A vast mountainous region occupies the Tunisian West. On the menu: fresh air, green activities and uncovering countless historical ruins.
The white domes of the Sidi Boumakhlouf mosque watch over the medina of El Kef, cascading in stages down the mountainside.
Explore narrow streets and stairways, and you will encounter the many relics dating from Antiquity scattered around the old town.
Street art has entered the medina of El Kef! Stroll through the alleys to discover frescoes and graffiti.
Visit the Museum of Popular Art and Traditions, which is housed in a former Islamic mausoleum.
Climb up to the Ottoman citadel which faces a superb panorama of forests and fields.
Why not visit Kef in the springtime? The surrounding landscape is flush with greenery, while the city comes to life for its international theatre festival and its jazz festival Sicca Jazz, followed by a millennia-old celebration, the Mayou festival.
Hotels and guesthouses in El Kef and its surroundings
Have a mint tea or a Turkish coffee in the small square of the Sidi Boumakhlouf mausoleum, one of the prettiest places in the medina.
Take a tour of the complex of three cemeteries: Muslim, Jewish and Christian. A place full of poetry!
El Kef, Siliana… Staying in the Tunisian “Wild West” means finding oneself at the heart of a natural world preserved in the principal mountainous region in Tunisia, the Dorsal.
Let yourself be won over by an incredible sense of freedom by blazing a trail through a pine forest, galloping along a wadi (river), or by crossing a reservoir lake aboard a barge…
This still mostly untouched region offers wide open spaces and arresting scenery.
Also read: Snow and mountains in the Tunisian Northwest
Are you a trail runner? Take part in the Grand Trail de Jugurtha in a unique natural and historical setting, the Jugurtha Tableland. Read more.
Near El Kef, stay in the heart of nature at the Auberge du Lac/ Ranch du Lac in the forest of Nebeur. Comfortable and welcoming, with delicious local cuisine.
Many Tunisian associations regularly organise hikes. More information.
Ancient history has left numerous traces in the Tunisian West.
During your excursions, you will have surprise encounters with a Roman arch of triumph, dolmens by the dozen, prehistoric caves, the arcades of a Roman theatre or the pools of former baths.
HOTELS AND GUESTHOUSES in the El Kef region
El Kef, a town steeped in history, is located in a region which abounds with archaeological sites; the most spectacular are Makthar and Haïdra. Be sure not to miss Jugurtha Tableland, a unique historical and natural site.
Alleys and stairs wind between the white houses of the Medina clinging to the hillside.
El Kef contains a multitude of mausoleums and sanctuaries of Sufi saints such as Sidi Boumakhlouf, the patron saint of the city. His mausoleum (17th century) is remarkable with its three domes and its minaret decorated with tiles.
Equally, the small synagogue in the old town speaks to a Jewish presence in El Kef right up until the end of the 20th century.
El Kef has the originality of having three adjoining cemeteries – Muslim, Jewish and Christian.
Heir to an ancient city (Sicca Veneria), El Kef has preserved many Roman remains within the city itself: Baths, Cisterns, St. Peter’s Church, Basilica …
Above the medina the great Kasbah (citadel) rises up, built in the Ottoman era. Here the Turkish janissaries were garrisoned facing Algeria to guard the frontier.
A former Sufi mausoleum today houses a beautiful museum which retraces the different ways of life of the townspeople and the Bedouins of the area.
A true natural fortress, this 80 hectare tabular mountain (70 km south-west of El Kef) is entirely surrounded by steep cliffs. The only access: a narrow staircase carved into the rock.
Legend has it that the Numidian chief Jugurtha, at war with Rome, withstood months of siege; other rebels have taken shelter there throughout the centuries.
Search for traces of these historical occupations (cisterns, granaries, underground shelters…) or simply enjoy the superb view!
The small village of Elles is located in the Kef region, not far from the archaeological site of Makthar.
All around, over a vast area of 8 hectares, are the remains of dozens of megalithic tombs – dolmens – which date back to Antiquity. Some are well preserved.
These collective graves each contained numerous burials.
Read more: Elles: dolmens in the Tunisian West
The ancient site of Makthar has exceptional Roman remains.
You will be captivated by the centuries-old golden stone monuments: the Arch of Trajan, the arcades of the Great Baths, the colonnade of the Schola of Juvenes (headquarters of a youth organization).
The site also has monuments which bear witness to the city’s pre-Roman past: a Numidian mausoleum and megaliths which were collective graves. Read more.
Hotels and guesthouses in El Kef and its surroundings
At the end of the period of Antiquity, the West of Tunisia was covered with churches and Christian chapels.
The ruined church in the city of Thala is worth a visit, as well as one of the largest Byzantine fortresses of the Maghreb in Haïdra.
Read more: The site of Haïdra
On the edge of the Kef region, other striking archaeological sites await you, each more fascinating than the next. In the south, more arid mountainous regions announce the Sahara with the famous mountain oases.
60 km north-east of El Kef, this ancient site is absolutely exceptional.
The Roman Theatre and Capitol, the Numidian mausoleum are unique and particularly well preserved.
Founded by the Numidians, ancestors of the Berbers, Dougga acquired magnificent monuments after the Roman conquest. Even today, a whole ancient city can be seen with its streets and countless remains (temples, baths, houses, etc.).
Dougga has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
60 km north of El Kef, this archaeological site stretches out in a green mountainous landscape.
Chemtou was famous in Antiquity for its splendid yellow marble, or Numidic marble, much sought after by the Romans. The ancient marble quarries are still visible.
The extraction of Chemtou marble is explained in the beautiful Museum which also puts great emphasis on the Numidian civilization – that of the ancient inhabitants of the region, ancestors of the Berbers. Read more about the museum of Chemtou.
Opening hours, rates: Archaeological site and Museum
The archaeological site of Bulla Regia holds a treasure: luxurious Roman houses, one storey of which is located underground, sheltered from the hot weather. Their floors covered with mosaics have been preserved.
This ancient Numidian royal city - Bulla Regia means “royal Bulla” - has numerous other remains: theatre, baths, temples…
Bulla Regia is located north of El Kef, not far from Chemtou.
Sufetula, the principal city of Tunisia during the Byzantine period (6th-7th century), can be found on the high plateaus south of El Kef. Known today as Sbeïtla it is a striking archaeological site that should not be missed.
The superb Capitol formed of three contiguous temples and numerous church ruins are notable sights.
A city founded by veterans of the Roman army, Sbeïtla was the seat of a famous battle during the first Islamic expedition in the Maghreb: here they fought the Byzantine army of Gregory the Patrician in 647.
An arch of triumph, a dam, two Roman mausoleums and other ruins… the city of Kasserine, surrounded by high mountains, held an important strategic role in the Roman and Byzantine eras.
A major mining city, Gafsa is bordered by the northernmost oasis in Tunisia.
The foothills of the Saharan Atlas, south of Gafsa, form unique landscapes.
In this mineral universe oases appear deep into the mountains: Chebika and its oued (river) tumbling down the mountain, Tamerza and its waterfall, Mides suspended above an imposing canyon.
Read more: The Tunisian South.