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Review: Oasis to Oasis

Specialist Holiday - Horse riding

Tozeur, Tunisia

Riding across the Sahara

  • By SilverTraveller Holland

    35 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon

  • Oct 2008
  • Solo

47 people found this review helpful

Tozeur is located in the south west of Tunisia, not far from the border with Algeria and near the dried salt marshes. There are no direct fllights from UK to Tozeur so my journey necessitated an overnight in Paris. I had never flown from London City Airport before. It was teeming with business men, all plugged into their lap tops and no doubt sorting out the world’s financial problems before returning to Brussels, Zurich, or wherever. I was travelling at the time of the French school holidays and the flight from Paris to Tozeur next day was full of free range children. Ear plugs necessary.

We were met by Remy, our guide on the ride, and his wife Catherine, and taken to our hotel, the Dar Cherait a beautiful place all decorated in traditional style: mosaics and inlaid wood, about 3 kms from the centre of town. Our group comprised one Swede, two French, two Belgians, two Canadians and two Brits. We had a briefing with Remy in the evening at which Penelope (Remy called her Penny Lope….) pointed out that she had been told she did not need to canter if she didn’t want to. In The Saddle always make it very clear in their excellent brochure exactly what a ride entails and grade their rides like ski runs: blue(easy) red (intermediate) and black (for experienced riders). Unfortunately the Canadians had booked on line and hadn’t done their homework. This ride was most definitely a black category.

Next morning we drove to meet our horses, all mares and Barbs, similar to Arabs. Very fit and amazing stamina for the desert and mountainous terrain. We had an easy morning and stopped for lunch cooked and served by the gorgeous Aziz in traditional costume. We sat at table for a huge 3-course meal; most unexpected and really too much food. We rode through spectacular scenery in the afternoon: down and along a canyon, and through what Remy called a jungle: squidgy mud and palms, bullrushes and other hazards. We stopped in a village for mint tea and the boys who look after the horses appeared from nowhere to hold them while we drank.

We stayed two nights at a modern hotel on a hill above the original village of Tamerza which had been washed away by 25 days of continuous rain in 1969. The hotel was not up to it’s 4* category but the views were amazing and, of course, we were only there to sleep. Today was to be a long one. The scenery was different: flat river beds, scrubby sand and Atlas mountains. The whole afternoon was to be at a walk and after 40 mins after lunch we got off to lead the horses as we were to climb a very steep mountain which took 1 1/2 hours. For the last 400 m. the younger men in the party lead 5 horses up the very steep rocky hill then scrambled back down again to fetch the remaining 6 whilst we girls sat on a rock to get our breath back and take on water. The views were truly spectacular. Back on the horses who picked their way gingerly down the steep stony mountain – no paths. The scenery was amazing. This area has been featured in several films and we passed the cave where Kristen Scott-Thomas died in The English Patient. (she didn’t really die…..only acting) Much of the film was in fact shot in this area.

Next morning was to be a fast ride as we had a lot of ground to cover. The inevitable happened and Penny Lope fell off. Not badly hurt and her horse disappeared into the distance but was soon retrieved as we were near the lunch stop. She didn’t ride again. More canters in the afternoon and a bit of drama at one point when Remy saw a sandstorm in the distance, we covered our mouths with “cheches” Arab scarves which we had been given on day one and galloped off to avoid it.

We were back in Tozeur in the evening staying in a huge modern Club Med hotel, the Golden Yasmin which was full of very noisy French children. And their equally noisy parents. Awful food, very poor service, no soap or shampoo in the room and worst of all, it took an hour and three phone calls to the bar to get a gin & tonic delivered to my room!! We all complained and were moved back to the beautiful boutique hotel Dar Cherait for the last two nights.

Only six of us rode next day which meant there were three loose horses with us. Except they weren’t with us and kept cantering off on their own and had to be herded up. After lunch two were taken back to their stables by truck and a different one appeared next day in the back of a pick-up truck. No horse boxes here.

From here on the scenery was varied: some flat areas, some hilly and then we reached the dried salt lake. Here we were able to spread out, take our own route and enjoy a flat out gallop. In one area there were wild camels. Remy said we could round them up, making sure there were no pregnant females or babies. We weren’t very successful, the camels were much smarter than us. We stopped for lunch at a film set village which had been built for the Star Wars films. Everything looked sold on the outside but was made with wire netting and plaster on the back. It was sunny but very windy so after lunch we put our “cheches” back on against the blowing sand. This is, after all, the desert.

We had one wonderful night sleeping in the desert. We rode over the dunes to our camp, very well set up – horses and grooms to one side, nice tents for us with carpets, proper beds, towels , showers (cold) and loos. And an amazing dinner where we sat at a table in a big tent and enjoyed delicious appetisers, a really nice soup followed by traditional dishes then sweet things and fruit. Far too much!. Then a nice evening sitting round the fire. Some people got up very early next morning to climb to the top of the dune to see the sunrise.

On our ride back to Tozeur we rode through the village of Nefta. Some of the streets were very narrow and we had to duck low as we rode under archways. We passed a school and some daring boys started to chase us until Remy turned his horse and chased them back with a lot of screaming. Another ride round an oasis then another fast gallop to where the grooms and two jeeps were waiting. We had to say goodbye to the horses and grooms. Very sad – the boys had been so friendly and helpful and I really enjoyed riding my horse, Marta.

On our way back to Tozeur we stopped at a brick making area. Very hard work, all the bricks are made by hand. The mayor of Tozeur has encouraged these artisans and only their bricks are used in local buildings; and there are a lot of building works going on. Tozeur appears to be the departure point for excursions into the Sahara desert. The town is full of tourist shops selling bags, ceramics, rugs, mats, dresses etc but, when we were there, very few tourists to buy them. “Come into my shop” was the cry from all the owners but they were pleasant and not persistent.

My ratings for this trip are the average and do not reflect all the hotels.

In Tozeur the Dar Cherait was excellent, though the bedrooms varied. Lovely swimming pool, good food. The Golden Yasmin was awful. In Tamerza the hotel was in a stunning location and was very comfortable but the dining room was down the road from the hotel and a bit like a canteen; the main dining room was being renovated. The camping was excellent – in a way I would have preferred a sleeping bag on the sand: more authentic, though a bed is nice after sitting in the saddle for five hours!

I was very lucky with my horse. She walked out nicely, instead of jogging as some of them did, was a bit frisky when we first started to canter but she soon settled down and, most important, I could stop her. One or two of the horses were hard to ride, either difficult to control or simply sluggish. Not fun if you have paid good money to work harder than the horse.Obviously this ride is not for the nervous or inexperienced rider.

In my diary, at the end , I have written:
“This was really one of the best rides: well organised, good hotels, good food, friendly staff and above all a cracking good horse. Oh yes, and the scenery – unforgettable”

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Other Members' Thoughts - 1 Comment(s)

  • ESW
    almost 7 years ago
    We visited this area in Spring 2012 - but we kept to two feet or a jeep rather than horse back.

    We spent 4 nights in your modern hotel in Tamerza. We also felt it didn't live up to the hype about it.

    We were fascinated by a traditional brick makers near Nefta. The use of bricks to decorating walls in Tozeur and Nefta is fascinating.

    The desert scenery is stunning. So many people stick to the resorts along the coast and miss so much of what Tunisia has to offer.