Lalibela is a small town in northern Ethiopia, in the Amhara region, about 400 miles from Addis Ababa. The town itself is untainted and you feel you have gone back in time. No gift or souvenir shops, it’s full of donkeys and dusty and dry, with lots of two story round houses built of local red stone, The views from the highland landscape are stunning and will take your breath away.
What makes this city so special and renowned are the amazing churches, carved out of the rock, then chiseled to produce the columns, floors, roofs, doors and windows. These engineering marvels date from the 12th and 13th century, when Muslim conquests made pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Land impossible for Christians. King Lalibela is said to have to created a “New Jerusalem”. In all there are eleven such churches, some joined by tunnels and trenches, with ceremonial passages and some opening to catacombs and hermit caves. Biete Medhana Alem (House of the Savior of the World) is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. The weekends in the dry season, October to March are the best visiting times, as Saturday is market day and Sunday there are the services, when locals dressed in white robes attend a dawn mass. As should you.
HOTEL / VINEYARD
La Maison d’Estournel, St. Estephe, France
Set in the exquisite countryside of the Medoc region of Bordeaux, this new boutique hotel is, as its name suggests, the former house of the 19th century founder of the Cos d’Estournel vineyard. They retained the peaceful elegance of a grand home, with a library, stained oak floors, velvet covered, deep colored furniture, old style bathtubs, and a vegetable garden and kitchen pantry guests are encouraged to wander through and help themselves. The rooms are modern looking and bright, and all have gorgeous views of the property.
The vineyard, which you can bike through and picnic in, is next to Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, pretty much ground zero for best-wines-in-the-world vibes, and from it comes a top notch Saint-Estephe. So, you know, the house wine is going to be great.
The Liechtenstein Trail, Liechtenstein
Walk a 75 kilometer (46 miles) trail, connecting all the municipalities of one of the world’s smallest countries. Liechtenstein is celebrating its 300th year throughout 2019 (to put that in context, that’s older than America) — three centuries of mostly quiet, peaceful, sweet life in the Alps between Austria and Switzerland. There are medieval castles and old Old World hotels to see and stay at. This is probably not a trip you need to scrupulously map out before you go. It’s sort of a fairy tale kingdom, only it exists.
Whoever invented the great outdoors must have woken up in the West Java city of Bandung and had the most magnificent eureka moment, making this the greatest of all outdoors.
Among Bandung’s tea plantations, shopping districts and art deco architecture are volcanoes for hiking, craters for horseback riding, the Ciwidey-Cidaun track for mountain biking, the crystal clear waters of Sendang Geulis Kahuripan for underwater photography, forests for off-road driving, swimming in a canyon, caves that need exploring, cliffs for climbing, exotic rocks for jumping off of into a lake and rivers for rafting.
And when all of that adventure catches up to you, simply unwind by relaxing in a hammock stretched between two cliffs, waking up to the most glorious sunrises, or, if you drink in the afternoon, sunsets.
Sao Tome & Principe
Africa’s smallest country is actually a pair of Islands off the coast of Gabon — larger Sao Tome, which has a city, and the airport planes from Africa land at, and smaller, more undeveloped Principe. Both are beautiful and largely untrampled. A lot of people have never heard of them and although there is tourism, these are islands that on weekdays, for instance, you can have the beaches pretty much to yourself.
As you’d imagine, absent the full attentions of civilization, raw nature abounds. The beaches are pristine, postcard idylic, the water is pure, the forests are diverse and the air is clean. There is phenomenal snorkeling and scuba diving and on Sao Tome there are vibrant, warehouse sized markets to wander. The most interesting (and expensive) place to stay is Praia Sundy, a luxury tent camp in a rainforest on the Northern side of Principe. The owners also operate the Omali Lodge on Sao Tome, which has comfortable bungalows and is near the airport.
For the best help making a trip there I recommend: www.travelsommelier.