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Sunday, 18 August 2019

Exploring Egypt: Tunis village in Fayoum, the land of pottery and imagination

Last weekend, I treated myself and the kids to a village that combines arts, adventure, relaxing, swimming and farming in one charming place

Lina El-Wardani , Thursday 10 Nov 2016
Tunis village Fayoum
The view from our rental in Tunis village overlooking the lake Qarun in Fayoum (Photo: Lina El Wardani)
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Put your right foot on the spinning wheel; use your two hands to shape the clay into a small circle and keep spinning and shaping till you have the perfect creation of a vase, cup, plate or ashtray.

 

These were the instructions given to me and my little daughters by one of Tunis' pottery artists, Mohamed Youssef.

Tunis village
Pottery artist Mohammed Youssef giving a tutorial on how to mold the perfect vase

 

Tunis is a village in Fayoum governorate just south of Cairo, one hour's drive from 6th of October where I live. But this one hour took us to a land lost in time.

Tunis village
Pottery artist Mohammed Youssef teaching the little ones how to make their own pottery artifacts. (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

The small village is mostly inhabited by artists and writers. You walk through the village and all you can see are small art galleries and pottery workshops, with the loveliest array of serving plates, dishes, cups, mirrors and more on display, each piece finely drawn and crafted by hand.

 

The air is clean and the atmosphere very quiet, serene and just relaxing. Beyond the pottery you see green fields, farm animals and the beautiful lake.

 

At night the sky is clear, hundreds of stars light your way and bats fly from tree to tree.

 

Tunis village
The unique view from Tunis village houses overlooking lake Qarun (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

The food in Tunis is really a treat.

 

Everything is homemade; animals are grass fed; everything simply tastes better. Here you can have a traditional breakfast of feteer, black honey and white cheese. We tried one from Zeytouna bakery at Zad El Mossafer guesthouse, and found it phenomenal.

All the food is baked by a marvelous woman, who also bakes all kinds of sweet and savory pastries in a huge wooden oven right in front of you.

 

Tunis village
Food at Zeytouna's restaurant in Zad Al-Mosafer guesthouse is a real homemade treat. (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

Zad El-Mosafer guesthouse boasts around 20 rooms, and two restaurants with tasty options. It is owned by Egyptian writer Abdou Gobeir, who was so fascinated by Tunis' beauty that he decided to move there twenty years ago when the place was almost unknown.

 

It is the first and oldest hotel in Tunis, as well as the most central, nestled in the middle of the tiny but full-of-life village. Many hotels, lodges and B&B's have opened over the years, in an attempt to copy Zad El-Mosafer's success.

Tunis village
Pick your adventure in Fayoum from the many posters on Zad Al-Mosafer Guesthouse billboard. (Photo: Lina EL Wardani)

 

Prices here are very reasonable. You can get a single room for EGP 75, a double ensuite for EGP 150, an airconditioned room for EGP 250. All prices are subject to  22% taxes. 

 

There is also Palm Shadows, an apartment hotel accommodation.

 

Here, you can rent a single room for EGP 250, a double for EGP 350, and a two-room apartment for EGP 500. The hotel is basic, but very clean; it lacks a view of the lake, but has a spacious, peaceful garden.

 

For cheaper accommodation there is Sobek lodge.

 

Rooms here need a bit of cleaning, as with many rentals in Tunis, but the food at Sobek is phenomenal. 

 

We had a homemade meal of molokheya, duck, and stuffed pigeon. For the vegetarians there is very little choice so I just gulped two bowls of the yummy molokheya and rice.

 

There are new and more expensive hotels now in Tunis, such as Lazib, the newest and priciest option at 2000 EGP a night.

 

There is also Kom El-Dekka, still an expensive but very popular hotel as it provides many kids activities from gardening to pottery to donkey and horseback riding, to cooking classes. Rooms there start at 1300 EGP a night.

 

Both hotels have restaurants but we didn’t try the food, having thoroughly enjoyed the options at Sobek and Zad El-Mosafer.

 

So what can you do other than enjoy the meditative practice of pottery in Tunis?

Tunis village
Horseback riding in the peaceful Tunis village is fun. (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

Well there is horseback riding in the morning breeze; one hour of which for my two daughters cost EGP 120 total.

 

There is also the caricature museum opened by caricaturist Mohamed Abla a few years ago—a real treat for cartoon lovers young and old.

 

You can even cross the street, take a boat and go to Bani Mazar island for a nice swim and a picnic, or book a bird watching trip.

 

If you are feeling adventurous you can have an unforgettable experience: rent a 4X4, hire a guide and go to the Wadi El Hitan or Wadi El Rayan protectorates or even better, like we did, do both.

 

We left Tunis at 12 pm and arrived at the protectorate in half an hour. Another hour brought us to the stunning, recently opened museum of Wadi El Hitan—the whale fossil museum.

 

Our tour started with a 15-minute documentary explaining how the desert was once an ocean, home to marine life that is now largely extinct. Most important to its status as a world heritage site are the eponymous whales, whose remains were recently transferred to this impressive museum.

Tunis village
The cafe in front of Wadi Al-Hitan museum (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

Tunis village
Sea cow skeleton at the Wadi El-Hitan museum (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

Those ancient whales had fingers, like us, which can easily be seen in the museum's collection of fossils. Needless to say, we left in awe.

 

Tunis village
A whale's skull and his large skeleton can be seen at the Wadi Al-Hitan museum (Photo: Lina EL Wardani)

Tunis village
The impressive Wadi Al-Hitan museum (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

We used the stop for a quick tea at the new cafe and to use the toilets at the museum.

Tunis village
Horseback riding in the serene Dessert of Wadi Al-Hitan protectorate (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

Next, we began our Desert adventure, sand bashing (navigating the Jeep up and down the sand dunes) until we reached the perfect sand boarding stop, and we did that too. Even the kids went up and down the small slope with their waxed boards.

 

Tip: Make sure to wax the board with a piece of chalk so it slides more quickly and easily.

 

Tunis village
Sand boarding in the endless Dessert of Wadi Al-Hitan protectorate (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

After so much sand, we were ready for a dip in the water, so we drove to the magic lake—and it really is magical—the water is perfect for a refreshing swim. But

be careful, it is quite deep.

Tunis village
The magical sunset at magic lake in Wadi Al-Hitan protectorate (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

It was cold now but the sunset was really beautiful in the vast desert decorated by endless slopes of sand dunes.

 

Tunis village
The magic lake in Wadi Al-Hitan protectorate (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

Finally, we journeyed to Wadi El-Rayan protectorate, another 30 minutes drive from the magic lake. Here you'll find beautiful waterfalls and a lovely photo opportunity. We had to run home though, not to become a mosquito snack!

Tunis village
The magical magic lake at the Wadi Al-Hitan protectorate (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

 

Back in Tunis village we finished the trip with a quiet night watching the bats flit over the lake.

 

Stay tuned for Tunis Pottery Festival from 1 to 3 December.

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/368985916823607/?active_tab=about

 

Accommodation contacts and information

 

Zad ELMosafer (Guest House)
phone number: 0100 6395590
0846 820180

 

Sobek Lodge and restaurant (You need to call to reserve your lunch or dinner a few hours ahead.)
Phone: 0106 8885423

 

Palm shadows hotel and apartments: Phone: 0109 7771143

 

Kom El-Dikka Agru Lodge: 0122 244 0012

 

Lazib Inn resort and spa: 084 6820000

 

There is a new hotel 10 minutes drive from the pottery village called Bayoum, which is owned by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris. It was in soft launch when we were there last weekend. The hotel is clean and prices are reasonable and the food is good, but you need a car to get in and out of Tunis.

 

If you don’t fancy staying at a hotel, you can do like we did: rent a house. We rented a large house with five rooms, five bathrooms, a swimming pool and a garden in the middle of Tunis for 1600 EGP a night. However you can rent houses or rooms for much cheaper prices.

 

Our guide and contact was the amazing Ashraf: 0111 7283321.

 

Go to Tunis. It really is worth it.

 

Tunis village
The waterfalls in Wadi Al-Rayan protectorate (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

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