“YOU can have any fish as long as its dourada,” my guide Haitham says as we browse the Houmt-Souk fish market.
I’m in the capital — more like a big village — of the Tunisian island of Djerba, which I quickly realize must be one of the lesser-known islands in the Mediterranean.
Houmt-Souk’s fish market, where vendors bawl their friends behind shelves of silver and gold catch, leads into the town market proper – a maze of caves and stalls selling everything from rugs and sweets to terracotta vases.
But my nostrils lead me to the spice stalls where traders plunge huge metal trowels into heaped heaps of cayenne pepper, turmeric, saffron, cumin and ginger. They too seem to know all of their customers by name. In fact, I am the only tourist in the market, or souk.
As I sit down for a strong coffee under the shade of a palm tree, I ask Haitham where all the visitors have been. “We get some from France but there are very few Brits here,” he says, munching on a brik – a local filo pastry specialty stuffed with egg, harissa, parsley and chopped onion.
“There are no direct flights from the UK, but I think it’s worth a bit more flying time. There’s nowhere in North Africa you’ll find more peace.
It’s not just a tourist brochure spiel. Djerba – barely larger than the Isle of Wight – is home to one of the largest Jewish populations of any Arabic-speaking country.
In the village of Hara Seghira, a vast blue synagogue adjoins the imposing minarets of the local mosques.
The Muslim Friday prayer and the Jewish Saturday Shabbat are observed here without any friction.
I see men wearing Jewish caps walking alongside men wearing traditional Muslim head coverings.
But many of the visitors to Djerba are fanatics of a newer religion – Jedi.
On the west coast is an isolated, squat, whitewashed house, next to Roman ruins and olive groves. This house was, as all Star Wars fans know, the home of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first film of the sci-fi saga.
It was built explicitly for this film, in 1977, and subsequently abandoned.
Today, it is a refuge for passing cyclists when the heat becomes too strong. For me, sitting here as the sun begins to set is spellbinding – even without the prospect of Luke Skywalker passing.
Amulets and rhinestones
Djerba was also the location of the Cantina spaceport from Star Wars.
Visitors like me are not required to observe many of the island’s religious customs.
Alcohol is plentiful – and the local Tunisian Celtia beer is anything but essential when the temperature rises above 30°C, as is often the case even in autumn.
On the north coast, the beaches are a vast expanse of dreamy caramel-colored sand, lined with sprawling resort hotels, like the luxurious Radisson Blu Palace.
Back in Houmt-Souk, I spend the early evening looking through the windows of the wide range of jewelry stores that shimmer and sparkle with silver necklaces, amulets and rhinestones.
This piece of jewelry is traditionally made by Jews and sold by Muslims, and to wear it is to have tolerance pinned to your ears or draped around your neck.
“The most important thing is not whether you are Jewish, Muslim or Christian,” Haitham tells me. “It’s about being Djerbian. There is nowhere else like this island.
My guide is right.
There is no place I have seen in the Mediterranean that has the harmony vibe of Djerba.
And with the added bonuses of sensational food, sun-drenched sandy beaches – and even Darth Vader’s nemesis.
GO: DJERBA, TUNISIA
GETTING THERE : Mytrip offers return flights from Manchester to Djerba from £286.99 pp, departing in November. The flight includes a stopover in Paris and requires a self-transfer, which means you will need to collect your baggage and check in again. See en.mytrip.com.
STAY HERE : The rooms of the Radisson Blu, Djerba (radissonhotels.com) from £86.22, including breakfast.
MORE INFORMATION: See decouvertetunisie.fr.