El-Kef (fr. Le Kef, from Arabic al-kaf – “rock”) is a small city with a population of 50,000 at a distance of 175 km from the capital of the country and only 40 km from the border with Algeria, the olive heart of the Tunisian hinterland and strategic a point on the way to several of the wonders of Tunisia, carefully hidden by history. Starting from the creations of nature – the table mountain of Jugurta, and ending with the deeds of human hands – one of the few Roman baths in Meleg Hammam that still operates today – everything in the vicinity of El Kef has a touch of exclusivity and mystery. In addition to spiritual food, you can also taste material food here – one of the best brands of olive oil in Tunisia is produced in the region.
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How to get to El Kef
El Kef can be reached in several ways:
- by rented car is the most convenient way of transportation, allowing not only to come to the city, but also to comfortably move around its surroundings. The El Kef area has good roads, maintained by the authorities thanks to the profits from the olive oil trade, and a first-class highway has been laid to the capital.
- by bus of the state company SNTRI. Up to 15 buses depart daily from Tunisia to El Kef (with transfers), travel time is 3 hours, and the fare is about 30 TND. The resort towns are not directly connected to El Kef by SNTRI, and you will first need to get from the coast to the capital. From Nabeul, Hammamet and Sousse, you can get to El Kef by bus of the regional transport company SRTG Le Kef.
- by minibus from Sousse or Tunisia (direct) or with a transfer from any resort town.
How to navigate in the city
The old city of El Kef is surrounded by a fortress wall from the northern and northeastern parts, most of the sights are located in its western part. Independence Square (Place de l’Indépendence) serves as a transit point between the old city and modern El Kef. There are two tourist offices, several modest hotels and restaurants. The bus station and minibus station are located 300 m south of the square.
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4 things to do in El Kef
- View the endless olive plantations from the observation tower of the city fort.
- Take a steam bath in an 1800-year-old Roman bath.
- Buy extra virgin olive oil for those who understand Sicca Veneria.
- Climb the picturesque table mountain Jugurta.
Weather forecast for El Kef
In the western regions of Tunisia, including El Kef, a sharply continental climate reigns: in winter it is very cool here, with frequent winds piercing to the bones, and in summer it is hot as in an oven. Plan your wardrobe carefully before you travel; From October to March, don’t forget your umbrella.
It cannot be said that El Kef has a large selection of restaurants, but it is not difficult to find a place where you can have a bite and even a more or less decent lunch. Most establishments are located on Independence Square and nearby streets. Here you can kill the worm with “kaskrut” – a Tunisian sandwich in a baguette cut in two, refresh yourself with panini or pizza. Go to traditional Tunisian restaurants such as Bou Makhlouf or Andalous: this is a great opportunity to try couscous and leblebi soup, “sharpened” for local picky taste buds, and feel the difference with hotel cooking.
El Kef is the olive heart of the Tunisian hinterland and a strategic point on the way to several wonders of Tunisia, carefully hidden by history.
El Kef Hotels
Like the restaurant industry, the hotel options here are not so hot. However, given the remoteness of El Kef from popular resorts, you may want to spend the night in the city in order to see all the nearby attractions in a relaxed manner. Decent places include Hotel-Residence Venus and Hotel Les Pins, the latter with air-conditioned rooms and a swimming pool.
What to bring from El Kef
In addition to souvenirs depicting city and surrounding attractions, pay attention to the local olive oil Sicca Veneria (by the way, this is the Roman name of El Kef) – fragrant and very tasty, for which it is deservedly appreciated in the domestic market.
Entertainment and attractions of El Kef
In the town
The medieval kasbah dominates the city from Eddir Hill and includes two forts. At the western end of the fortress is the Small Fort with four towers, built in 1601. The large fort occupies the eastern part of the kasbah, it was erected in the Turkish era (17th century) and significantly expanded in the next two centuries. On the territory of the kasbah, it will also be interesting to see a Turkish mosque, cells for prisoners and a bronze weapon left over from the Algerian siege in the early 18th century. Don’t forget to climb to the edge of the fortress wall to enjoy a stunning view of the surroundings of El Kef.
The large fort of the Kasbah of El Kef has the longest military history of all such structures in Tunisia. The first garrison was stationed here in the Phoenician era, in the 5th century BC. BC, and the last military left its walls in 1992 as a result of the redeployment of the Tunisian internal troops.
The Museum of Folk Crafts and Traditions deserves the closest attention – here is one of the best collections of arts and crafts and household items in the country: a real nomadic awning and ancient millstones for grinding flour, traditional Berber silver jewelry and bedspreads, with which nomads cover camels in cold winter night. A separate room tells about women’s work: spinning, making carpets, grinding grain and preparing couscous.
Take a look at the synagogue of La Ghriba, the second most important in Tunisia after the one of the same name on the island of Djerba. The building was renovated in 1994. Inside you can see old commemorative wooden plaques, a wedding invitation dating back to 1952, one of the oldest Torah scrolls in Tunisia and the rarest examples of the so-called Judeo-Arabic writing: when Arabic words are written using Hebrew letters (something like the usual SMS transliteration Privet ! How are you?).
The source of Ras el-Ain once served as the cause of the emergence of El-Kef: its waters fed the Roman settlement of Sikka Veneria. Nearby are the ruins of thermae and cisterns for storing water.
Among the monuments of the Christian era are the basilica (today only ruins remain of it) and the well-preserved Church of St. Peter – both 4th century BC. n. e. The idea of the mortal is continued by three cemeteries located on the hillside to the east of the Kasbah of El-Kef: Jewish, Muslim and Christian.
In the village of Hammam Meleg, located 15 km from El Kef, you can visit a real Roman bath, one of the few in Tunisia that still operates today. 1800 years after the construction of the term, little has changed here: the division into a cold, warm and hot hall, as well as an extensive recreational area beloved by the Romans. Hammam is fed by a hot sulfate spring, the water temperature is 42°. Inside the hammam there are two separate rooms for men and women.
Pay attention to the marble steps leading to the pool: over the long centuries of using the hammam, the iodine elements contained in the water have dyed them in a rich burgundy color.
Table mountain Jugurtha
The geological wonder of Tunisia is the only table mountain in the country bearing the name of the Numidian commander Jugurtha, located 60 km from El Kef in the vicinity of the village of Kalaat Senan. From the city you can get here by bus in 45 minutes and 4 TND. If you are traveling in a rental car, look for signs to Plateau de Jugurtha. You can only get to the top of the mountain (1271 m.) on foot, count on an hour with a little way. Persistent will be rewarded with stunning views of the surroundings and a completely flat surface of the “table”.
Roman ruins of Maktar
The archaeological park is located at a sufficient distance from El-Kef (69 km.), However, this is the relatively large city closest to Maktar. You can get here by bus route El Kef – Kairouan (an hour and a quarter on the way, the ticket costs 3 TND) or by minibus. Admirers of the ancient ruins will be delighted by the well-preserved Arc de Triomphe, the city square-forum and a large-scale bath complex, one of the best preserved in Tunisia.
The masterpiece of the Maktara thermae is a mosaic panel of the central hall with amazingly bright azure, emerald, carmine and orange fragments.
There is also a small museum with Roman mosaics, early Christian tombstones, coins and terracotta lamps.