Beach-fringed Djerba, in the Gulf of Gabes, is the largest island off the coast of North Africa. Habitat of Homer’s legendary Lotus Eaters, its character is very different from the rest of Tunisia, to which it is joined by a causeway dating from Roman times. Even before the Romans turned up, it was colonised by the Phoenicians - and afterwards by just about everyone else, including the Turks and the French. Today, it’s an intriguing mix of olive groves, peaceful market towns and sleepy fishing villages, with a sizeable Jewish population (distinguishable by the conical straw hats the women wear on top of their head scarves) and one of Africa’s largest synagogues. Djerba’s Muslims are unusual too, belonging to the Al-Ibadhiyah sect, which is distinct from both the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam.
On the mainland, the flat agricultural plains and colonial towns of the coast gradually give way to jagged mountains topped by crumbling stone houses and tiny white mosques. Beyond lie shimmering salt lakes and the vast, sandy expanse of the Sahara, peppered with medieval medinas, troglodyte villages and lush oases. It’s an otherworldly landscape that has long attracted film-makers and now tempts visitors in search of Berber culture, Lawrence of Arabia-style adventures and spectacular views. A few days here make a wonderful addition to a Tunisian beach break, and there are some stylish desert hotels to base yourself at.