Just two-and-a-half hours flying time from London lies the island of Djerba, which comes with a Mediterranean climate, has miles of sandy beaches, and high standards of accommodation.

The biggest plus however is that you can stay in a luxury hotel or Dar, their answer to the Moroccan riad, without spending a fortune, writes Natasha Blair.

The people of Djerba pride themselves on welcoming people of all religions, and have one of the oldest synagogues in the world.

Natasha on Renzo during a ride along the beach

Natasha on Renzo during a ride along the beach

El Ghriba, built over 2,600 years ago, contains a copy of the Torah written on gazelle skin, recovered after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 585BC.

Beautifully decorated with tiles and chandeliers, it is on the list of must-see tourist attractions. Open daily for tourists, Jewish visitors can attend the Saturday service if it is arranged in advance.

The Safardi synagogue is a pilgrimage centre for North African Jews with a major festival in May. In the middle of the island two villages, Hara Kebira and Hara Seghira, still have a Jewish community.

Nearby the synagogue, Dar Dhiafa is an amalgamation of traditional Tunisian houses, several of which have previously been owned by Jewish people.

The owners, husband and wife team Chiara and Slah Allami can on request provide kosher food for guests, cooked at the home of Byris Cohen, a nearby Jewish neighbour.

With its location in a narrow street in Erriadh, staying at Dar Dhiafa provides a real feeling of Tunisia with its stone-walls, courtyards, terraces, and secluded swimming pool.

For presents and souvenirs, Houmt Souk is a must. Bargaining is essential and part of the fun as prices are often more than twice the amount you eventually pay. Spices, fresh pepper, paprika, and lots more that I had never heard of are displayed in rows.

I eventually bought a ready made-up grill mixture only to find that a fellow member of my group had paid half the amount I paid, about £1 for twice as much.

Rows of brightly coloured glazed pottery items – plates, jugs, and tagines were very tempting.

Mindful of our baggage allowance, several of my companions were drawn to the less heavy copy designer handbags that the stall vendors pointed out were slightly different to the originals.

Hidden behind the shops and worth visiting is the fresh fish market, if only to see the characters selling their wares. Its worth reiterating as well that fish on the island is freshly caught.

An outing on a pirate ship was great fun. The sailors, dressed as pirates, entertained us with songs and on the return journey, with music blearing from loud speakers, taught those brave enough amongst us, a dance routine.

One of the major drawbacks on Djerba is that English isn’t widely spoken. Announcements on the ship were made in a variety of languages French, Italian, and German but sadly not English.

We sailed to Flamingo Island bereft of its namesake as they only nest there during the winter. With time to spare, we lazed on the beach and enjoyed a dip in the warm sea before lunch, served in a tented area on the beach.

The menu of typical local food began with brik, a triangular pastry pocket with a soft egg inside; couscous and sliced vegetables served with barbequed dourade(sea bream),followed by chunks of water melon.

Jewish artefacts including a Sefer Torah cover and menorah are some of the exhibits on display at the Lalla Hadria Museum.

Devoted to the heritage of the island, the museum explores the different civilisations that have settled, and the influences that have made it what it is today.

Within the complex, a Berber house had a camel in its back yard demonstrating turning the outside water wheel.

 

Unexpected was the crocodile park with what looked like thousands of crocodiles basking in the sun or sprawled out alongside one of several pools.

Segregated by age, pregnant females also have their own area. A highlight for some of our group, thankfully not me, was holding one of the babies, while having a photograph taken to commemorate the occasion!

Riding on the beach while watching the sun setting sounds idyllic, even romantic, but a bit scary for someone who hasn’t been on a horse for ages, and can’t ride.

However, I couldn’t resist mounting Renzo, a beautiful dark brown Berber horse who was extremely docile. Needless to say, my ride along the seashore turned out to be one of my trip’s highlights.

As well as visiting, Djerba is also the stopping off point for exploring the Southern tip of the Sahara dessert, a reason to return.

Useful contacts:

El Ghriba Synagogue  00216 75670944

www.hoteldardhiafa.com  

www.heathrowexpress.com    0845 600 1515

Trains from Paddington Mainline Station

www.cometotunisia.co.uk     020 7224 5561