A Mediterranean archipelago
The islands of Kerkennah form an archipelago within the Mediterranean Sea, 20 km from the Tunisian coast, off Sfax. They gather about six islands, of which only the two largest are inhabited: Gharbi in the West, also called Mellita, named after its unique village and Chergui in the East, the great Kerkennah. These two islands are connected by a 600-meter-long route that existed in Roman times.
A wide road crosses the archipelago, unfurling its 35 km from Sidi Youssef in the West to El Attaya in the East. It crosses Melitta, then arrives on Chergui, strong as for fifteen villages among which Ramla, capital and administrative center of Kerkennah. All of these villages include about 14,400 inhabitants, a figure that is increased tenfold in the summer, by the return of emigrants returning from mainland Tunisia, France, or Italy.
Specific geographical conditions
The archipelago has little relief with a maximum altitude measured at 13 meters. It is subject to a relatively dry climate with less than 200 mm of precipitation per year and its soils are frequently saline, especially in the lagoons – sebkhas – which dot the territory. Palm trees, trees typical of the Kerkennah Islands, nevertheless manage to prevail in the landscape, despite the poverty and salinity of the soil.
If, as a result, the quality of the fruit is poor and reduces their consumption mainly to livestock feed, the palm is also used for its trunk and palms, in the manufacture of fishing equipment.
The seabed shelters, fifty kilometers offshore, one of the most remarkable Posidonia meadows of the Mediterranean Sea.
Authenticity as the first wealth of the archipelago
Fishing is also the main economic activity of the Kerkennah Archipelago. The methods used are traditional and the quantities fished are therefore low (one-twelfth of the regional total) although the fleet is the largest with 2000 boats (two-thirds of the total of the region of Sfax). They are boats with Latin sails called feluccas or heavy. Motorboats also appear. The shallow depth of the shallows of Kerkennah Islands (1 to 2 m) requires special fishing techniques such as burrowing, net fishing, or jumping.
The charfia is a technique dating back several centuries, based on the manufacture of a trap V-shaped or arrow by a line of fins. The fish follow this path to drinas, cages that they fail to emerge. In the archipelago of the islands of Kerkennah, the sea has the distinction of being divided into parcels whose rental is auctioned each year. The Kerkennian fishermen share about 500 fixed fisheries, of which the palm hedges emerge from the sea. The jump is to scare the fish with sticks, up to racks laid flat in the water. On the other hand octopus fishing is also commonly practiced by trapping the animal in potteries or blocks.
The culture of fishing also guides the craft industry. The alfalfa and local palms are used for making ropes and nets. They also allow the braiding of hats and baskets. On the Kerkennah Archipelago, there is also subsistence agriculture, which has to adapt to the difficult soil and climate. We mainly find barley, olive trees, vines, and fig trees.
Tourism in the archipelago
Tourism remains a recent activity developed within the national dynamics, but it remains little developed on the Kerkennah Islands because of their limited resources. The authenticity of the site has become its best selling point.
Gastronomy at the Kerkennian
The Kerkennian gastronomy is based on local fish specialties – paraclete, mullet, sea bream – crushed barley, dates, and raisins with a special place for octopus. It declined especially in couscous becomes a festive meal.
But couscous is also available to fish – specialty using the catch of the day – or stuffed squid – in season. These are variations of this dish that you will not find anywhere else.
The arrival of electricity on the island and therefore refrigeration has expanded the gastronomic possibilities. On the other hand, fish being a product with high added value, some Kerkennians consume it more rarely than before.
To see in Kerkennah!
- Fort Lahsar. Archaeological excavations have uncovered a Roman district of Cercinae, the ancient capital of the archipelago, and archaic strata dating from the 7th century BC. These discoveries have highlighted the Phoenician origin of the site and thus the interest that the Phoenicians brought to the Kerkennah Islands in their conquest of the West. Elements of great finesse can admire the civilization of this Phoenician city. Unfortunately, the excavations were never continued and the site is not protected. There is then an impression of freedom to visit these ruins tinged with a little regret at the abandonment of such precious witnesses. The Fort, more recent, is Roman. Built just behind the city, it is still standing and quite well preserved. You can also enjoy the tranquility of the visit because the site is not very touristy.
- The ports. They are always the place of joyous animation and the opportunity to interact with the fishermen. Of particular note are the ports of El Attaya and Kratten.
- The Mermaid Festival. End of July beginning of August. Festive events of the Folk Troops, games, competitions, and artist performances.
- The Octopus Festival. It is a major socio-cultural festival on the island gathering many activities. Many activities are offered to children: drawing workshops, educational games, films, skits, artistic shows (magic, dance). For older children, the festival is an opportunity to discuss scientific activities on the theme of ecology, computer science, astronomy. Films, lectures, and debates are organized for adults. The days take place in a festive atmosphere around parades of folk troupes, octopus fair, and crafts. The paroxysm of the festival is the competition that is organized around the development of an octopus-based meal. The Kerkennian housewives then present their best specialties to the judgment of a jury. The public, meanwhile, is also at the party with free tastings of octopus grills, octopus soups, and more.
- The Museum of Mediterranean Island Heritage located in El Abassia, In a traditional house, it proposes a course highlighting the history of the archipelago, its artisanal productions even some curiosities.
- Sidi Frej Day of Heritage and Ecological Tourism.
How to get there?
In order to reach the islands of Kerennah, you must first arrive in Tunisia, either at Tunis airport from where you will gain Sfax by train, car or plane or directly to Sfax airport.
From there, on foot or by car, we take the ferry, which is the only way to reach the archipelago. The departure is from the old port, next to the railway. The arrival, after a little over an hour of crossing, is south, Sidi Youssef, on Gharbi Island. The road can then eventually reach Chergui Island. Thus, in fifteen minutes it is possible to reach Ramla, the main city, from Sfax.
Where To stay in Kerkennah?
- Apartments accommodation in Kerkennah. Apartments like villas with sea view, pool, and other amenities are available for rent. Many sites are available on the internet. Prices vary from 300 to 800 dinars a week.
- Guesthouses. They are few even if, since the Tunisian revolution, they are democratized. Prices are reasonable between 50 and 130 dinars (25.50 to 66 €). They allow total immersion in the inhabitant. That is Kerkenian hospitality !!
- The hotel Cercina offers Bungalows with sea view. Prices vary from 50 DT (Tunisian Dinar) per person per night.
- Archipel Kerkennah El Attaya: Bed and Breakfast on an innovative initiative. The rather simple rooms are deemed comfortable
- Residence club Kerkennah: 3-star hotel on the beach, exclusively composed of air-conditioned bungalows.
- Grand Hotel Kerkennah: This rather old-fashioned hotel nevertheless offers you the charm of its location right on the water in the middle of a splendid landscape as well as the pleasure of a pleasant swimming pool with bars and adjoining cafes.
- The Nakhla Hotel: located in the Sidi Fredj tourist area.
The good plans of Kerkennian gastronomy
- At El Ataya, you can book your table at the restaurant “Le Régal” always held by the famous Najet. Its fish are famous divine and you can taste its sea bream, mullet and Ojja Shrimp (Tunisian specialty) .
- Restaurant Hôtel Cercina
- Restaurant Le Pêcheur
- Restaurant La Sirène
- Restaurant de l’Hôtel Ennakhla (Palm Hotel )
- Restaurant Raed
In the archipelago of Kerkennah, lovers of culinary discoveries will be served by tasting kerkennian specialties. The Kerkennians naturally have an excellent reputation for food based on fish and shellfish. The main local specialties are fish Melthouth, octopus Tchich or cuttlefish Ojja. Many aboriginals fish their own fish, which they consume the same day as a family. You will be able to participate in the fishing by leaving with a Kerkennian crew. The majority of fishermen are in El Ataya, so you can easily find very good fish. In Ramla, you can enjoy the market on Thursday.