By John O’Ceallaigh
As resort launches go, Anantara Tozeur’s in midwestern Tunisia was unfortunately timed. It soft launched in January 2020 and its initial flurry of anticipated press coverage was compromised when the first major international press trip was abruptly cut short due to the Covid-19 crisis. This Financial Times article documents, gripplingly, the journalists’ dramatic, not-a-second-to-spare efforts to return from the remote property to Tunis so they could leave the country before international borders shut.
That said, when international travel eventually resumes fully, the resort’s isolation should make it even more attractive to holidaymakers. Prior to the property’s opening, I was told by a member of the Anantara team that the brand’s long-planned arrival in the desert city of Tozeur, on the northern tip of the Sahara and enveloped by some of Tunisia’s most impressive mountains, was partially devised as a riposte to overtourism and the growing unease high-end consumers have about visiting overburdened destinations, alongside their desire to be the first to explore emerging regions. Since then, of course, “social distancing” has become common parlance and so many of us have developed an unease with strangers, so for some consumers the urge to visit here in place of more established beach resorts will be even more compelling.
Travellers keen to keep away from crowds will find Anantara’s first North African outpost occupies a part of Tunisia that is more or less completely ignored by international tourists – and the local airport, a 75-minute flight from Tunis, is just a 15-minute drive from the resort’s front door.
Once settled at the 93-key resort, guests will have endless space and unobstructed views towards the barren expanse of the Sahara desert. On site, distraction comes via five restaurants (including Asian restaurant Mekong and Sarab, which serves Mediterranean, Arab and Tunisian cuisine), a spa, kids’ club, multiple swimming pools and floodlit tennis courts. Interiors and architecture take inspiration from Arabian and North African design; keyhole archways in the lobby pay tribute to Moorish traditions; Berber patterns are woven into fabrics; North African furnishings are used throughout. An on-site Arabian Cultural Village features a souk and Arabian Nights Restaurant, which serves camel steaks and other local dishes.
All spacious and modern, the room inventory incorporates various villas and pool villas, the most impressive of which are two three-bedroom Royal Villas, each over 800sq metres and incorporating a sunken dining room and private majilis. Outside, each has its own infinity pool and al fresco dining area, framed by views of the Chott el Djerid salt lake.
There’s much to see in the surrounding desert too (perhaps surprisingly) and it can be reached by a privately booked 4×4. Past Tozeur’s medina, with its local shops selling baskets, ceramic and kilim carpets, lies the abandoned 14th-century Berber villages of Chebika, Tamerza and Mides, all abandoned after torrential flooding in 1967. Roam further and you’ll find the Mides Canyon, the mountain oasis of Tamerza, with its clear-water rock pool open to swimmers, not to mention the Sahara itself, where camel-trekking, quad biking and even a visit to Star Wars filming locations await.
Rooms at Anantara Tozeur Resort in Tunisia start from $350; villas start from $1,000.