El Kef, in Northwest Tunisia near the Algerian border, hosts an annual Jazz Festival which I visited this year. El Kef is a non-touristy city but it’s full of history and there’s a lot to see there.
I was surprised at the scenery as we drove along. It was very green and European; so different to the South with its date palms and desert! Trees, grass and farms growing vegetables were on both sides of the road. Stalls selling oranges and lemons or vegetables were sometimes artistically set up beside the road. When they took a break, the stallholders covered them up with plastic and left them. No-one would dream of stealing anything or vandalising them.
In the countryside outside the city of El Kef, Slim our driver spotted the hotel sign, Dar Chennoufi on the main road, and slowly made his way along a long muddy farm track. He parked outside and we walked to the porch and knocked on the large wooden door.
Inside, we met Eric Sardinas who was performing that night at the Festival. He said Hello and told us he was from California and he was on his way to bed for the afternoon as he was so tired.
The Hotel Dar Chennoufi is a privately owned Boutique Hotel, full of interesting things to see. It’s Raoudha’s family home and is very welcoming. There are outside terraces and a large swimming-pool with nothing but fruit trees overlooking it.
Raoudha, the owner, arrived and she brought us welcoming glasses of orange juice. Then lunch was served. There was soup, salad, veal with tuna, and rice with chicken. It gave off a flavour of cardamom, which was lovely and I’m going to copy it!
There were large globe artichokes with a spicy sauce. They were tender and juicy. I happily pulled off the leaves and chewed the ends.
The meal was finished with a bowl of fruit. I attacked the large, sweet dates. I think that Tunisian dates are the best dates in the world.
We were scheduled to see Jugurtha’s Table, which is protected by the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. It’s a flat-topped table mountain quite near the Algerian border and the views from the top are amazing.
The Numidian King Jugurtha climbed to the top with his horse, (which was probably a mule,) to escape from the Romans in 107-105 BC. There are rough steps to the top.
It’s similar to Ayres Rock in Australia and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, made famous in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Back at the hotel, we had an early dinner and drove to the Jazz Festival.
Raoudha arrived and said Hello to us all, then she went and sat down to watch the show.
Then Eric and his group burst onto the stage, and our mild, polite Eric had metamorphosed into a Wild Man! After the first few notes, the audience became awake and alive. They yelled and cheered, and waved their arms in the air.
Eric completely owned the stage. And his double bass player was just as wild. He threw the instrument around like a female Tango partner! He even climbed on it and played while perching like a garden gnome!
When we returned to the Hotel, Raoudha opened a bottle of Tunisian Magon Rose Wine, which I love.
Then Raoudha began telling us about the house and the history of El Kef. She was very knowledgeable and we listened, fascinated.
Dar Chennoufi has been in her family since the French Revolution. It was the first private house in Tunisia to become a hotel. There are only five guest rooms, and no keys as they were all lost long ago. It was, and still is, a farm and there are acres of land around the house, growing mainly trees; olives, almonds and oranges.
Then the subject completely changed. El Kef, formerly known as Sicca and several other names, is the highest city in Tunisia, at 780mts (2,560ft) above sea level. It has extreme climates of heat and cold. Yet around 66 million years ago, when the massive meteorite, known as the Chicxulub Crater landed in the Mexican Yucatan, tipping the world off its axis and killing the dinosaurs, El Kef was flooded, probably followed by the Ice Age.
There are recent investigations going on, examining marine fossils in the area to discover more information about the meteorite. Apparently they’re revealing a lot of information.
So El Kef was a high, dry area, then under water, and now dry again.
Raoudha then produced several large fossils, including a piece of tree trunk, which had been dug up on her land.
The bottle of Magon was empty and it was bed-time. My bed was very cosy and, surrounded by silence and fruit trees, I slept really well.
In the morning we were served a wonderful breakfast of local produce. There was cheese and butter made in the nearby town of Testour, local honey, a selection of fresh breads, jams, fruit and much more, and a very good coffee.
After lots of hugs and kisses from Raoudha, we finally left to visit the Roman fort in Kef, and made a quick visit to Testour before travelling back to Tunis.
Kef probably wouldn’t be the first place that you’d think of for a holiday, but it’s well worth visiting if you come to Tunisia. The food’s fresh, local and delicious, the people are friendly and welcoming, and it’s a History Lover’s Heaven!
Maison d’hôtes Sémana – le Kef 7117, Tunisia
Phone : +216 52 502 053
Website : http://dar.chennoufi.com/
For further information on Tunisia, www.discovertunisia.com
- Tunisair flies daily either from Heathrow Terminal 4 (Sundays, Tuesdays, Fridays & Saturdays) and from Gatwick South Terminal (Mondays, Wednesday & Thursdays)
- Flight duration around 2h.45mn
- £1.00 = 4.00 TND
- All year round mild temperature with lots of sun
- Local cuisine influenced by French & Italian food plus several local pleasant wines (among the best Tunisian export)