Tunisian Film Trip
Many famous films in many languages were shot in Tunisia. I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip with a group of Film Location Managers, visiting some of the places.
We flew from Gatwick to Tunis, where we were met by Imed the driver and boarded our coach to travel to Sousse.
On the way, we stopped to visit Zriba. Further on is the ancient abandoned village of Zriba Olia.
Despite all the olive trees in the area, Zriba Olia means Upper Zriba; nothing to do with olives.
It was a large town, but everyone gradually moved away and now today only 14 families live sparsely in the ruins, raising goats, chickens and some vegetables.
A little girl was carried over by our driver to say hello and I gave her some sweets. I don’t think she had many baths, despite the Hamman and hot springs in the area.
Several war films have been made in the old town.
We continued our journey to Sousse, where we stayed in the Movenpick Hotel.
In the morning I went shopping in the souk. Oh heaven! I bargained fiercely, unmoved by comments about how little profit he’d make if he sold it to me at that price, his family would starve, etc. Great fun! I bought six individual tagine dishes really cheaply and spent the rest of the trip worrying if I’d get them home in one piece! To my surprise I did.
We visited a Ribat; a Roman fort over 1700 years old, with lovely views from the roof.
Our guide told me that since the terrorist attack outside the Imperial Hotel, 50% of businesses had been forced to close down, including 40% of the hotels.
I popped in the Soula Centre, a large modern shopping centre near the seafront with fixed prices.
Then we walked round the Medina of Sousse, which is a suburb of Sousse, with white buildings and blue paintwork.
On we drove to Monastir to see the Ribat. Life of Brian’s market scene was filmed in there.
I visited it last year when they held a Cookery Competition, with over 50 Chefs taking part.
Crossing the road, we walked along to see the beautiful Mausoleum where Tunisia’s 1st President, Habib Borguiba, is buried. He was very popular as he liberated Tunisia.
There is a thick wooden door with The Builder The Fighter, New Tunisia, Woman Liberator carved on it. He gave women a lot of freedom.
After lunch at the Thalasso in Monastir, where the Chef cooked a lamb in an ornate clay pot, which he broke in front of us, we drove on to El Jem, where there’s a Coliseum in surprisingly good condition.
I asked Mounir, who’s worked there for 23 years, and Mahar the night guard, if they’d ever heard any strange noises there. They said No, but I think that Mahar will be having some nervous nights after talking to me!
Again, the shopping is ridiculously cheap in the nearby shops. I bought a plaster Coliseum for the equivalent of £1.50.
We spent the night in the Hotel Jugurtha Palace in Gafsa.
I can sum it up in two words; Shabby Chic. It’s worth stopping there to see the décor. It must have been really exotic when it was new. I had three huge beds in my room, but you had to climb over some chairs and past a pillar to get in it!
We were late getting there but they’d kept the food hot for us, and it was enjoyed by us all.
We changed from our bus to 4X4 jeeps. And boy, did we need them over the next few days!
Our driver was Buba, a Berber with a wonderful face full of character! He was wrapped up in traditional dress, but gradually unwrapped every day as he saw us with shorts and Summer dresses on.
Our first stop was where the Red Lizard tourist train ran. It wasn’t working. It hadn’t worked last year either. There are 13 tunnels on the 153 km route; a marvellous feat of engineering.
We stopped briefly beside a rail track in Methlaoui, where phosphate is manufactured.
There were tents beside the track where people actually lived; the most basic homes I’ve seen anywhere in the world. But everyone was very hospitable, and quite happy for us to peer inside. They had nothing except a bed laid on the ground. I’ve seen better accommodation belonging to the London homeless!
On we went, up a hilly road with amazing views. The Mark of Cain was filmed in the area.
Everyone was ecstatic and leaped out of the cars, taking photos.
I will never see car ads in the same light again!
Every time we saw a long, winding road, the same thing happened. Apparently you need somewhere for all the film vehicles to park, permission to stop traffic, and more permisssion to fly drones overhead.
Then we arrived at Mides Canyon, right on the Algerian border, where The English Patient was filmed.
It’s a Red Zone, but I never felt in any danger, and anyone coming through the Customs hut up the mountain would be spotted long before they got to us. And again everyone was friendly and welcoming.
I bought three Berber necklaces for under £5. One of them is made of polished camel bones, so I can’t let my vegan daughter see it!
We didn’t stay long as we still had a long journey.
Next was the Chebika Oasis, where they have freshly squeezed orange juice and refreshing mint tea.
The scenery’s lovely, but the sales people are a bit pushy. One man kept walking up to me with a chameleon. I’m not sure if I was supposed to take its photo, or take it home!
We travelled on to Nefta Onk Jmal, which was another Star Wars set.
I really wanted to buy a souvenir from one of the many stalls, which were mainly selling coloured sand in bottles. But they all said Tunisia; not one of them said Star Wars.
Maybe I should go back there and start a new business.
A young lad came up to me, cuddling a desert fox, or Fennec Fox. Oh, it’s the most adorable, cuddly, soft, beautiful, lovable animal that I’ve ever seen! I can’t understand why Paris Hilton and all the other Celebs Who Love To Be Seen aren’t walking around with desert foxes in little bags. I want one!
Maybe I should start breeding them. All these new businesses!
We checked into the Hotel Ras El Ain and had lunch there.
I stayed there last year. They do a lovely buffet. I prefer buffet food to waiter service as you can help yourself in peace.
In the afternoon we went to the desert in Ong Jmel. There’s a hill there known as Camel Hill. It looks a bit like a weather-worn sphinx.
Then the fun began. The landscape cleared to pure sand. Buba and the other drivers started driving wildly over sand dunes, from side to side.
I was in the front. Suddenly the vehicle stopped, and I was staring down a sheer drop. Surely the car wouldn’t go straight down? I almost expected a balloon to snap open on the roof, carrying us floating in the air.
It looked impossible, but we only screamed for about two seconds, and we were safely at the bottom with Buba laughing at us.
We travelled back to our hotel and washed off the sand before dinner and a lovely glass or two of Magon Rose, a Tunisian wine and one of my favourite wines.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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