See how Ethiopia has turned from a famine-ravaged country into a tourism hotspot Last year, Do They Know It’s Christmas was re-made and re-released to raise funds for the Ebola crisis in West Africa. But when Bob Geldof and Midge Ure first wrote the song in 1984, it was to gather aid for a country on the opposite side of the continent.
Once ravaged by famine and poverty, Ethiopia has come a long way in the last 30 years. Remarkable landscapes, a wealth of wildlife viewing opportunities and fascinating historical sites are drawing an increase number of foreign visitors. Upmarket tour operators Kuoni and Scott Dunn have both tipped the destination as a place to visit in 2015, while an African safari contact recently told me: “Everyone in the industry seems to be heading to Ethiopia for their holidays.”
One woman who clearly recognised the East African country’s potential some time ago, is 64-year-old Susan Aitchison, a Scottish woman who arrived in 2007 to teach at a local school, and was so struck by Ethiopia’s beauty, she decided to open a restaurant.
Set on a hill in Lalibela, an area famous for its 900-year-old churches chiselled from stone, her open-air eatery, which she co-manages with Ethiopian national Habtamu Baye, is a futuristic, fantastical structure that appears to twist into the sky like a wizard’s hat. Films have been shot there, early morning yoga performed on the terraces, and even weddings have taken place in the grounds.
Named Ben Abeba (Ben means hill in Scottish, and in Amharic translates as flower), the restaurant employs young people from the local area and aims to give visitors an insight into Ethiopian culture and hospitality. There are daily demonstrations of Injera (local bread) making, traditional coffee ceremonies and music and dancing most evenings.
Since opening in October 2011, Ben Abeba has climbed to the top of Trip Advisor’s Top Restaurant list, and with tourist numbers expected to increase this year, interest is set to gather pace.
Susan and Habtamu are in the process of building four guest bungalows, due to open later this year, set amongst more than 50,000 trees and plantations of banana, papaya, pomegranates and guava. Twelve more accommodation units are also in the pipeline, along with a conference centre and meeting room.
For those hoping to plan a visit, April to June, and October to February are considered the best times to go. Kuoni currently offer a nine-night Highlights of Northern Ethiopia tour, including a city tour of Addis Ababa, and trips to the Blue Nile Falls, Lake Tana, Gondar, Lalibela and the Bale Mountains National Park.
Departures on October 5, and November 9, cost from £2,424 per person, including flights.