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TUNISIA: a Berber palace at the gates of the Sahara

TUNISIA: a Berber palace at the gates of the Sahara

Gautier BATTISTELLA - 2010-06-07

Tamerza is a place is so wild, enchanting and precious that it’s sometimes difficult for me to talk about it. I nurture my memories of this place with the protectiveness of a man infatuated with his secret. In Tamerza I fell in love with sand and silence. and my personal demons could not outlast the curve of the dunes, the caress of the wind and the song of swallows. I drank of serenity at its source. The desert was there, everywhere, absolute. Emptiness surrounded me and I was happy.

This was Tamerza, on the outskirts of Tozeur at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. In 1992, in the heart of the desert, a palace came into existence because in the late 60s, Mouldi Hached had seen a two-page photo of the ruins of the village of Tamerza in an issue of Paris Match. The village, opposite the Atlas Mountains, had been abandoned after a series of torrential rains; the entire village had packed up and moved away. Desert sands had taken over barren streets, frequented only by holiday-makers and migrating birds en route to Africa. At a time when the Tunisian government was encouraging investors to build in the tourist-friendly south of the country, Hached was attracted to the Sahara and its mountain oases, far from the hustle-bustle of mass tourism. The result, a vision in ochre, with refined, pure lines, leaves you speechless.
 
Mouldi Hached is an elegant and scholarly gentleman; a friend of the arts and of arid lands. His presence floats amongst the palace walls, in harmony with the rocky landscape that surrounds it. The hotel is reminiscent of the ancient fortified red adobe villages known as ksours, the last ramparts before the desert and its scorpions. Sun and shadow play hide-and-seek here; large bay windows open onto the sands and flood rooms built of local stone and palm tree wood with light. At day’s end, when the sun huddles over the peaks of the Atlas, the windows embellished with wrought iron mashrabiyas throw coils of shadow onto Berber carpets.
 
Today, Hached has entrusted his son, Walid, with the running of the hotel. In his thirties, Walid has left behind a career in finance to participate in the family adventure; now he’s banking on flora and sustainable development. The Tamerza Palace is set in exceptional surroundings and exploring the nearby sand dunes by Arabian camel is an absolutely unforgettable experience. I remember a heavenly ride between Nefta - the legendary oasis that served as a relay point on the Trans-Saharan Trade Route - and the plateau of Ong J’Mel, where scenes of Indiana Jones, Star Wars and the English Patient have been filmed. In the distance, the saline crystals of the Chott El-Jerrid dry salt lake sparkled like diamonds of the desert. At noon, reclining lazily on a Berber carpet in the heart of a palm grove, I enjoyed a rustic lunch accompanied by the song of blackbirds. Later, I entrusted my aching muscles to the hands of a professional masseuse (the masseuses have been recruited locally and all must undergo a training period lasting several months) for a desert rain massage with apricot oil. The thousand-square-metre spa, opened at the end of 2008, is conceived as an open-air cocoon where the ancient rites of the hammam are revived. The exclusively manual treatments, inspired by local and ethnic traditions, are enhanced with natural products: rosemary, lavender, orange blossom and rose floral essences; thyme masks; lemon essences; neroli balsams; calendula, honey and vanilla oils... After my massage, I floated back to my room on cloud nine and relaxed until dinner.
 
And what a dinner it was! A thousand and one candles illuminated the ruins of the deserted village. Guided by the mellow sound of the gasbâ, the traditional Bedouin flute, we entered the soul of the ‘sleeping village’ lit by a shower of golden tears. Our meal, featuring tajine with petits pois, lamb couscous and camel ragout, was served amidst the intoxicating rhythms of a Malouf orchestra encircled by Oriental dancers...
 
 
Tamerza Palace Hotel
2212 Tamerza
Gouvernorat de Tozeur, Tunisia
Tel: (216) 76.485.344 / (216) 76.485.345 Fax: (216) 76. 485.322
 
Information also available at:
Rue Mohamed Badra,
1073 Tunis Montplaisir, Tunisia

Tamerza is a place is so wild, enchanting and precious that it’s sometimes difficult for me to talk about it. I nurture my memories of this place with the protectiveness of a man infatuated with his secret. In Tamerza I fell in love with sand and silence. and my personal demons could not outlast the curve of the dunes, the caress of the wind and the song of swallows. I drank of serenity at its source. The desert was there, everywhere, absolute. Emptiness surrounded me and I was happy.

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