When I set off to visit Ethiopia last November, it raised eyebrows even in an office where we’re famous for always travelling to ‘off the beaten track’ destinations. Since then so many of our travellers have asked me for my impressions and I’ve loved talking about the country and my experiences. To get the word out, I thought I’d resort to the famous (infamous?) top 10 list to share my favourite Ethiopian moments.

10. The roads
Ok, it must be said that the roads are, well… bumpy. On the upside, there is very little vehicular traffic; we usually share the road with cattle and goats and only the occasional passing car or truck. Travel by road is the only way to really take in the incredible scenery – well worth a bump or two!

9. Spriss
A fantastic drink made of fresh pureed fruit poured into a glass so that the thickest juice (usually avocado) is at the bottom, then layered by density usually with mango and papaya. Delicious!

8. Climbing Helpers
Gheralta Walk 
Many of the beautiful monasteries and churches I visited are accessed by walking up hillsides. The paths are a little tricky – but made easy to navigate by very sweet helpers. Usually teenage boys, but sometimes older gentlemen, your helper will appear at the base of the hill to meet you and make sure you get up and down, safe and sound.

7. More wonderful people
Wonderful people 
Our guide in Ethiopia is the amazing Ayob - one of the very best guides I have ever worked with anywhere. Hugely knowledgeable, perfect English and he appears to know everybody in Ethiopia, greeting priests, waiters and pilots with a handshake and smile and making sure everything runs effortlessly. And everywhere I went, I was greeted with shy smiles and warm welcomes.

6. Coffee Ceremony
The coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian society and hospitality. It’s an involved process; the ceremony begins with a young woman roasting coffee beans in a flat pan over a tiny charcoal burner. Frankincense is always burned at the same time and the scent adds an almost spiritual element to the moment. The roasted beans are ground in a mortar and pestle and the ground coffee stirred into a clay coffee pot filled with water and boiled over the charcoal burner. The coffee is served in small china cups, taken with plenty of sugar and usually accompanied by a snack of popcorn. Traditionally a guest is served three cups of coffee; it’s tempting but I found one cup provided just the right delicious jolt!

5. Orthodox Priests
Meeting preist 
Ethiopian Orthodox priests are guardians of the ‘Holy of Holys’, the inner sanctum of each church where traditionally a copy of the Ark of the Covenant is kept. Priests will open up the churches and happily discourse with you (in Amharic) about their lives and their roles in contemporary Ethiopian life. Grand gold processional crosses are always part of the priest’s accoutrements and they are truly spectacular.
4. Gheralta Lodge and Ben Abeba Restaurant
Gheralta Lodge 
There are lovely places to stay and dine in Ethopia. One of my favourite hotels is the Gheralta Lodge; run by an Italian couple, the lodge is set in the most spectacular scenic location overlooking the mountains. Accommodation is in stone cottages with comfortable beds and all the hot water you need! One of most unusual restaurants I enjoyed is run by a Scottish teacher and her Ethiopian partner – named Ben Abeba to recall Scottish mountains! (And the food is terrific!)
Ben Abeba restaurant 

3. Drums
You’ll find drums in every church – they accompany the religious chanting that is part of every religious service. They are usually double-headed with a piece of animal hide stretched over each end. Church music is often accompanied by a sistrum consisting of a handle and U-shaped metal frame which when shaken the small rings or loops of thin metal on its movable crossbars produce a sound that can be from a soft clank to a loud jangling. Together they produce the most marvellous sounds.

2. Meeting Michael’s friends at Yemrehanna Kristos

Part of my job when scouting out our tours is to go everywhere our travellers will go so that I can report back on details, both practical (road conditions, how far the walk is, is there a bathroom) and inspirational (what do we experience when we get there). Yemrehanna Kristos was truly inspirational. The drive from Lalibela is about two hours over unpaved gravel road and then over dirt track; fortunately all of this through gorgeous scenery and empty of traffic. From where my jeep let me out, there is a 45 minute walk through a juniper forest to reach the site. And when I did – wow! Instead of a rock-hewn church, I saw a freestanding church built in an overhanging cave, constructed of layers of wood and white-faced granite with large windows carved in cross shapes. And the best part – I introduced myself to the priest in charge and told him that Michael Gervers had recommended I visit. Yes of course - he said – Michael is a friend, he comes here every year to study. It’s wonderful to meet friends in far corners of the world.

1. Ethiopian Cherubs
Painted church ceiling 
This painting covering the entire ceiling of the Debre Berhan Selasie Church was my favourite. Each winged head of the eighty Ethiopian cherubs demonstrates a slightly different expression. The interiors of many churches are covered with large mural icons. Closely related to Byzantine Christian art, the style is highly distinctive and can be traced from as early as the 10th century right up to contemporary paintings. Charming, colourful and uniquely Ethiopian!

Ethiopia confounds expectations. Please do give me a call – I’m happy to share my experiences and why I know that you will enjoy the trip as much as I did. The toll-free Worldwide Quest number is 1-800-387-1483.

You can also read more about the tour and request a detailed itinerary online here.