter overlooking the oasis. You can't enter unless you are muslim, but the tall minaret is worth a look...and is a useful building to know if you get lost, as it is visible from many places in town.
To find it, face the Hotel Habib in the square and turn right through a couple of arches, and the mosque will appear on your left, next to a large pile of rubbish.
Oueled ech-Cherif Quarter
Nefta has four old quarters, and the easiest to find, if not the most spectacular, is Oueled ech-Cherif. From the main road where buses and louages drop you off, take any road off to the left...the nicest ones are entered through archways, and recent tourist maps have been drawn on the wall to help you, although it is probably easier just to dive in and get lost, as the lanes are so twisty the map won't really help. The centre is the Place de la Liberation, which is dealt with in the tip below, but the main draw is just walking the backstreets and admiring the architecture. Fancy brickwork, archways and covered alleys is what its all about, and for mosque lovers, there are plenty of those about too. Neftawi traditional houses don't show much on the outside, so it feels quite a secretive sort of place....but in another tip below, I've described one of the traditional houses, Dar Houidi, which is sort of house museum and cultural centre.
Place de la Liberation
The heart of the old quarter of Oueled ech-Cherif is this shady palm-filled square, surrounded by old brick houses. On one side is the Hotel Habib (where I stayed...see Hotel tip), and on the other, a large cafe with many tables outside, a great place for a wake-up espresso or people watching in the late afternoon. It's a sleepy sort of place, except when the tour buses arrive, and suddenly the square whirs into action. Postcard sellers appear from nowhere, shops burst out onto the street with souvenirs blocking the pavement, and every other person seems to be selling desert roses. Tour buses don't stay long though, just enough time to haggle over a stuffed camel and sip a mint tea and everyone is back on the bus, the square hastily packing up and all is peaceful again. During tourist hour, there is a fair amount of hassle, but once the tour buses have gone off to the oasis, everyone is back to their friendly selves again. Stay a couple of days, and people start recognizing you, waving and asking after your health as you pass.
Nefta Palm Groove. Carts.
Nefta has a big palmery, a good way way to visit the palm groove is using the horse carts, we have a hot weather during our visit, but once you are inside the Oasis the temperature is surprisingly Cool. A nice experience.
Is an attractive desert animal, their most outstanding features are enormous ears, wich are up to six inches long. Now is an endangered species specially in the western Sahara, where they have been hunted for the pet trade.
Miniature Mediterranean Donkey.
We saw this lovely donkey at the La Corbeille viewpoint, this donkey is a unique and entirely separate breed of donkey. Their height averages between 30" and 34", there´s even an association of breeders of this cute animal.
We visit this interesting place located in the Nefta´s Palm Groove. We saw local crops like the dates palms, figs, etc. Then we taste some pipes with local tobacco and tried the famous high quality Deglet Ennour dates, a good souvenir to bring back home.
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Nefta is just to wander the backstreets, blundering around getting lost. However, for those who like a purpose to their sightseeing might want to seek out Dar Houidi, a typical old Neftawi house that has been opened as a museum. Entrance costs 3TD, and for your money, you are treated to a whistlestop tour of the house's many rooms. I'm not sure whether my guide was just unused to doing the tour in Arabic, or if it was the same for all languages, but the tour was a very basic "this here is a door, that there is a window" type thing, and I didn't really learn much about the old Neftawi way of life, but it was nice to get out of the sun, and the guide and her friends were much more talkative in the cafe afterwards.
The building itself is probably the main reason to enter...seeing inside a Neftawi house is virtually impossible, unless you get friendly with some locals and wangle an invite. Just as in Tozeur, Nefta's old houses are built using small yellowish mud bricks which form geometrical patterns on the walls of the better houses. Dar Houidi is possibly more spectacular than the museum house in Tozeur, as it is bigger, more colourful and spreads over two floors, but I have to say that Tozeur's museum was brought to life by the excellent guide Souad. Dar Houidi's staff could learn a lot from her.
Over tea in the cafe, I was told that on some nights, the house hosts a "touristic party" whatever that may be....probably likely to include a bit of "typical dancing" and lots of traditional costume. I didn't go, but saw a tour bus arrive at 10pm and the tourists trooping along behind their guides in the direction of Dar Houidi. Quite late then, considering the rest of Nefta is deathly quiet by that time.
La Corbeille de Nefta
Nefta is created around a valley that has the look of a basket. It's called La Corbeille de Nefta (The basket of Nefta)
Have a look at my pictures of Nefta's basket at sunrise
La Corbeille viewpoint.
A viewpiont to enjoy the view of La Corbeille, a huge ravine that cuts the city in two, great views of the palm groove with a bathing pool in the middle.
Nefta Main Plaza.
This is a good place to enjoy a tea, smoke a Shisha and watch the town´s life, it´s a pleasant plaza with tea houses, shops and some hotels.
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