Tour in Tunisia Explores Olive Oil Culture and Cuisine

The Sfax Oleo Tour takes visitors on an eclectic trip through the olive oil-soaked region, visiting groves and sampling the many local delicacies.
Hamed Kamoun olive mill (Photo: Sfax Oleo Tour)
By Isabel Putinja
Jan. 9, 2024 15:36 UTC

A new oleo­tourism route in Tunisia has been launched, high­light­ing the country’s food and cul­ture. The Sfax Oleo Tour includes vis­its to olive farms, mills and local projects run by arti­sans and entre­pre­neurs work­ing with deriv­a­tives of the olive tree and its fruit.

The tourism ini­tia­tive fits into a broader project encom­pass­ing a series of coun­try-wide itin­er­aries cel­e­brat­ing Tunisia’s culi­nary her­itage, par­tic­u­larly del­i­ca­cies such as cheese, wine, harissa, dates, octo­pus, table olives and extra vir­gin olive oil.

See Also:Tunisia Takes Measures to Lower Olive Oil Prices at Home as Export Revenues Fall

The mis­sion of the Sfax Oleo Tour is to pro­mote sus­tain­able tourism and encour­age an alter­na­tive model that steps away from the beach hol­i­days the North African coun­try has long had at the cen­ter of its tourism mar­ket­ing strat­egy.

In December, the first edi­tion of this Sfax olive oil culi­nary route had a four-day test run with close to two dozen par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing olive oil experts from Italy, Turkey, France and Croatia, tourism pro­fes­sion­als and local and inter­na­tional jour­nal­ists.

Situated on Tunisia’s east­ern coast­line, Sfax is the sixth largest and sec­ond most pop­u­lated gov­er­norate. The region is home to 10 mil­lion olive trees and 440 pro­duc­ers. Sfax is respon­si­ble for about 30 per­cent of Tunisian olive oil pro­duc­tion.


Faouzi Zayani, president of Tunisia Olive Association (Photo: Sfax Oleo Tour)

Sfax is the cap­i­tal of olive oil in Tunisia,” said Faouzi Zayani, pres­i­dent of the Tunisia Olive Association based in Sfax. Here, we have 32,000 hectares cov­ered with olive trees. Our local vari­ety is Chemlali, a vari­etal resis­tant to ill­nesses and the drought con­di­tions our region is prone to.”

As part of the itin­er­ary, the group stopped at the Huilerie Hamed Kamoun olive mill in Sfax, which dates back to 1820 and where the tra­di­tional press­ing method uti­liz­ing a grind­ing stone and hydraulic press con­tin­ues today.

Participants also saw one of the many Tunisian mills equipped with state-of-the-art extrac­tion tech­nol­ogy at the Ben Said family’s Dear Goodness olive farm in Hazeg, north of Sfax.


After seeing the old, the Sfax Oleo Tour takes visitors to the modern Dear Goodness olive mill (Photo: Sfax Oleo Tour)

An olive oil itin­er­ary is, of course, not com­plete with­out a tast­ing ses­sion. Sonda Laroussi Mezghani and her team of expert tasters at Olea Conseils led par­tic­i­pants through a guided tast­ing of a selec­tion of high-qual­ity Tunisian extra vir­gin olive oils.

Meanwhile, a stop at the organic farm run by Mohamed Maazoun pro­vided an intro­duc­tion to the bio­dy­namic farm­ing sys­tem for the pro­duc­tion of olives as well as local pro­duce cul­ti­vated exclu­sively with organic and locally sourced fer­til­iz­ers.

See Also:The best extra vir­gin olive oil from Tunisia

The olive tree brings peo­ple together,” said Laroussi Mezghani. It’s a magic and gen­er­ous tree. My goal is to share the cul­ture of Tunisia’s olive oil tra­di­tion.”

In 2014, Olea Conseils became Tunisia’s first inde­pen­dent olive oil-tast­ing panel rec­og­nized by the International Olive Council. In 2023, it opened its lab­o­ra­tory for sen­sory and physico-chem­i­cal analy­sis of olive oil, also receiv­ing the IOC’s stamp of approval.

The group had the oppor­tu­nity to inter­act with olive pro­duc­ers, pro­fes­sion­als, local arti­sans, and entre­pre­neurs work­ing with deriv­a­tives of the olive tree and its fruit.

The expe­ri­en­tial approach of the culi­nary and cul­tural itin­er­ary pro­vided a chance to get to know Tunisia’s culi­nary her­itage through each of the senses via cook­ing demon­stra­tions and tast­ings of typ­i­cal local spe­cial­ties and prod­ucts made with olive oil.

Extra vir­gin olive oil is a key ingre­di­ent in many local arti­sanal del­i­ca­cies hand­crafted by Sfax-based entre­pre­neur Dalenda Ellouze of Dose Et D’mi.

Quality is every­thing. That’s why I use only the best qual­ity olive oil I can find,” she said while recre­at­ing her grandmother’s ances­tral recipe for lak­louka, a local pas­try made of mil­let flour, raisins and Chemlali olive oil.


Olive oil is also a vital ingre­di­ent in hrouss (spicy chili pep­per paste) and bsissa (a sweet paste made of seeds, herbs and cere­als), as well as other gourmet prod­ucts hand­crafted by her team and which par­tic­i­pants had the oppor­tu­nity to sam­ple.

Other women entre­pre­neurs shared how they uti­lize every part of the olive tree in their arti­sanal cre­ations and prod­ucts.

Rania Mseddi of Ovarti Olive Wood show­cased her dec­o­ra­tive objects, bowls and kitchen uten­sils carved from the wood of the olive tree.

Meanwhile, Leila Hamma showed that olive oil is a vital ingre­di­ent in the beauty creams and oils she pro­duces, while Halima Babay demon­strated how she crafts nat­ural soaps from liq­uid gold.”


Soap made of olive oil by Halima Babay (Photo: Sfax Oleo Tour)

The com­plete sen­sory expe­ri­ence offered by the itin­er­ary was rounded off with olive oil treat­ments and mas­sages at Spa Mahassen, founded by Mahassen Keskes Jmel, another enthu­si­as­tic local woman entre­pre­neur.

Another impor­tant aspect of the Sfax Oleo Tour includes the oppor­tu­nity to stay in rural guest­houses run by local peo­ple to pro­mote an alter­na­tive model of tourism that takes vis­i­tors away from the beach resorts and into Tunisia’s abun­dant olive groves.

The itin­er­ary includes stays at tra­di­tional guest­houses on rural prop­er­ties scat­tered with olive trees, such as Dar Lella Aicha and Gîte Feki, where home-cooked meals are pre­pared with locally-grown pro­duce, as well as an overnight at Amber Park for eco­logic camp­ing.

Our tar­get groups include both Tunisians and inter­na­tional vis­i­tors to Tunisia,” said Naziha Grati Kammoun, head of the Sfax olive oil culi­nary route project and vice-pres­i­dent of the Tunisia Olive Association. It’s designed for a vari­ety of guests, from fam­i­lies to solo trav­el­ers.”

Apart from show­cas­ing Tunisia’s culi­nary her­itage, other impor­tant objec­tives of the project include the cre­ation of job oppor­tu­ni­ties and the involve­ment of women and young peo­ple in sus­tain­able tourism,” she added.

We have 22 local part­ners who are part of the culi­nary itin­er­ary who are pas­sion­ate about local her­itage and are com­mit­ted to the project,” Grati con­tin­ued. We devel­oped and imple­mented a three-month train­ing pro­gram for them in a vari­ety of mod­ules such as entre­pre­neur­ship, man­age­ment, sto­ry­telling, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, as well as olive oil sen­sory assess­ment and culi­nary arts.”


Creations crafted from olive wood by Rania Mseddi (Photo: Sfax Oleo Tour)

A com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy is being devel­oped to take the next step toward pro­mot­ing the Sfax Oleo Tour.

As trav­el­ers increas­ingly look for unique expe­ri­ences that allow them to get close to a country’s local cul­ture, an ini­tia­tive such as the Sfax Oleo Tour is an exam­ple of a cul­tural itin­er­ary that engages all the senses while lead­ing vis­i­tors off the beaten track.”

At the same time, this inno­v­a­tive project is a step beyond the usual for­mat of olive oil tourism, which is often mostly lim­ited to vis­its to groves and olive mills.


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