Review: Ksar Ezzit
Nr El Fahs, Tunisia
An organic olive estate
143 people found this review helpful
Ksar Ezzit is an organic olive farm in the mountains south of El Fahs, which also has accommodation in small villas scattered around the property. When we were planning the holiday in 2010 (yes we really do start planning this early) we were told this was an exciting new development in Tunisian eco-tourism. There were talks and activities on aspects of the farm as well as horse riding and guided nature walks. There was also chance to visit nearby sites including cave painting sites, Zaghouan etc. It sounded great so we booked 3 nights there.
When we got the final itinerary through a month before the holiday the visits to local sites were no longer mentioned. There was no mention of activities on the web site although horse riding and walking were mentioned. That should have set warning bells ringing but didn’t. Although our driver wasn’t allocated to us during our stay in Ksar Ezzit, he kept asking us whether we wanted him to come each day to take us out. We assured him that wasn’t necessary as we had been told ‘all optional activities included’.
We arrived with high hopes. It is in a delightful setting with hills on three sides and extensive views across the plain to the north. There are 80,000 olive trees and wild flowers everywhere. Security at the gate was tight and involved a series of phone calls before we were let through. It is then a couple of miles drive to reception. On the way we passed signs pointing in different directions to ‘restaurant’ and ‘reception’. Warning bells now began to ring especially as almost the first comment was ‘you don’t have a car with you?’ There was no mention of ‘activities’. We had been expecting to be given a list of options to choose from. We filled in the necessary forms and waved goodbye to our driver who was so concerned about us drove to the restaurant to check how far it was – 3.2km.
We were in Villa Huilerie which was opposite the reception block and the stables and area the cows were kept in at night. There were guinea fowl and chickens running around outside including several cockerels which began to crow from 3am. I have written a separate review for the accommodation
Once Ksar Ezzit got over the shock of the arrival of two carless visitors, everything worked well. Mahommed gave us a lift to and from the restaurant (separate review) in a very dusty and battered Passat. He made sure the car headlights were left on so we could find our way back to the villa after dinner.
We spent a couple of days wandering round the estate by ourselves along tracks through the olive groves. We saw the horses out grazing who looked very frisky and made off at our approach. We found two lots of beehives. We found the ruins of the building which housed a 300 year old olive press. This looks very derelict and unlike the pictures in their brochure showing it working.
We could hear but not see the tractor ploughing between the olives and watched women hand cutting the vegetation between the olives. Unlike many other parts of Tunisia, Ksar Ezzit do not grow vegetables under the olive trees as they believe it adversely affects the flavour of the olives. The farm vegetables are grown well away from the olives. Lavender bushes are planted between the young trees which is supposed to improve the flavour of the olives. They were in flower in early April. Otherwise the land is left fallow and the weeds harvested for animal fodder.
The soil looked very dry and stoney in places. The olives are irrigated during the summer. In April the vegetation was very lush and up to 2’ high, although subsequent growth after cutting is less high. There were wild flowers everywhere, even Michael was enthusing. Some I could recognise but there were many I couldn’t.
This is a list for those of a botanical bent…. yellow daisy Glebionis coronaria, deep blue Echium plantagineum, pale yellow flowers of Urospermum dalechampii, tiny orange flowers of pot marigold, white daisy flowers of Anacyclus clavatus, tiny blue Anagalis, pink Convolvulus althaeoides, yellow charlock, sow thistles, thistles, mallow and many others.
We followed the road back to the gate (shut and unmanned) which took us into Aleppo pine woodland with a very different vegetation. There was an undergrowth of rosemary and Erica arborea which had finished flowering as well as s mall bushes of white flowered Cistus salviifolius and a narrower leafed form which might be Helianthemum…
All morning we were accompanied by the sound of bird song, including a cuckoo. It was good to be out in the fresh air and sunshine and we enjoyed ourselves.
Ksar Ezzit did provide activities for us. We were shown the 80 year old olive press still used to press olives. A large stone roller is worked by belts driven by a steam piston engine. The ground olives are put into straw baskets which are piled up in the presses which are squeezed by a big pile of weights. The best oil is collected in the first 60 minutes. Otherwise the olives are pressed for 24 hours. The oil is collected in large white tile tanks which allow the water to settle out. There are tables and chairs and can be used for tasting the different oils or as a restaurant.
Two short short excursions were arranged for us. Talking to the manager in the restaurant he had found out that we were interested in the Roman sites and he arranged for us to be taken to Soiar and Zaghouan in the morning and to the ‘lake’ in the afternoon.
We set off with Mohammed and a driver in a 4×4. Soiar is a tiny village off the Tunis to Kairouan road. It isn’t marked on any of the maps and I couldn’t find any information about it on the web once we got home. It is a lovely drive down onto the plain and through fields of wheat, fields of newly planted vines and olive groves. There were a few nomad tents and flocks of sheep and goats being watched over by a shepherd. A series of small settlements were built above the road along the spring line. Soiar is one of these. It is a lovely site at the base of the mountains. The final climb to village was up a steep and very rutted track. There are a few houses scattered over the landscape with a small school next to the Roman remains. There are no signs or information. All that is left is a paved forum with steps up to the remains of the Capitol on a huge plinth with the remains of underground rooms underneath. Opposite the capitol, an offset archway leads to another paved area with the remains of a few walls. it is a lovely site and apart from a shepherd with a small flock of sheep we were the only people around. The school children were out for playtime as went back to car. We were the cause of great excitement and all came to say bonjour over the wall.
It is a nice run to El Fahs and Zaghouan through very fertile countryside with wheat, olives and vines. We were not aware of the usual rubbish tips around the settlements and there was little polythene blowing. There is a superb view of Zaghouan Mountain and we could see it was a ridge with several jagged peaks and aerials on top of one of the peaks.
We drove up through Zaghouan another clean and prosperous town past the government buildings surrounded by razor wire and armed guards. A narrow street leads to Temples des Eaux which supplied the water to Tunis by aqueduct. It is a beautiful site at the base of the mountain above the town. Now a park with trees, grass and a cafe. Two sets of stairs on either side of a conduit lead to a semi circular courtyard surrounded by a wall with arches and 12 niches. The water source is at the centre of the wall in a large recess.
We stopped in El Fahs on the way back. It was market day and chaos with double parking along the street with barely room for one car to get through. There were several stand-offs when cars coming from opposite directions wouldn’t give way and traffic ground to a halt. There were pick ups loaded with sheep. The market square is a large open area surrounded by fruit and vegetable stalls and butcher’s stalls with cows heads, lungs, intestines and sheep carcasses hanging up. Mohamed went to buy cigarettes for the manager and reappeared with small bag of chicken. The driver came back with two big bags of vegetables, so we think the stop may have been for their benefit…
After lunch Mahommed picked us up to take us to the lake in the valley next to Ksar Ezzit. It was a nice drive climbing up through wheat fields and olive groves. There were several deep oued which had water in them after the heavy rain the previous evening. There were splendid views across the valley to Ksar Ezzit with Villa Ksour on hillside above valley with the reception area beyond.
A rough road dropped down across the dam. There was a shepherd with big flock of sheep and three very fierce dogs who didn’t like the look of us. We stopped at far end of dam to take pictures of the lake and down the valley with mimosa trees in flower. Ksar Ezzit rents water from the lake which is pumped to irrigate olives.
We were told the excursions were a ‘gift’ from Ksar Ezzit and we would normally have to pay. We told him our understanding was that all optional activities were included but Mohammed said no. This explains his surprise/concern when we arrived without a car.
We think Ksar Ezzit may have intended or even begun by offering activities and excursions but found that the idea didn’t catch on. We later found out that many wealthy Tunisians go and stop at Ksar Ezzit with their own cars and would not want included activities. Tis may explain why the Berber house is no longer used for guests, the building and 300 year old olive press are ruined and the olive press next to Villa Huilerie is now a gift shop.
Despite the problems and niggles we enjoyed our stay. Ksar Ezzit does have a lot going for it if it sorts out the issues of maintenance and whether it is offering activities and transport.
It is a delightful place to drop out and do nothing. There is a swimming pool fed by natural spring water with a slight algal growth on the bottom and frogs which may not suit everyone. Anyone visiting does need to be very clear what is or isn’t provided and do ideally need a 4×4 with them.
143 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.