Tour of the Peninsula, Cap Bon
This route takes in the main features of interest on the peninsula of Cap Bon (total distance about 250km/155mi).
It is well worth climbing Djebel Abiod (c. 400m/1,300ft) for the sake of the views it offers; the path leaves just outside El Haouaria. From the top there is a magnificent prospect of the west coast and the offshore islands of Zembra and Zembretta, the tip of Cape Bon with its lighthouse, and the northeastern coast of the peninsula, with the pumping station near Kelibia for the submarine pipeline carrying natural gas from Algeria to Sicily.
8km/5mi north of Soliman MC 128 branches off MC 26 on the left and runs along the cliff-fringed coast of Djebel Bou Korbous, here known as the Cote du Soleil (Sunshine Coast). This 12km/7.5mi long stretch is one of the most beautiful roads in Tunisia. On the right are steeply scarped hills, rising to 419m/1,375ft, on the left sheer cliffs falling down to the sea. From various viewpoints along the road there are magnificent distant views, extending as far west as Carthage.
El Haouaria, Tunisia
El Haouaria, a few kilometers beyond Sidi Daoud at the northern tip of the peninsula, is also a fishing village (tunny). It is famed for the falcons which call in here every spring on their way to Europe. In February and March some of them are caught with nets and trained to hunt quail. The hunting season ends on the last day in May, and the falcons are then released in the course of a great falconry festival.
A few kilometers northeast of El Haouaria, on the coast, are the Roman Caves (French Grottes Romaines, Arabic Ghar el Kebir), hewn out of the sandstone cliffs which fall steeply down to the sea. The caves were formed by the quarrying of the rock by the Carthaginians and later by the Romans, and the marks of their tools can still be seen. Shafts up to 30m/100ft long were driven into the rock by slaves, and the blocks they extracted were hauled up by ropes and loaded into ships which took them direct to Carthage. The road to the caves is easy to find. An asphalted road runs through El Haouaria, passes the marabout of the local holy man and soon afterwards degenerates into a sand track, which ends in the parking lot of a small cafe near the caves.
Kelibia (pop. 20,000), 13km/8mi south of Kerkouane, is now an important fishing port and the agricultural market center for the northern part of the peninsula. This was probably also a Punic foundation. In 309 B.C. it was taken by Agathocles of Syracuse and renamed Aspis (the "Shield"). In 255 B.C., during the First Punic War, it was captured by the Roman consul, Regulus, and 110 years later, during the Third Punic War, it was razed to the ground. Later the town was rebuilt by the Romans under the name of Clupea.
Kelibia's only tourist sight is the fortress which crowns a 150m/500ft high crag. Originally Byzantine, it was enlarged and strengthened under the Hafsids (1229-1574). A steep drive leads up to the gateway of the fortress, the massive walls of which are excellently preserved. Extensive excavation and restoration work is being carried out in the interior, part of which is still inhabited. There are magnificent views from the bastions, extending in clear weather as far as Sicily. In summer there is a hydrofoil service to Pantelleria and Trapani (Sicily). From Menzel Temime, 12km/7.5mi south of Kelibia, a road passes through the varied scenery of the interior of the peninsula by way of Menzel Bou Zelfa and Soliman to the starting-point of the tour. MC 27, the coast road, runs south via Korba to Nabeul and Hammamet.
Sidi Daoud, Tunisia
Near the northern tip of Cap Bon, reached by a 3km/2mi long sand road going off MC 26 on the left, is Sidi Daoud, a little fishing port at which about half the total Tunisian catch of tunny is landed. The now controversial method of killing the tunny known as the Matanza (originally of Sicilian origin) is still practiced. It takes place during the spawning season, between the end of April and the beginning of July. As soon as the nets are drawn out of the water the fishermen set about killing the fish with cudgels, harpoons or long knives. The authorities try to keep visitors away from the bloody spectacle, which can be seen only with special permission from the Office National des Pêches (26 Avenue de Paris, Tunis). On the Harbor is a canning factory in which the fish are at once processed.
The little country town of Soliman (pop. 14,000) lies on the northwestern edge of the Grombalia plain. Thanks to this situation it rapidly developed during the colonial period into a local market center, surrounded by an extensive agricultural area producing potatoes, tomatoes, olives and fruit. The town was founded in the early 17th century. It provided a home for many refugees from Andalusia, and its architecture still shows Andalusian features. It suffered heavy destruction in 1943. The main features of interest in the picturesque old part of the town are the 17th century Malikite mosque, roofed with semicircular tiles, and the Hanafite mosque with its octagonal minaret. The coastal resort of Soliman Plage is a popular weekend retreat with the inhabitants of Tunis.
Far out at sea can be seen the outlines of two rocky islands, Zembra and Zembretta, known to the Romans as the Aegimuri. The islands are now a marine nature reserve, in which the oldest species of seal known to man, the monk seal, is now again gradually increasing in numbers. In spring thousands of shearwaters nest here and millions of migrant birds pause on their way to Europe. The smaller of the two islands, Zembretta, has a lighthouse but is otherwise uninhabited. The larger one, Zembra (area 5sq.km/2sq.miles; alt. 432m/1,417ft), was formerly a quarantine station for pilgrims to Mecca. It now has a diving center (established 1963) and a yachting harbor (diving and sailing schools). Accommodation is in modest huts and comfortable chalets. There is an irregular boat service from Sidi Daoud to Zembra.