Africa’s largest country lies just a short hop from Europe. The north, with its snow-flecked mountains and stunning coastline, is home to urbane and charismatic cities such as Algiers and Constantine, as well as some of the most magnificent Roman sites in existence including Timgad and Djemila, both vast, perfectly preserved Roman towns with barely another tourist in sight.
Algeria’s other big draw is its extraordinary Saharan region. Whether it’s a glimpse of the sand seas that surround Timimoun, or the burnt red mountains of the far south, these are the desert landscapes of legend.
But, for all its peach-coloured dunes and grand ruins, it’s perhaps the Algerians themselves, who welcome visitors with warmth and curiosity, that are the real highlight of this nation. For accessible adventure and a complex, enthralling cultural odyssey, head for Algeria.
The spectacular ruined Roman town of Djemila (or Cuicul as it was then known) is small enough to breeze around in half a day. But spend longer here, linger in the temples and markets, stroll through the bath chambers, or just lie down in the shade of villa walls and conjure up the sounds and sensations of those long gone days; one of the world’s great archaeological sites will come alive.
One of the finest Roman sites in existence, the ruins of Timgad stretch almost as far as the eye can see over a plain that in winter is cold and desolate and in summer hot and tinder-dry. Its perfect preservation has made it a Unesco World Heritage Site take the time to walk around slowly, inhabit the place and Timgad will spring to life.
The vast ruins of the ancient Roman city of Hippo Regius, also known as Hippone, are among the most evocative in Algeria, stretched across a rolling site, full of flowers, rosemary, olive trees, birds and sheep, and overlooked by the imposing, colonial-era Basilica de Saint Augustine.
Algiers never fails to make an impression. This is a city of rare beauty and of thrilling, disorientating and sometimes brutal contrast. The country’s turbulent history is writ large in the city’s richly textured architecture: wide French-built boulevards and elegant apartments and villas, Socialist-era monuments and public buildings, and an enduring Islamic heart secreted in the steep, hillside Casbah. Labyrinthine streets spill down to the yawning big blue of the Bay of Algiers, sea and sky and green ravines glimpsed at every step. Though people often spend just enough time in Algiers to organise an onward journey, it’s a fascinating place well worth at least a couple of day’s exploration.
Other Places Of Interest
In the river valley of the Oued M’Zab, in a long valley on the edge of the Sahara, is a cluster of five towns: Ghardaia, Melika, Beni Isguen, Bou Noura and El-Ateuf. Often referred to collectively as Ghardaia, the capital, the once distinct villages are gradually sprawling together, but retain separate identities.
The M’Zab is home to a conservative Muslim sect known as the Ibadites, who broke from mainstream Islam some 900 years ago. This is, some say, a country unto itself, with ancient, unchanging social codes. The traditional white haik (a head-to-toe wool wrap) is worn by most women, who cover their entire face, exposing only one eye. Men sport extravagantly pleated baggy trousers called saroual loubia. While locals here can be reserved, i’s a friendly and surprisingly laid-back place. The area is justifiably famous for its carpets head for Ghardaia’s market square for a good selection.
The largest oasis in the Grand Erg Occidental, this dusty desert city is an enchanting place. It’s characteristic architecture, red mud buildings studded with spikes, hints at sub-Saharan Africa. Its location, at the edge of an escarpment, makes for breathtaking views across a salt lake and out to the dunes beyond. The main street bustles in the morning and evening; the locals are a diverse mix that includes Haratines, Berbers and the descendants of Malian merchants and slaves.
Tipasa Archaeological Park
The founders of Tipasa (as Tipaza was known during the Roman era) obviously had an eye for aesthetics. The town rolls gently down hill through pine trees to a small beach and a blue silvered sea. It’s this natural beauty, as much as the honey-toned sandstone walls, the amphitheatre where naval battles were re-enacted and the remnants of markets where fish were gutted and sold, that really makes Tipasa stand out as one of North Africa’s finest Roman sites.