From Lalibela’s ancient churches to Gondar’s palaces and Tigray’s mountain hideaways, magical Ethiopia awaits
By Stanley Stewart |
High-end luxury has yet to make a significant impact in Ethiopia. Don’t let this put you off. This is the most fascinating country in Africa. And you needn’t go without Wi-Fi , room service or a skinny latte. Here are some of the best new options in Africa’s most intriguing destination. Get a tour operator to join up the dots, and should you need further reason to visit read our feature on Divine Ethiopia, a guide to the country’s ancient rituals, biblical landscapes and most incredible experiences.
The Sheraton Addis is Ethiopia’s only five-star luxury hotel. This would be an impressive hotel in Paris, let alone in Africa, and is a spoiling retreat after a few days upcountry. The spa will sort out sore muscles, and the French and Indian restaurants make a change if you want a break from Ethiopian fare (Call: 00251 11 517 1717; sheratonaddis.com; doubles from £210, b&b ).
Full of chanting priests and ancient churches carved out of the rock, Lalibela oozes atmosphere. The best of its hotels is the Maribela, modest but charming. Rooms are comfortable, the staff helpful, and the restaurant is excellent – be sure to ask for the local honey at breakfast. But the great draw is the view. The hotel is on an escarpment and every room comes with a balcony overlooking a vast swath of Biblical landscape (Call: 00251 33 336 0345; hotelmaribela.com; doubles from £46, b&b).
Tigray is walking territory and the spectacular locations of the Tesfa Tours community lodges can be a highlight of an Ethiopian odyssey. While clean and comfortable, these guesthouses are pretty basic; you may want to bookend a Tigray trek with two excellent lodges in the area – Gheralta and Agoro. Both are stylish stone properties with rooms in individual circular tukuls. Owned and run by an Italian, Gheralta has some of the best food in Ethiopia. The Agoro is a social enterprise which invests in the local community. If trekking is not your thing, either lodge could act as a base for visits to the cliff churches, or to the ruins of Aksum. Tesfa Tigray treks cost £48 a day, including food, guides, pack donkey and accommodation (Call: 00251 11 124 5178; tesfatours.com). At Gheralta Lodge, doubles with breakfast cost from about £38 (Call: 00251 11 663 2893; gheraltalodgetigrai.com). At Agoro Lodge, doubles cost from £36, b&b (Call: 00251 34 845 0202; agorolodge.com).
The Omo Valley
Home to some of the continent’s most traditional tribes, the Omo Valley is colourful “primitive” Africa, a place still wonderfully unaffected by the modern world. Have cameras at the ready for the Karo people, with their spectacular body painting, the Hamar, with their bull-jumping ceremonies, and the Mursi, with their astonishing lip plates. Also brace yourself for a good deal of nudity. The accommodation of choice here is Lumale Camp, where eight comfortable tents on the riverbank act as the base for fascinating excursions to the tribal villages (Call: 00251 11 895 1390; lumaletoursandcamp.com; doubles from £945 per night, full board, with excursions).
With the most dramatic landscapes in Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains National Park – a World Heritage Site – is like a landscape from The Lord of the Rings, riven with astonishing canyons and dominated by many extraordinary peaks and ridges. The trekking here is rather more challenging than in Tigray and the altitude can make it all a bit breathless. At Simien Lodge – at 9,840ft, the highest lodge in Africa – the rooms are functional rather than stylish, but log fires in the bar channel the right mountain vibe. Go for the standard rather than the VIP rooms – cosier, with better views (Call: 00251 11 552 4758; simiens.com; doubles from £68, b&b).
The Bale Mountains
In a gorgeous region of forest and rolling uplands, of alpine lakes and fortress-like escarpments, Bale Mountains National Park is teeming with rare wildlife, including the endemic Ethiopian wolf. Opened in 2014, Bale Mountain Lodge – a beautiful high-spec creation in thatch, wood and stone – is the only lodge inside the park. There are wood-burning stoves in the rooms, and wall-to-wall windows allow game viewing over breakfast. Guided walks, game drives, fly fishing, bird watching, horse riding and cultural excursions will keep you busy (Call: 00251 912 790802; balemountainlodge.com; £150 per person per night, full board, with one daily activity).
Lake Tana and Gondar
As the source of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana has always had a mythical aura, so it is unsurprising to find it ringed by monasteries and castles. And Gondar, a former capital full of old palaces, is just up the road. But at Kuriftu Resort and Spa it could be time to forget about the sightseeing – four-poster beds, sun decks, a swimming pool, lake views and a first-rate spa encourage you to ditch the hiking boots and slip on the flipflops (Call: 00251 11 662 3605; kurifturesortspa.com; doubles from £210, half board).
The south and west of Ethiopia have some of the least-explored terrain and most spectacular national parks in Africa. Much of the region offers a unique opportunity for the kind of safaris that visitors enjoyed before the age of mass tourism. There are healthy populations of lion, leopard, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, as well as a host of remarkable birds. Ethiopia is also top of the naturalist’s list for endemic species, with many animals and birds you will see nowhere else in Africa. Journeys by Design (Call: 0044 01273 623 790; journeysbydesign.com) can arrange safaris with a private mobile tented camp with all facilities. The tented safaris cost from £300 per person per day, including full-board accommodation, a private guide, game drives and activities.
Source: The Telegraph