Rosamund Macfarlane says:
There was a certain irony in waking up beneath the very low roof of a...
Our Desert and Mountain Oasis Ride is in the southern interior of Tunisia, the smallest of the five North African countries.
Ride across wild wind blown desert landscapes to welcoming oasis towns which appear on the horizon. These include the mountain oasis towns of Chebika, Tamerza and Mides and the great desert oasis towns of Tozeur and Nefta.
In this arid desert, people can only live close to the oases where underground water supplies allow cultivation, the most notable being the famous date palms of Nefta and Tozeur.
The riding moves on each day following a route between the oases and at night you are transferred to good quality hotels in Tozeur and Tamerza and have one night in a private Berber style camp. In the very comfortable desert camp each Berber tent has a proper bed with bedding. There are also toilets and hot showers.
The riding itinerary fills the day and there is little time for other activities. However this area is famous for its spa treatments and the hotel in Tamerza has a fantastic spa so you may wish to have a massage after a day in the saddle. You may also wish to experience a Hammam (traditional steam room).
Breakfast and dinner are taken at your hotels and the buffets offer a selection of Tunisian and European style dishes. At lunch time and at dinner on the night in camp, you have the opportunity to taste the best of Tunisian cuisine prepared by the camp staff and enjoy delicious sweet dates and oranges.
You should be a fit and experienced rider since much of the ride is at a fast pace and you are riding forward going horses. There are also times when you need to dismount and lead your horse over rough mountainous terrain. It is not suitable for nervous riders. The horses are Barb Arab, ranging in height from 14.2hh to 15.2hh and are fit and as lean and lithe as race-horses. The pace varies according to the terrain. You walk where the terrain is soft sand, stony or full of marmot holes. Each day there are opportunities for fast canters and gallops over flat salt pans or dried up river beds and this is a ride for experienced confident riders.
You ride in English style tack and there is a weight limit of 85kgs.
The following itinerary is designed for those who are flying via Tunis which requires an overnight in Tunis prior to connecting onto the daily flight to Tozeur. There is also a direct flight from Paris to Tozeur which would omit the Tunis section of the itinerary but will most likely require an overnight in Paris before or after the trip (depending on the times of onward connecting flights). The internal flight times are given below for information; they are not included in the ride price.
Please note that the itinerary is designed many months in advance and weather and other local conditions may make it necessary to amend the itinerary. In particular, the camping night is not guaranteed and if the weather/local conditions necessitate you will be transferred back to the hotel on this night instead.
Saturday – Tunis
You are met on arrival in Tunis and transferred to Sidi Bou Said. Sidi Bou Said, 12 miles NE of Tunis, is probably the prettiest village in Tunisia, with its immaculate white houses, adorned with bright blue shutters and doors and wrought-iron window grilles. Perhaps stop for a coffee in the famous Café des Nattes and watch the bustle of the shops below. Alternatively, the Dar Said Hotel converted from a convent also has a quiet courtyard café.
Sunday – Tunis to Tozeur
After breakfast you are transferred to either Carthage or Tunis Medina for a morning of sightseeing before being transferred to the airport for your internal flight.
Depart Tunis at 09:30 on Seven Air flight, arriving Tozeur at 10:35. On arrival at Tozeur you are met and transferred to your hotel for the night – the 4 star Ksar Jerid. (www.ksarjerid.com).
Monday – Chebika to Tamerza
After breakfast you are taken by vehicle to meet your horses. This is a drive of about one hour across the expanse of the Chott el-Gharsa, one of the two great salt lakes. You may get your first sight of the herds of camels who live in the desert. Your ride starts at Chebika, a mountain oasis town, not far from the Algerian border. Its claim to fame now being that the area was used as the setting for the film The English Patient.
The ride starts slowly so that you have the opportunity to get to know your horse. Later you reach more hilly terrain and follow a narrow gorge towards the oasis of Tamerza. This is some of the most dramatic scenery in Tunisa. Ride through palm trees and the tall grasses which grow alongside the narrow stream until you reach the town. As you ride through the oasis you can see the channels and irrigation systems which ensure an even flow of water throughout the palms.
Arrive at the spectacular setting of the luxurious Tamerza Palace hotel which is built on the side of the river (which only occasionally runs with water). The hotel looks across to the old town of Tamerza which was abandoned in 1969 after torrential rainfall and flash floods washed whole sections of it away.
After settling your horses at their camp on the side of the river facing the hotel there may be time for a quick visit by car to Mides, a nearby town which was also almost totally destroyed by the same floods in 1969. It sits high up on the edge of a dramatic gorge. Total riding distance 19kms.
Dinner and overnight at the Tamerza Palace hotel. (Please note that on occasion this hotel is not available and you will be transferred to the Ksar Jerid in Tozeur instead).
Tuesday: Djebel Redaieff
Today is a challenging day as you cross through the eastern point of the Atlas mountains at Djebel Redaieff. You start riding parallel to the mountains – the terrain is rough and the riding is mainly slow with only a couple of places suitable for canter. After lunch you ride into the mountains to cross to the other side. It appears impassable to horses. You have to dismount and lead your horse on foot for about an hour and over the very steepest sections your guides will lead your horses as they clamber over the boulders.
The 180º view of the desert from the top of the mountain is worth all the effort. Mounting again you continue to meander through the mountains and descend on the south side. Later you meet the support vehicle for your transfer to your hotel and the grooms take the horses to their overnight camp. Total riding distance c. 27kms. Overnight at the Ksar Jerid, Tozeur.
Wednesday – Chekmou to Neflayett
You transfer back to meet your horses and set off riding in a southerly direction away from the mountains. Very soon the terrain is perfect for some long fast canters as you cross Erg and Djebel. You may see some herds of camels today – they are owned by someone but live wild. After lunch in the shade of Chekmou palm grove you continue riding through some soft sand hills. Maybe pass some Berber camps. Later some fast canters along sandy tracks – the horses are sure footed and go like the wind.
Arrive at the small oasis of Neflayett where you leave the horses and transfer back to Tozeur (20 minute drive) for the night. Riding distance 36kms.
Thursday – Neflayett to Ibn Chabat
Today continue riding through the arid desert landscape. The terrain in the morning is suitable for some long canters but in the afternoon the soft sandy hills contain lots of marmot holes and so it is not safe to canter fast, although quite fun to trot in and around the little piles of sand.
You leave the horses at a stone corral close to a water point. The grooms will stay with them overnight. You are transferred by vehicle (c. 20 minutes) to the hotel in Tozeur. Riding distance c. 42kms. Dinner and overnight in Ksar Jerid, Tozeur.
Friday – Ibn Chabat to Nefta
After breakfast you drive out to where you left the horses for their overnight. The ride initially is in quite soft sand and so you have to walk but very soon you reach the dried salt lake of Chott El-Garsa. This completely flat surface is perfect for the group to spread out for a fast gallop. The horses run easily and fast.
As you continue to canter through the sand dunes you arrive at the amazing sight of Aariguet. Here is the set of the Star Wars film. You have lunch amongst the strange buildings. Afterwards you continue riding in the direction of Nefta through a moonscape alternating between sand and salty lake. Spend the night at a secluded Berber camp in the desert oasis. Riding distance c. 38kms.
Saturday – Chott El Jerid and Nefta
After breakfast in camp we ride in the direction of the huge Chott El-Jerid. This is the second biggest salt lake in the world (after Salt Lake, Utah). It may not be dry enough to ride on but it really is like riding alongside a huge sea as it shimmers in the sunlight.
You ride into the town of Nefta which sits on an escarpment around a deep basket-shaped depression which is filled with dense clusters of palm trees, beneath which are scores of springs. The guide will lead you on horseback through the tiny twisting streets so you get the best possible view of the interesting houses. These are low houses built of sand bricks with ornamental geometric patterns on the walls, a style found only in this region (and also in Tozeur) and in parts of Iran.
You cannot leave Nefta without tasting its famous dates, reputed to be the finest in the region, so time permitting, you ride into and through the oasis and have a small tour of a palm plantation with the possibility of buying some dates.
Lunch is in the Nefta basket. After lunch you continue riding with a fast canter on the salt lake and its time to say good bye to your horses which have carried you so faithfully all week. Riding distance c.20kms. Transfer by car to the Ksar Jerid hotel in Tozeur.
Sunday – Tozeur to Tunis
You are transferred to the airport for your flight to Tunis. Depart Tozeur at 11:05 arriving Tunis at 12:10. Depending on the time of your international flight, you will be met on arrival at Tunis airport and taken to Sidi Bou Said for a few hours. There will be time to explore this pretty village or just relax with a coffee. You will be transferred back to the airport in time for your flight home.
OASIS TO OASIS
RIDE PRICE (8 nights)
2013: $1,702 based on 3 or more riders
Small group supplement if only two riders confirmed: $334 per person.
INCLUDES Accommodation (seven nights in hotels, one night in a desert camp); full board; riding; transfers.
SINGLE SUPPLEMENT $226 (refunded if we find you a sharer).
PAYABLE LOCALLY Drinks; spa treatments; tips; lunch on last day in Tozeur.
NEAREST AIRPORT Tozeur. We recommend flying with British Airways or Tunis Air to Tunis and then connecting onto an internal flight to Tozeur (we will book this internal flight for you). It is also possible to fly via Paris, although this may require an additional night in Paris both before and after the ride.
TRANSFERS Included from Tozeur.
NOT INCLUDED International flights to Tunis (flights from London are approx. £200); flights from Tunis to Tozeur (c. $185).
In The Saddle Gallery
This ride is in the southern interior of Tunisia combining a mixture of desert and mountain landscapes. The nearest airport is Tozeur.
In the southern interior near to Tozeur there are daily extremes of temperature all year round. The area can get high winds and has very little rainfall. At Tozeur in July, the daytime temperatures may reach 40C and drop to zero at night.
However, our Desert Oasis Ride runs only in the winter months between October and May when day time temperatures may reach 20C. However, if there is a strong wind it can feel much colder than this and warm clothes are essential.
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