Bizerte, a 45-minute drive from Tunis- Carthage International Airport, provides an interesting clash of modernity and history.

Formed around 1000 BC, Bizerte has a dynamic history marked by numerous occupations, including settlement by the Romans, Arabs, Turks, French and the Soviets. The city was also occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, but wrested by American troops in 1943. It is famously the last Tunisian quarter to relinquish French control after the rest of the country gained independence from France in 1956; France clung tenaciously to Bizerte on account of its strategic location in the Mediterranean, finally abandoning it in 1963.

One of Bizerte’s main attractions – and there are many – is that it has evolved organically and remain largely unblemished by mass tourism and targeted commercialism.

Unlike Sousse and Hammamet, visitors do not have to brace themselves for the ‘hard sell’ – although the soon-to-be-completed Bizerte Marina and apartment development close to the the wharfside threatens to alter the unobtrusive and laid-back character of this historic town’s inhabitants.

Bizerte’s spacious beach provides a sandy playground for adults and children alike. In Bizerte, you are likely to spot a herd of camels calmly grazing on a pasture adjacent to the sand on its picturesque Rue de Corniche. The seemingly endless beach stretches for a whopping 5km to the striking Cap Blanc. If you decide to take a day trip to there, which is the most northernly point on the African continent (and about 10km away from Bizerte proper), dramatic cliffs and crystal clear waters await you.

However, one of Bizerte’s brighter moments comes from the attenuated river inlet and small-craft port that is abuzz with fishermen hauling in their catches, as well as traders and visitors to the main market located around the Medina. One side of the inlet is lined with colourful cafes and shops, and the other with residential buildings in pretty pastels.

Among Bizerte’s architectural delights are the 17th century Great Mosque and Medina, exhibiting Bizerte’s Turkish influences, and the Kasbah, built in the same century to guard the entry to the old port. The winding markets behind the port offer an arresting riot of colours and bustling activity, from freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, insistently sold by traders, to brightly coloured pottery, to a wide selection of freshly caught fish available from the adjoining indoor fish market.

The busy market activity provides a marked contrast to the town’s stoic historical sites, such as Fort Sidi El Hani, which charm the landscape.

The Bizerta Resort is among the newer luxury hotels in the town. Located 60km to the north of Tunis and Tunis- Carthage international airport, and on the coast road of Sidi Salem, this 4-star resort is ideal for the business, conference and holiday traveller. It rises to four storeys and is fitted out with a boutique, conference facilities and a fully equipped fitness centre. The resort has 100 rooms, including 24 spacious and comfortable suites.

Bizerte’s mostly no-frills dining is ideal for those who prefer eateries where the locals can be found, rather than snack joints catering for tourists. Grilled fish or meat dishes accompanied by pomme frites or couscous, with rice and salad can be purchased for around five dinars (approximately $2) in the market areas, while the cafes along the harbour offer pleasant views of the fishing marina and are nice places just to sit, people watch and unwind. There are also more than enough decent patisseries serving up a range of appetising baked and cold desserts, and steaming cups of fresh mint tea.

Transport around Bizerte is cheap and plentiful. A taxi, or ‘louage;’ as they are known locally, can be hired from around the equivalent $1 per journey.

John Stevenson

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