Positioned on a lofty summit in Tunisia’s north-west region, the 600-year-old settlement of Dougga is all that an archetypal Roman site should be. Believed to have been the first capital of the Numidian domain, close to heartland of the Carthaginian territory, in its heyday, Dougga would have housed around 5,000 people.
Yet after the Vandal invasion, the devastated city was abandoned and deserted. Fine Byzantine fortifications, 11 grandiose temples, intricate herring-bone pavements, beautifully inscribed stones and columns overlook cereal crops and verdant valleys. Today the ruins are surprisingly complete and bear testament to an entire civilisation with a storied history and diverse cultures in a well-preserved Africo-Roman town. A remarkable assemblage of public buildings remain, including temples, 3rd century Licinian public baths, a small rectangular forum, triumphal arches, a theatre, amphitheatre, circus ring, market, fountains, houses and shops. A capitolium dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva is one of the most outstanding of its type in North Africa while the Lybico-Punic mausoleum in the southern part of the site is distinctive as the only major monument of Punic architecture still surviving in the whole of Tunisia. Visitors can stroll around mosaics and walls that offers gasp-inducing views of the valley below.
As the place that beguiled Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs before yielding to France, Bizerte is located on the northernmost tip of the African continent. As the last place occupied by French colonizers, Bizerte retains more Gallic influences than any other Tunisian city and is one the nation’s oldest settlements, established around 1000 BCE as Hippo Diarrythus.
With its honey-coloured Kasbah and canon-topped ramparts nudging boat-speckled azure waters of the old harbour, Bizerte oozes with allure and charm. Mysterious secret paths lead to quaint lime-washed cottages and leafy tiled courtyards with indigo ironwork, flower-filled balconies and towering palms. Weathered sea-farers mend their nets by brightly painted fishing craft along the quayside. Delicacies of the sea - slabs of coral-pink tuna, swordfish and octopus - are sold from the gleaming blue-and-white tiles of the town’s fish market. Close to the onion-shaped cerulean blue domes of Bizerte’s fine Russian Orthodox Church, creamy sands and crowded sea-front restaurants shimmer in the glow of gypsum lamps. Built by refugees fleeing the Bolshevik revolution in the 1920s, the church bears hand-carved beams and painted frescos. Bizerte’s handsome Great Mosque dates back to 1652.
Nuzzled in the rocky foothills of the Kroumirie Mountains, facing out to sea, Tabarka is backed by a dense tangle of green forests where wild boars roam. Surrounded by moss, heather, chestnut trees, maritime pines and oleander, Tabarka reaps the rewards of fresh, mountain air and coastal soils.
Yet while snow scatters the mountain’s ragged peaks, winters in Tabarka itself are mild. Attractions stay open all-year-round with a jazz festival and a salsa festival pulling in the crowds in June and July. Inextricably linked to the sea, Tabarka is fast-becoming a world-class dive haunt and has an enticing array of coral reefs and ship-wrecks in calm, sparkling-clear waters that excite snorkelers and scuba divers from all over the world. Delve into the heart of Tabarka to discover milky lime-washed houses with red, slanting roofs or visit the brooding 16th century Genoese castle or simply marvel at the plunging cliffs and its pointy rocks, giant boulders, crevices and canyons.