Ethiopia is just starting to be discovered. Addis Ababa, Awasa, Bahir Dar, and Simien Mountains National Park are now on travelers’ radars. Less is known about the north of Ethiopia, though. Tigray, the East African country’s northernmost region, borders two unstable countries, Eritrea and Sudan. But this is considered the birthplace of Ethiopian, perhaps human, civilization. Plus it’s home to the Gheralta Mountains, which look like they were plucked out of the Southwestern United States.
The Gheralta Mountains are nothing short of dramatic. The red mountains have sheer sandstone walls, vertical spires, and imposing rock formations. They’re also full of more than 120 cave churches. These hidden churches, probably carved out of the mountains between the 9th to 12th centuries, brought worshippers closer to God. The churches’ high positions also offered them protection from invading enemies. You just spent the day hiking—you didn’t expect easy access, right?—to Maryam Korkor. You were rewarded with frescoes made with natural dyes, a precarious ledge, and a gorgeous view of the desert.
Now you’re heading back to the Korkor Lodge. The little eco-lodge first opened as a tented camp in 1991. Its Italian owners, who will make risotto for dinner tonight, spent the following years planting more than 4,500 trees to create an oasis in the desert. They recently replaced the glamping tents with eight bungalows, upgrading their property into a boutique lodge in the process.
The stand-alone bungalows were created in the traditional Tigrayan style. Sandstone walls. Eucalyptus ceilings. Olive-wood floors. Then hewn-wood furniture and king-size beds were added to the large, minimal rooms. There are huge windows, shaded verandas, and private gardens, too. But the best parts are undoubtedly the views. The mountains look like they change colors at dawn and dusk. Just add a cup of Ethiopia’s underrated coffee to feel like you’re part of an African fairy tale.