Ksar Ghilane is an oasis in the middle of nowhere where the stony desert meats the sandy desert. It is surrounded by sand dunes of the Great Eastern Erg. It is a long drive and you have to want to come here and tourists do in their droves to experience the Sahara Desert. We were no exception.
There is a small oasis with a Berber village housing people working in the oasis and those servicing the tourist industry. There are a few stone built houses with barrel roofs with animals and chickens running around. Donkeys are used for transport. The camels are solely for the use of tourists as a camel ride in the desert is a popular activity. No we didn’t try it – you can fall off a camel… There are no services in the village. There is a very basic shop selling dry and tinned foods but not bread or water. This has to be bought from the camps at a premium, so come well stocked up. The water is sandy and even using sterilising tablets is unsuitable for drinking.
We were stopping in Camp Yadis Ksar Ghilane at the end of the road through the oasis. In my ignorance I’d assumed it was the only accommodation in the oasis so was surprised when we drove past several other camps on our way. In fact the oasis is full of tents and tourists. Another illusion shattered.
Through the gate is a large white reception building. Reception will exchange money, but only euros. The restaurant is opposite and the bar behind. Near the bar is a Berber tent.
Beyond is the swimming pool surrounded by palm trees. There is an adobe covered watch tower. From the top there are views over the top of the oasis to the desert beyond. The tents are arranged in groups of 8-12 off the crazy paving path which had small lights along it. The tents are close together and the surroundings rather uninspiring.
The tents were made of two layers of material and had a covered area outside the entrance. There was reasonable space inside tent with a very comfortable double bed and single bed which we used to put suitcases on to keep them off the floor. There were two chairs, small table and a small hanging area. Pillows were thin and there was a fleecy blanket on the bed which was surprisingly warm. Behind is small area with toilet, basin and shower. Three bottles of unidentified gloop were provided with a dispenser by shower, but no plug or soap. There were two bath towels and one hand towel provided which were not very good at drying and smelt when damp. The tent had air conditioning and reasonable light, but was a bit noisy with sound from generator.
During the evening the crickets sing, beginning about 6.30 and then suddenly stopping about 9pm.
In the morning the quad bikes start up about 7am and there is a lot of noise as they drive along the road outside the camp.
Breakfast and dinner are a self service buffet with plenty of choice. Water is expensive at 4TD for 1.5l.
On our second night we were told we were being cooked a Berber meal in the tent. Outside it was a palm leaf fire with a sealed china pot cooking on it. The waiter collected bread dough from the kitchen which he kneaded and then flattened into a very large round about 15” diameter. This was baked for 30-40 minutes in the fire covered with hot ashes, being turned once. The bread was taken out and beaten well to get rid of all the ash. Burnt bits round the edge were trimmed and it was cut into hunks and served with olive oil, olives, harissa etc. It was very good.
We were then asked to sit on low seats at the low table in the tent. Bowls of soup arrived with basket of round doughy bread, followed by deep fried filo pastry filled with mash potato.
The cooking jar was removed from the fire, tapped round top with a small axe, the whole of the top removed and contents poured into large serving dish. Were given a plate with a large chunk of lamb, potato, half tomato and large green chilli. We finished the meal with an orange and apple and a plate of small, sweet and rather uninspiring nibbles. It was a very good meal and interesting experience but took two hours.
Most people just spend one night at Ksar Ghilane. We decided to spend two nights there as we thought we would be grateful of a rest after the long drive the previous day. Apart from the quad bikes or camel rides there is little to do unless you enjoy lying by the pool.
We arranged to be driven to the remains of Roman fort, 3km across the sand dunes. There is a road to it but it often becomes impassable with blown sand. It was a bumpy ride over the sand dunes which stand 4-5’ high. We could see the sand being blown off the dunes.
The fort was built in a strategic position on top of slight rise to control the important watering point and to provide intelligence on nomad movements. The rough stone walls stand 10’ high and form a square with rounded corners. The blocks are not particularly well shaped, unlike most Roman buildings. A single arched doorway leads an open space which has a square building inside. We were reminded of the milecastles along Hadrian’s Wall.
The fort used later used by Berbers and we could see the remains of their houses built round the walls. Steps to the top of the walls gave views across the dunes.
Outside is palm covered shack which used to be a shop but is now empty. Most people visit on camel from the village. A few walk.
We were then taken for a drive across rocky desert to two other camps in the middle of the desert several kilometers south of Ksar Ghilane. We were surprised by amount of vegetation around even on the sand. There was jasmine, esparto grass, a shrub with small blue flowers loved by camelsIn a few places there were a few yellow, white and blue flowers adding a touch of colour to the desert. In a few weeks as the temperatures continue to rise these will have died. As we drove south we lost the sand dunes and it became stoney desert again. We were surprised by amount of vegetation around even on the sand. There was jasmine, esparto grass, a shrub with small blue flowers loved by camelsIn a few places there were a few yellow, white and blue flowers adding a touch of colour to the desert. In a few weeks as the temperatures continue to rise these will have died.
We saw a Berber shepherd out with a big flock of sheep and were told that he would collect all the sheep from village and be paid to look after them during the day. There were a few nomad tents scattered around and we could see across to the army control station at start of Military zone.
In retrospect we didn’t need to spend two nights at Ksar Ghilane. We could have done the Roman fort in the morning and later in the day driven to our next destination of Tataouine. The jury is out whether it was worth the long trip. We don’t particularly like sleeping in tents although we did appreciate the en suite facilities. Having seen some of the other camp sites we now know why Camp Yadis Ksar Ghilane is descried as luxury tents. It probably wasn’t although I think if we had taken the decision not to visit we might have regretted it afterwards.
Anyone else intending to stop two nights needs to plan in advance and take a snack for lunch, unless they intend to buy lunch. The only other option is a small boulangerie near one of the other camps selling very small loaves of Berber bread for 1TD.