About the Hotel
Travelling to Sidi Driss, known worldwide as the Star Wars hotel, is like going on a pilgrimage for Star War fans. Located in Matmata, Tunisia, the Hotel has been filmed in several movies and episodes as the interior of the Lars Homestead, the holy place (for fans of course!) where Luke Skywalker was born and raised by Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen. Incidentally, the outer part of the farm is also located in this country; the Lars farm in Tatoonie has a very real location in the Chott el- Jerid deserts of Tunisia. Since staying at a desert is hardly a viable option, visitors generally go to Sidi Driss for the ultimate Star Wars experience. Apart from its iconic identity, however, it is also one of the most attractive options to stay in if you’re visiting Tunisia. If you’re interested in traditional Berber architecture and culture, there is no better place to completely imbibe it through lived experience. The hotel and its surroundings go back to the 2nd century B.C., when the Berber people settled down in the area. The village of Matmata was virtually unknown to the rest of the world until a severe flooding in 1967 forced the traditional Berbers to seek the help of the Tunisian Government. This place, thus, has escaped the cosmopolitization of the cities and other tourist hotspots.
Both for its cult status appeal and as a place to explore traditional Berber ethos, this place must be dropped into if you’re set on Tunisia as your holiday destination. Here are a few details regarding the hotel which might entice you to book a room (read, subterranean cavern) here. The area contains evidence of the earliest Berber structures, before the Islamization of the North African ethnic group and subsequent changes that it brought along. It is one of the few remaining troglodyte constructions of Tunisia, used since prehistoric times by people who lived in subterranean structures like caves and caverns to escape the ravages of climatic change. The building thus predates the Moorish-Berber architecture, the evidences of which can be found everywhere in North Africa in the opulent constructions of the Ben Youssef Madrasa (Morocco) and medina Quarter (Tunis). It is simply a very old house originally made of sun-dried mud brick, futuristic enough to serve as a construction in a far-off alien land.
The Star Wars adventure of Sidi Driss began when in 1977 George Lucas selected the site to film A New Hope. Despite the instant attention paid to the site, it faded into relative obscurity in subsequent years, and the owners took off all the decorations, In 2000 however, it jumped back into prominence by being revamped and used as a site for The Attack of The Clones, which was a prequel to the original trilogy. Increasingly attractive for its exotic construction and cult status, this hotel started being popularized as a Star Wars destination, and has all the paraphernalia left over from the sets to gladden the fan-boys’ eye.
Keeping to traditional construction, building was constructed underground in order to escape the blazing summers and freezing winters. There is a narrow tunnel which functions as the entrance to the house, which leads into a central courtyard. Branching off from the courtyard are underground tunnels, which lead to rooms, the kitchen and the dining area. The Sidi Driss is faithful to this floor planning, and out of the five pits (underground tunnels) of the building, four are meant to be stayed in while the fifth, the Star Wars pit filmed familiar to all loyalists, is the Lars Dining Room.
The dining room has a pretty amazing feature, the Star Wars fresco drawn by the consummate fan Phillip Vanni. He painted over the limestone rubric of the ceiling in 1995, drawing all the original motives. Phillip Vanni also helped renovate the entire room to resemble the sets closely, whereas earlier it was only used as a storage room. Once you dine under this breathtaking fresco, it is not very difficult to imagine yourself in Tatoonie and expect Luke Skywalker to walk in any minute.
The hotel is open all the year, and can take up to a maximum of 145 guests. These are grouped into four rooms, or pits leading out of tunnels. Gear up for the real subterranean experience as all the rooms are mostly cool and unearthly quiet. The bar is located above ground and has to be entered through a narrow doorway leading to a cavernous hall. The bedrooms are painted in fresh-looking white paint, and offer a haven of solitude and restfulness. The hotel is as of yet known only to cult fans, and thus thee are not many tourists all year round. Indeed, it’s possible to find yourself entirely alone, except for the friendly staff to tend to your needs.
The toilets are sharing, and this would have created a problem had they not all been clean and well functioning. However, trust the staff to ensure complete cleanliness all around, all day long. Artificial heating and cooling is not required, as the ancient architecture was built to scientifically provide for the changes in extreme weather conditions. Inside the hotel complex, it is always cool, and the walls are lined with interesting Berber artefacts. You can stroll through the labyrinthine passageways connecting the caves and domes and give yourself a real history trip.
Star Wars fans can stroll through the real-life representative of their favourite place, and browse through all the memorabilia, from Vanni’s fresco to Aunt Beru’s kitchen. The kitchen is located behind the restaurant, and can be accessed by climbing down the steps leading off from it. Though the doorway was shown, the set of Beru’s kitchen was built in England. Nevertheless, climbing down the stone steps will itself quicken your pulse with excitement, even if the number of steps is eight, whereas they were five in the actual movies.
The fare provided by the hotel is modest, but healthy and filling. The breakfast is bread, jam, marmalade and an unlimited supply of coffee. The bar is not overtly promising, but the friendly barman will make it up to you by drawing Star Wars sabres and masks from behind the counter. The staff is extremely hospitable, and the attention provided to each guest is individual and special.
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There’s no frenzy of sight-seeing and tireless tourists constantly wanting to explore more. If you want an altogether different experience than the usual throbbing tourist cities, this is the place to come. Explore the place all on your own by going up and down the ancient stairways and echoing corridors, exploring the village and visiting the museum attached to the hotel (which despite its erratic hours keeps a lot of Berber artefacts for the historian and Star Wars memorabilia for the aficionados). This could be your rare chance to explore a troglodyte construction all on your own.
As Matmata is a relatively secluded village with little to no outside-world connection, you need to keep a few things in mind while planning a vacation here. These are:
- There are no ATMs nearby. So make sure you come well stocked with international as well as local currency.
- The nearest town is Gabes, 40 km away, from where you might take a share taxi or a bus to take you to Matmata.
- Tunis, the capital city, is 450 km away and is accessible by a regular bus service which will take you through Sousse.
- The bedrooms are communal, with a number of clean beds placed side by side. Some of the beds have been created by placing bedspreads on the raised stone platforms. In summer, try to go for these as they are cooler than the traditional beds.
- Toilets too are communal. There are six in number; 3 for males and 3 for females.
- Make all arrangements beforehand by telephone so that you find things ready when you arrive. Remember, this is not the Ritz-Carlton. The service is more like a homely guest house. You need to specify your breakfast, lunch and dinner preferences for the staff to deliver.
- The off-season is November to March. If you visit during this time, you will escape the cascade of tourists.
- The rates are subject to fluctuation, but they generally hover around ten dollars per night per person. The rate includes bed and breakfast.
Sidi Driss thus offers many attractions for both fans and lay tourists who want to get away from crowded tourist places. It is a once in a lifetime experience and unforgettable for those who will have the adventurous streak to visit it. In addition to a Star Wars filming site, its additional charm lies in the secluded surroundings, the local culture and the history of its buildings. So make sure to keep this destination in mind if you’re planning an African vacation, especially to Tunis. An entirely different experience is entirely guaranteed.