A culturally fascinating but – due to war and regular tourist abductions – risky place to travel, the North African county of Algeria is a heady blend, maintaining many aspects of ancient tribal culture alongside its cities swift modernization and plentiful, influential Arabic traditions.
Capital Algiers is a dazzling, whitewashed city full of architectural evidence of French colonialism, and modernizing fast as a consequence of Algeria's modern-day, oil-fueled wealth. Swimming in the rocky waters of the Mediterranean against Algiers’ lush, slop forested backdrop or drifting round the Ottoman Palaces and Moorish mosques give a real sense of history, while the spicy wafts of fennel and paprika in the open-air markets quickly whet the appetite.
Outside the capital, trotting around the Sahara by camel gives you an authentic, down-and-dirty desert experience and leaves you with all the bumps and bruises to prove it. Perhaps the best place to aim for is Timimoun, where spiky, muddy buildings offer an oasis of calm overlooking a hostile desert, the perfect spot for a wind-down cocktail under a shady palm tree.
Tassel N’Ajjer National Park is crammed full of rock art among its gaping chasms, while Assekrem – ‘the end of the world’ – is a Tolkein-esque landscape of brooding mountains and dark plains, named for its seemingly impossibly distance from civilization and views – on a clear day – across an array of mountains that would normally require an aircraft to view.
Djemila offers an astounding taste of Algeria’s other ancient occupier, the Romans. A mountain village with it’s own open-air arena and crumbling, column-fronted buildings galore, Djemila is an almost unique example of Roman architecture adapted to a rugged, mountain setting. The town of Timgad offers similar Roman glories, while Tlemclen – ‘the town of the cherries’ - is a charming, chilled out rest stop with Moorish influences and architecture to take in, too.
With the remnants of a deep and mixed history still standing tall, a new-found wealth and a surprising (and almost total) void of foreign tourists, the expanses of Algeria are an oft-bypassed and sadly underrated African gem.