Tent-ative Pleasures in Tunisia:

Tent-ative Pleasures in Tunisia: Pansea Ksar Ghilane

By Ann H. Waigand

Photo by Hank Shapiro

Christine Robison is laughing as she reads to me from the latest Insight Guide for Tunisia. After spending almost a year tracking down Pansea Ksar Ghilane, I’ve finally found Christine, someone who actually stayed in this collection of tents–a hotel, mind you–in the desert of Tunisia. So why is she laughing?

Insight claims you’ll find a real rustic experience here,” says Christine, “but no Bedouin on earth stays in tents like these!”

Pansea is, in fact, the most elegant and creature-comfort-rich of the numerous tent hotels that dot southern Tunisia. Dreams of a desert getaway and going native often appear a tad less romantic when confronted with reality. It takes several hours over the vertebra-crushing bumps of pistes–tracks in the dirt or sand–to reach Ksar Ghilane, an ancient Roman outpost oasis four hours from anywhere that now houses collection of about 20 Berber families who’ve chosen to live on the edge of the Great Saharan Desert.

But the journey from Tataouine (where parts of Star Wars were filmed) is what fills the pages in travelers’ journals, with Berber villages perched along the mountainsides and the medieval food storage units known as gorfas throughout the landscape.

Once there, however, the need for creature comforts looms large. Until Pansea came along, your only alternative was one of the tent encampments, culturally authentic Bedouin tents, to be sure, but dark, dank, and dingy. A joint Tunisian-French partnership with environmentally–and culturally–sensitive hotels in remote locations around the world conceived of Pansea on the chance that not every traveler wants to take a pee in the sand, cook out over an open fire, or share a sweltering multi-cot tent (and woe to you if you’ve forgotten your sleeping bag).

At Pansea, sixty pristine, round, white tents–each set on a concrete base–make up this connoisseur-level desert encampment. Inside, the air-conditioned tents sport well-outfitted bathrooms (even with showers), beds with hand-woven coverings, and rustic hanging carpets decorating the walls. Step outside and cross the flour-textured white sand to–could it be a mirage–a full-size swimming pool. There’s even a recreated desert lookout tower, a library and a crafts shop. And the mythical dunes of the Sahara’s Grand Erg Oriental (The Eastern Sand Sea) are nearby.

Why venture this far into the desert anyway? Aside from the lure of the Sahara, the night skies are so clear you see more stars than you even knew existed. And at Pansea, evenings bring a desert barbecue and a serenade of Bedouin songs.

Perhaps Insight was on the mark about one thing: “to travel (to Ksar Ghilane) is probably better than to arrive.” That is, until Pansea came along.

HERE Pansea Ksar Ghilane
phone or fax:
(216 5) 900521
or the hotel’s Tunis office
(216 1) 846129 Pansea offers a special Internet rate of $90 per night for single occupancy, $105 per night double occupancy.

also offers camel treks into the nearby dunes.


According to Robison, Tunisia has a raft of new hotels that “make you want to regurgitate” because they look like you could find them just as easily in Las Vegas. But there are several unique hotels worth checking out.

La Kasbah, a super luxury hotel converted from a rustic, old military barracks building, sits within the city walls of Kairouan, Islam’s fourth most holy center (after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem).
(216 7) 237301
(216 7) 237302

Odyssee, in Zarzis (on the Mediterranean), is a “living dream on earth of architectural beauty.”
(216 5) 705700
(216 5) 705190

In the troglodyte city of Matmata, Diar El Berber has bedrooms dug out of raw rock, providing comfortable, 3-star, cave accommodations.
(216 5) 230074
(216 5) 230144

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