Quiet and secluded, Aregash Lodge offers luxury
The last decade has seen a number of exciting new lodges make their debuts in different parts of Ethiopia. Though not yet numerous, the new breed of lodges are every bit as polished as their chic urban counterparts. The eco-friendly lodges have the advantage of protecting the heritage and culture of the land whilst at the same time increasing in a small way, knowledge and understanding of this country. In a series of posts, Addis Journal will feature ten unique spots that are spread out in every direction from the capital. The lodges are chosen for their spectacular locations, outstanding guest amenities and commitment to conservation.
Located in the outskirts of Yirga Alem town, midway between Awasa and Dila, Aregash Lodge is by far the most attractive of those lodges. 317 kms away from Addis, it is only three hours drive. Situated in 11 acres of land, the bold and beautiful house deep in the wood is inspiring of awe in the true meaning of that word: a feeling of solemn wonder.
Yirga Alem (meaning cool world) is one of the most biologically diverse flora regions in Ethiopia. It is home to the Sidama peoples who are known for their ingenuity, fortitude, and sense of the outdoors. Bamboo is the material used for the framework of their beehive-shaped tukul and is covered with grass and enset leaves as the rainy season approaches. Ten elaborately woven Sidama tukuls of such types are fitted out with modern facilities at Aregash Lodge, giving it impeccable environmental credentials.
Innkeepers Marica and Gregory Missailidis, owners of the Aregash Lodge, strive to render scene typical of the Sidama region at its best – the calm area bordered by immense forest. I have the good fortune of knowing and chatting with the couple on a number of times. I am a great admirer of their extraordinary taste in, and knowledge of, their hospitality. During our encounters, I have come to learn how Mr. Gregory is a true historian of the region and a skilled raconteur.
The couple makes it a point to provide a personalized and sustainable experience for visitors. After 75 years of growing coffee and oranges, it was Gregory’s mother’s dream that one day the family would do something worthwhile with the land-and-so –Aregash was named in her honor when it opened in April 2004.
“We’ve used Ethiopian made products as much as possible’ says Marica. ‘It took 3 years to complete the buildings and 10 months alone to make beds, chairs and other furniture using bamboo from 60km away. The curtains and bedcovers are made of fabrics, designed by a local entrepreneur. Everything reflects the local materials,” she adds with satisfaction.
There are twin, double and quadruple rooms with electricity and hot water. Each has a large separate lounge. The only draw-back is the lack of veranda or private outside space, which would be ideal given views over the forested valley below.
Yet a stroll inside the lodge would offer you stunning vistas of an oasis of coffee plantations and immense fig, guava, avocado, indigenous zigiba (podocarpus) trees. The fruit trees are harvested for the kitchen, as is the salad garden. You could also get closer to the Vervet and colobus monkeys and bushbuck that roam here. The reserve is home to endemic bird species such as white-cheeked turaco (a bird that has been idolized by the Sidamas for ages and today serves the symbol of the lodge) and black-headed oriole whose song will wake you up in the morning.
You can wander through the forest and be shown the cave where Haile Selassie’s daughter, Princess Tenagework hid for some time during the Italian invasion.
The gourmet restaurant is dining at its finest, with an emphasis on local, seasonal and organic food. At 6pm each night, guests gather for the coffee ceremony which has a grand finale of hyenas and vultures competing for morsels of meat in an area down below the viewing point.
There’s no TV or internet. If that’s your idea of hell, don’t go. But sitting around a bonfire under the glow of a million stars, it seemed rather heavenly to me.