If you don't fall in love with Dar Dhiafa, your heart must have been pulled out of you by the mundane predictability of modern life. Like all good love stories, it begins by being off-put and overwhelmed, unsure of what it's all about, and suspiciousness of how it will all turn out. At a certain point (at the beginning, if you're smart), you simply throw up your hands, surrender to the charms, and let yourself be led down unfamiliar roads.
To me, Dar Dhiafa was all about the people who live and work there. The wisest thing we did was to take the time to pause, slow down, get a little humble and step out of the lock-step march of the traveller-covering-ground-fast mood. There were British tourists who seemed altogether irritated by the lack of familiar amenities and the "rustic" nature of the facilities...so ready to be disappointed that they grumbled along and never even notices the candlelit passageways, the flowerpetals floating in the pool, the faded Hebrew lettering on the lintels that intertwined with the Arabic, the fragrant oils steaming from the hammam.
When we arrived, Nidal led us to the roof to have a smoke and watch the sun wash over the glistening white domes of the mosques - sure enough, moments later the call to prayer swept through the town and he smiled at us before launching into a passionate discussion about the differences between African and American blues guitar. We went music-shopping with him, he planned our trips through the desert, and took us home to meet his mother, uncles, and father. She made us strawberries in balsamic vinegar and showed us her wedding pictures.
And then there was dinner, where we let them choose our food and were awarded lamb wrapped in cheese over grilled apples. The teenage chefs wandered out and between their Arabic and our French we learned they had grown up there with their families long before it was a hotel, while it was still a Jewish dwelling in a Muslim town. And today are self-taught chefs, with cosmopolitan curiosity, a gift with Franco-African fusion, and an amazing knack for experimenting with local ingredients.
Once of the staff took me aside and shyly asked for "a woman's advice" about how to propose to his girlfriend. Another took us to a local hookah cafe where smoke was thick, the boiled almonds were otherworldly, and dwarfs walked around with braziers of burning hookah coals as the musicians played some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard.
One of the best ways to fall in love is to sit back and listen to your beloved. The call to prayer punctuated each section of the day - a quiet dreamy morning under the bouganvilla eating oranges. In the afternoon, an onslaught of sun, and then the hammam. Conversations. A nap in the cool splendor of the rooms -
I have to pause a moment to say that climbing barefoot up a stone staircase to a small loft at the top of the vaulted ceiling upon which is the most romantically delightful claw foot tub is worth $250 in pure, unabated joy. So there.
It takes a certain sensibility to enjoy getting off the beaten path in Djerba - on one side of the island there is a creepy, soul-destroying ghetto of antiseptically swanky hotels completely indistinguishable from other antiseptic tourist ghettos where people go for inexpensive sunburns.
And then on the other side it's dusty streets, dusty donkeys, dusty olive trees, dusty mosques, and scrub brush that THANK GOD sends the feeble spirited back to those little air-conditioned boxes.
And behind the high walls and the blue shuttered windows and the massive wooden gateways are perhaps the most wonderful people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. We wandered by a local pottery and the gentleman who worked there invited us for hookah and tea, got in our car, persuaded us to let him drive, drove like a demented bat but somehow got us to a cafe where he chatted with me for two hours about politics comparing George Bush and Bourgiba, and then took us wandering through his village, introduced us to his sister, showed us the family goats, cracked jokes until we hyperventilated.
If you can't allow yourself to relax and open your eyes, bring yourself to be curious and quiet, release all your expectations and preconceived ideas, then it's simply not the place for you. I arrived in a feverish, frenetic frenzy straight from Los Angeles and Paris, and thank goodness Dar Dhiafa took me aside and made me human again.
The island is holy, and spiritual, and loving, and sweet, and generous, and replete with subtle sensuality and breathtaking kindness. It's only there if you have the patience to let it come to you in its own time, and in its own way.
After extending our stay from 3 days to 10, I sobbed when I got into the taxi, because i knew that I would never experience anything like that again. And I haven't. It was a blessing.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Unique and charming place on the island of Djerba ... more less
- Reservation Options:
- TripAdvisor is proud to partner with Booking.com so you can book your Dar Dhiafa reservations with confidence. We help millions of travelers each month to find the perfect hotel for both vacation and business trips, always with the best discounts and special offers.
- Also Known As:
- Dar Dhiafa Djerba
- Dar Dhiafa Hotel Djerba