With the Vespa into the Sahara

Created by Dietrich Limper at 08:07 on July 13, 2023

Time and again, we receive travel reports from Vespa enthusiasts from all over the world, which makes us very happy. This is also the case with this story sent to us by Irena from the Vespa Club Ljubljana in Slovenia. in February 2023, 20 women and men set off on the long journey to Tunisia to explore the Sahara, among other places. You can read about how they fared here. Have fun!

Trieste? Sicily? Morocco? - Tunisia!

The Vespa Club Ljubljana is an amateur association of owners of the popular Vespa motorbikes. The club has over 100 registered members. We are united by our love for Vespas and occasional Vespa rides. We own a colourful collection of Vespas, from the newest to the venerable old ones. The club organises traditional meetings, season-opening and season-ending rides, and social gatherings at regular Tuesday rides. Members attend meetings organised by clubs all over Europe in large numbers, and it goes without saying that real bonds of friendship have been forged between members.


"And so, on a Friday, 20 May 2022, a group of members gathered for morning coffee 'at Gizmoz'. They chat about all sorts of things. Samo and Gašper extend the evening, because it is Friday. The elevated dose of caffeine has taken effect and mental quantum leaps occur. At some point they both agree that the season definitely has to start earlier ... maybe we could use the February weekends to do a winter tour around Trieste ... maybe we could take the train to Sicily, and the car train to ... hmmm ... 'Africa', Gasper says. We flirt with the idea and shout, "YAY!" The first plan was Morocco, and by the afternoon the plan was ready. Later they changed the location for logistical and scheduling reasons. Gašper used his experience to prepare the route, while Samo was annoyed that a date had to be set. It was time to present the idea to the club and they hoped for a few more enthusiasts to join in. They thought it would be a damn good thing if six members came together. The first reactions in the club were positive and almost euphoric. And that's always the case. After a night's sleep, things crystallise and usually 90% of those who had packed the night before drop out. But that wasn't the case. There were 18 of us. 18! who paid for the ferry booking. Crazy. Then two more joined us, in total we were now 20 ... the sequel is a fairy tale we wrote together." This is how Samo describes how it all began ... a Vespa adventure in Tunisia.

Crossing and first breakdown

It was no easy task to organise such a large team of travellers. getting 20 Vespas and souls to the ferry, on the ferry and then across Tunisia to the Sahara and back is no easy job. Before departure there were an unknown number of meetings of the inner and outer circle of members to go through all the details; logistics, necessary documents, spare parts, tools and other things for the welfare of the Vespas and also the drivers, the route was prepared, accommodation booked....

And off we went. On Thursday, 23.2.2023, our Vespas were loaded onto the truck, strapped down and they left before us. We gathered late in the evening and drove behind in two vans and a car. The ferry from Civitavecchia is much cheaper than from Genoa. We found this out after talking to off-road enthusiasts who like to venture into the Tunisian sand.

After unloading the Vespas, we took a panoramic drive through the city and then went to the port to catch the ferry. During the 26-hour crossing, we had plenty of time to plan. We had agreed to go in three groups. Purely for safety reasons, because 20 Vespas would have been quite a bottleneck. We landed around midnight in La Goulette, Tunisia. The starting point of our journey. After passing the customs stations, of which there were many, the first Vespa had damage. The boys cured it of its infirmities and we all rode together in the middle of the night to the Lafayette Hotel. We helped each other with navigation, asked passers-by for help and arrived happily at the hotel.

Full of anticipation, we gathered in the morning in the secured car park, followed by the obligatory photo shoot and then GO! Unfortunately, one of the Vespas showed too much fear of the dare. Despite the efforts and experience of our guys, they were unable to fix it. With heavy hearts we had to say goodbye to a member of the expedition.

breakdown service
Roadside assistance

Plastic, breakdown, police

Since the morning, during the preparations, there was a police car on the street in front of the hotel. It escorted us through the chaos, through the city centre, into the suburbs. Then on our own ... straight road, many kilometres ahead of us ... each of us on his Vespa. We had enough time to observe the surroundings. We drove past countless olive trees. The plantations were amazingly well-tended, the irrigation system is not unusual. Unfortunately, we also saw uncultivated areas where plastic bags in all colours were lying around. The amount of discarded plastic is impressive, to say the least. It makes me think about how we separate and save the world at home. Here, however, are incredible amounts of free-floating bags that the wind scatters across the landscape far from the cities. The bin is an extreme rarity.

On the way, we were stopped by the police at one of the crossroads and told not to pass under the foothills of the Mrihila because of Islamic extremists. There was supposed to be unrest on the planned route and that could be dangerous for us. So we took a diversion, a few dozen kilometres more. Unpleasantly, we were accompanied by strong winds, so we reached our accommodation at the Sufetula Hotel in Sbeïtla in the dark and a little hypothermic.

Sunrise, "Good morning Africa" and barely 5° C outside. We dressed really warm and visited the archaeological site of Sufetula. We continued our journey towards Gafsa. From the olive region we came to a desert area. In the middle of this wilderness, the traveller is accompanied by newly planted palm plantations. Irrigation systems and solar plants can be seen. We continued our journey in the direction of Métlaoui and drove on a somewhat less beautiful but more scenic road to the gorge of the Chebika oasis. At the foot of the mountains where "Rommel the Desert Fox" fought, we rode on the fine sand for the first time, playful and foolish. As we covered the last kilometres to the oasis, one of the Vespas broke down ... the badly damaged one was dragged on a stretcher to the oasis, but here we immediately got help from the locals. We loaded it onto a pick-up truck and together with the driver they drove it to the hotel. The rest of the group continued into the sunset over the salt lake, where we saw camels for the first time. We safely reached the hotel "El Mouradi Tozeur".

In the evening, we started organising the insert to repair the Vespa, which had suffered a shock when it first hit the sand. A local guide helped us to contact a workshop. It should be emphasised that the locals are extremely friendly and helpful. There was always someone "who knows someone who knows someone".


Vespa vs. Fiat Panda 1:0

The next morning, two groups of travellers set off for the salt lake of Chott el Djerid, where an abandoned bus stands in the middle of the lake. From the road we could see from a distance that there was something going on here, because there were many cars on the road. The road leading there is paved and a good four metres wide, but elsewhere the salt surface is a bit rugged. As we approached, we found that the Fiat Panda Rally participants we had met at our hotel the night before were already there to start the stage of the Panda Race.

Every few minutes the Pandas would start with a flag, and one of our Vespisti (Hobi) would jokingly stand next to the Pandas a few times and try to race them. As a result, the owner of the strongest and fastest Vespa in the club remembered that someone should ride his Vespa alongside the Pandas. What followed was a great VESPA VS. PANDA RALLY RACE. So our president Rok started side by side with a Panda on his birthday. His Vespa jumped into the air right after the start in first gear, the engine didn't work well in second gear, and the race didn't really get going until third gear. The track on the salt ground was less than a kilometre long, and after about 500 metres, the Vespa was already in the lead. Rok said that at one point it became very dangerous at speeds over 130 km/h, because he could no longer tell the difference between the hard road and the salt on the side. Everything was white and if he had gone off the road it could have been fatal. Victory was in our hands! And in the evening, when we met the "pandists" again, they came to congratulate him and tell him that he had rightly won.

Meanwhile, the third group stayed in town and went in search of a brake drum. We were directed to a small workshop that we wouldn't even call that here. The owner did his best and somewhere under the stairs they found a dilapidated Vespa, removed the drum and after some minor adjustments successfully transplanted it onto our member's Vespa. By 12:00 noon it was already spinning happily and taking its owner to new adventures.

Group picture with

Lots of sand, lots of wind and Star Wars

We crossed a salt lake, passed beautiful palm groves and fought the wind most of the time. The road took us past Kebili to Douz, the gateway to the Sahara. We reached one of our destinations, the southernmost point of our journey, and arrived in the Sahara.

Satisfied, we spent the night in the hotel "El Mouradi Douz". The next day, however, a real desert awaited us. We drove to the edge of the Sahara and experienced what it feels like for the drivers of the off-road rally "Paris Dakar". We went as crazy as one can dare.

Encounter in the desert

From the desert, which slowly turns into a mountainous rocky landscape, we continued to Matmata. This is a very interesting town where the cult film "Star Wars" was shot. We saw the film set and a typical Berber house carved into the rock. We spent the night in the "Marhala" hotel, which is also made of caves. A very special experience. For dinner we were served typical Berber dishes: Chorba, Brik and Couscous cannot be eaten in Tunis.

We took another slightly longer stage from Matmata, past Gabès, north to Kairouan, about 260 km. With the wind at our backs, we made quite fast progress.

In town we visited an interesting market where we tested our haggling skills. The town itself is very aged and adorned with a large and ancient mosque.

In the morning we set off on the last full-day stage from Kairouan, passing Hammamet, a tourist kitsch, slowly towards Tunis. Last night and a nightly experience in the city. In the morning we drove towards Sidi Bou Saïd, past Carthage, to La Marsa. These are beautiful, noble places with a presidential palace and the seat of the diplomats ...

Unfortunately, another Vespa broke down due to the strain and we pulled it with belts to the port of La Goulette and onto the ferry. It was a long 36-hour ferry ride back to Civitavecchia, but it passed quickly in good company. We analysed our experiences in detail and laughed at many stories.

Meanwhile, our member whose Vespa had broken down on the first morning created his own story and adventure. He could have written his own travelogue. We were delighted when he accompanied us part of the way by car and offered the services of luggage transport and drinks.

Experiences for future travellers

We completed our trip without any injuries, illnesses or accidents. It has to be said that we were really well organised and prepared. We all had accident insurance for the trip, we didn't touch the water, and we had homemade liquor with us for health. We all had an international driving licence, just in case. We had a bunch of spare parts and tools with us. We drove in groups of three to obstruct the traffic as little as possible. We made sure that the driver behind us was always with us. If not, we slowed down, waited if necessary, and most of the time we scraped a bit. We looked out for each other. We bought Tunisian sim cards so that each group had a phone, just in case. But the policemen also looked out for us. Several times we were escorted, and occasionally we felt them watching us. They always seemed to know exactly where we were and made sure we were safe and/or watched.

Endless space and loneliness

The traffic in Tunis is chaotic, everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere. But no one honks or gets angry. Most of the time they waved cheerfully and let us drive on. The roads are good, with few potholes. But you can see a lot. They make two lanes into four, and it works well. There are many small motorbikes and scooters, most of them in very bad condition. Whole families ride them. I only saw two riders wearing helmets. The trucks are dangerously loaded somewhere high up. There are many petrol stations, but our Vespas have small tanks. We had some fuel reserves with us. A bit reluctantly at first, but since we had no other choice, we also filled up at local (re)sellers who sold petrol in bottles. It all made sense.

The locals are extremely friendly. They greeted us along the way. When we stopped, we were often surrounded by children. But there was no unpleasant "hassling".

On the first day we were somewhat embarrassed because it was Sunday and all the banks were closed and we could not find a working ATM. However, it was possible to get by with euros.

We covered a good 1300 km with our Vespas, and we can pay tribute to the "donkeys" that withstood all the rigours of the trip: 20 Vespas, the oldest in 1957, the youngest in 2020, all at least 125 cc, all but three vintage. The participants are also very diverse: there are over 50 years between the youngest and the oldest.

We travelled with Vespas: Rally (1969), Sprint 150 (1970), VB1T (1957), GS 160 (1963), Rally 175 ch (1972), 150 VBA (1959), GT 200 (2006), PX 200E (1983), GTS 300 (2015), P 200 (1979), COSA 150 (1991), P 200 E (1982), Cosa 200 (1989), PX 200E (1984), PK125XL (1991), PRIMAVERA 150 4T (2015 ), Vespa GS 160 (1963), PX 200 E (1984), GTS 300 (2020).

Our sincere thanks to all the sponsors, such as SIP Scootershop, and members who helped us to organise and realise a truly fantastic experience.


If you are also planning a trip on a Vespa, we recommend our comprehensive Touring guide.

Picture gallery: With the Vespa in the Sahara

Mit der Vespa in die Sahara
Dietrich Limper
Dietrich Limper

Dietrich Limper works as an editor for SIP Scootershop and also writes for local and national publications. When he's not geocaching, he enjoys the amazing antics of Bayer Leverkusen.