Idioma / Language: Spanish

Ksar Ghilane: surviving gluten-free at the southern gate of the Grand Sahara Oriental

We slept very few hours… besides, I had to get up a bit earlier to go see what was wrong with the radio transmitter… luckily, it didn’t take me long to find the problem. The fuse had blown! I replaced it and plugged it back in. Nothing happened… great! Now I could communicate with the others. My father did the same. We were back in communication. With that settled, I went back to the room to close the suitcase and go to breakfast. That day we would drive 460km south to reach Matmata and Ksar Ghilane, where we would enter the desert. It was time to discover gluten free restaurants near Ksar Ghilane, we were excited! You can watch the video of the trip here or by clicking on the image below.

I had a plain omelet for breakfast and some corn pancakes from the “just in case shopping”. Ready to leave, we went to refuel and straight to the highway to get to Matmata at lunchtime. We were already grouped together as we had defined on the boat. How nice to be connected! Now we could talk to the other cars. We were still getting to know each other. At first it was a bit quiet and then the banter over the radio. Great! Travelling like this is very pleasant.

We made a technical stop at a service area and continued straight to Matmata. This place is known for its troglodyte houses. Scenes from Star Wars were filmed there many years ago. They still keep the set. Before the visit, we went for lunch at Chez Abdoul Restaurant in Matmata. Here we had a full gluten-free adventure – a double adventure! The first part was to understand what they were bringing and to get the cook to understand what we could eat. The celiac travel card in French and Arabic was of good help to communicate with the cook. The second was to prevent tablemates from contaminating the dishes they brought with gluten.

We almost failed! To avoid cross-contamination, we ordered separate dishes for ourselves. The challenge was getting the cook (and waiters) to understand what it was like to prepare gluten-free food… they brought us a salad. So far so good. It was a bit risky because it was eating something raw that would probably be washed with water that, compared to the water we are used to in Spain, would be of dubious potability.  Then they brought us a soup that they told us was gluten-free… it was not! It had semolina in it… lucky we checked before.

Evidently, we left the soup. Then we had to make them understand that we wanted chicken WITHOUT fries. The fries were fried with the same oil that they fried some kind of fritters. Therefore, the fries were contaminated with gluten. It took us three plates of chicken for them to understand. A fellow traveler helped us with the French. Rather suspiciously, we ate those chunks of grilled turkey and chicken and crossed our fingers that our tummies wouldn’t hurt later on, in the desert.

This situation helped us to make the rest of our fellow travelers understand the complexity of traveling gluten-free to countries like that. We didn’t take it badly at all. It’s just part of the adventure of traveling gluten-free!

After lunch, we went for a walk to visit the troglodyte houses. Isa and I didn’t connect that scenery with the Star Wars movies because we had seen the newer ones. Other older ones did and I think they enjoyed it more than we did.

With the usual visit done, we got back in the cars to head towards Ksar Ghilane, the southern gateway to the Eastern Grand Sahara.

Click on the image to access the form

The drive there was unforgettable. It was like driving through a perpetual war between nature and the advance of mankind. The desert wanted to regain the ground that the road had taken away!

Suddenly, a sandbank occupied part of the road. In addition, the crosswind caused small rivers of sand that crossed the road as if it were water. It was very exciting to see it. The landscape was amazing too. Like a mixture between Bardenas Reales and Los Monegros in Zaragoza.

After several km of road, suddenly, we came to a fork. There we would turn right. Going towards an oasis where there was a small hostel. We had a tea and, some of us, took the opportunity to go to the last toilet we would find in 4 days.

We adjusted the tire pressures in the parking lot of the oasis and entered the dunes. We did it at the best time: with the sunset! We were heading west and the sun was facing us. The sky was turning orange and we, in convoy, were going into the sand with the rocking motion that made the car up and down the dunes. I was super excited!

After a while, we went up a sandy slope with some rocks to reach a kind of viewpoint. Right up there were the ruins of Ksar Ghilane Castle. With the sunset we were in a perfect setting.

From up there, the organizers identified the location of the other two groups and spotted a place where we could all fit (cars and tents) with enough room for tables and chairs.

It would be my first night sleeping in a tent in the desert. In Morocco I had always slept in hotels – more excitement! We settled in fairly quickly and began to set up the “living room”. We arranged the tables in a circle so we could all eat together. We were going at different paces, but it didn’t matter. We were in no hurry.

Night fell faster than we expected and we all started to get out the lights and headlamps to illuminate the tables. Also to see what we were going to cook.

We had agreed on a meal plan with Isa, my father and his friend. That night we were going to eat sautéed peas with ham and grilled chicken. We took out the gas stove, the frying pans and set up our little stop. It was a little windy but it didn’t stop us from cooking and eating well. I know I’ve said it before, but I was very excited to be there, I was really looking forward to an adventure like that!

We were getting to know each other more and more with the rest of the group and we chatted and laughed a lot over dinner. Oh! And we saw our first scorpions! Amazing and scary at the same time!

It didn’t take us long to go to sleep because the next day we were leaving at 7 am. Between breakfast, going to the bathroom (behind a dune) and picking up everything we would need a little time and we would have to get up early. It didn’t matter, we were already in the desert! Moreover, a desert I had never been to before.

You can see the pictures of the trip here.




P.S.: Please keep in mind that in this blog I share my trips, anecdotes and experiences about gluten free travel around the world. It is possible that, in any of my trips, I go to some restaurant not trained by the associations where the risk of being contaminated with gluten exists. I kindly ask you to also take into account that the list of references can change. Please, always double check before eating in the restaurants we recommend. Thank you very much!


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Me llamo Santi y actualmente vivo en la provincia de Barcelona. En 2001, me diagnosticaron de enfermedad celíaca… ¡por fin! Además, soy intolerante a la lactosa, la alergia al pescado me mata, ¡literalmente!, y también algunas frutas... Viajar sin gluten se ha convertido en mi mayor hobby y creé Gluten Free Adventures por esta razón. Desde los 8 años, he viajado y vivido en distintos países… ¡aquí comparto mis experiencias viajando para descubrir restaurantes sin gluten, pastelerías sin gluten y heladerías sin gluten por todo el mundo! ¡Espero que os gusten nuestros viajes sin gluten!