"The Kerkennah Islands" Ile Chergui by maykal

Ile Chergui Travel Guide: 15 reviews and 47 photos

Three days on these relaxing, ugly-beautiful islands.

They didn't grab me straight away...it took a while, but the longer I stayed, the more I grew attached to the local way of life.

Flat...windy...sandy...bizarre...laid-back...

There are actually two inhabited islands, Chergui (eastern) and Gharbi (western), but they are connected by a causeway dating from Roman times, so they might as well be one island. Just over an hour from Sfax by ferry, Kerkennah is unlike any beach resort in the rest of the country. For a start, there aren't any real beaches...well, there's sand and there's sea, but the sand is mostly wet, and the sea looks far too shallow to have a proper swim in. There also aren't any natural wonders or amazing historic sights or architectural masterpieces....just a collection of small villages, a relaxed way of life, flat salt plains with clumps of palm trees, and a crumbling array of towers and marabouts.

That's why tourism hasn't taken off here in a big way....and that's precisely why it is enjoyable to spend time here.

After the drab weather on the first day, I was surprised to see how much nicer Remla looked the following morning with the sun out. Thinking Kerkennah was just a small island, I set off walking, attempting to cover the whole island in one day.

It took much longer than expected to reach Sidi Frej, the hotel zone, which is maybe 8 kilometres from Remla (it looks just down the road on my map!). As zones touristiques go, Sidi Frej was minimal, just four or five small hotels lining the shore. I hesitate to call it a beach, as it was just sort of where the sea meets the land, a few patches of sand thrown in as an afterthought. Still, it is a pleasant relaxed spot, and quiet. Very quiet. Mind you, the hotels did seem to be empty, if not closed down for the winter.

A few more kilometres up the coast, the guardien of an ottoman tower, Borj al-Hissar, invited me in for green tea, made with locally grown rosemary and a sprig of mint. He chatted with me for over an hour, telling me he knew very little about the islands really, as he was still a newcomer..."I'm from Gafsa", he explained, "I've only been on Kerkennah for 30 years".

After tea, I beat a path across a windswept patch of land, passing the odd lonely palm tree, until I arrived at the islands best beach, Sidi Fankhal. As beaches go, this wasn't bad, but at high tide, there would have been very little on offer, which has probably saved it from any type of development. At low tide though, the sand stretches for about a mile, and the place is absolutely deserted.

The walk back to Remla took me across some dry salt flats, very desert-like and hard-going...and it is very easy to lose sense of distance...Remla was always on the horizon, but never seemed to get any closer. Anyway, I arrived in Remla just as the sun was going down, looking and feeling very weather-beaten and tired, having covered less than a quarter of the island.

The following day, I rented a bike. Now, it has been years since I last rode a bike, and I was dreading making a fool of myself in the middle of Remla's rush-hour traffic (OK, so there might only have been about 20 cars on the road, but it seemed daunting to a sworn pedestrian like me!)...but alhamdulillah, that didn't happen and I was soon into the swing of things, speeding along in the direction of El-Attaya

The hotel owner had said "ufff, El-Attaya very far!", yet within an hour I was zooming out of El Attaya in the direction of Kraten at the very tip of the islands. Kraten seemed like the end of the world. A dead-end sort of place, which, if sea-levels ever rise, will become a very isolated and barren island of its own. Not much to see there, so I turned round and had a bit of a shock...

I hadn't felt it, but the reason I'd zoomed along to the end of the island was because of the mighty wind behind me. Now it was against me, and my god was it strong! I battled along, head down, determined look on my face...but by the time I reached the end of the sand flats outside Kraten, I felt exhausted. Turning off down a sandy track in the hope that I would end up on a sheltered short cut, I found myself at Habib Bourguiba's old house and the boat he escaped the French on. A nice find, but not the short cut I'd hoped for!

It was a long cycle back to Remla, although I did take the opportunity to explore some of the back roads, meeting a friendly shopowner in the village of En-Najet who was actually in the middle of having his hair cut when I turned up thirsty and wobbly-legged, but who came to serve me mid-cut...and also stopping off in the seaside village of Bounouma, probably the islands' best kept secret...much prettier than Sidi Frej, a few wealthy Tunisians have weekend houses there, but for now it is just a typical village on a picturesque bit of coast untouched by tourism in any way.

Passing through El-Abbasia on the home stretch, I spotted a sign for a museum, and went to investigate. The Kerkennah Museum was vaguely similar to other museums of popular traditions I'd seen on the mainland, but this one had some quirky exhibits, such as a huge whale skeleton lurking in the museum garden.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Relaxing, not many tourists, special island atmosphere
  • Cons:No specific sights, no fantastic beaches, bleak and desolate in bad weather
  • In a nutshell:Starkly beautiful, laid-back, and pretty much tourist free
  • Last visit to Ile Chergui: Apr 2007
  • Intro Updated Apr 19, 2007
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maykal

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