We interview Julia Jeans, Operations Manager of Limalimo Lodge, a new and sustainable luxury hotel in Ethiopia, opening in September 2015.
Can you tell us a bit about Limalimo Lodge? What is the concept and when was it originally thought up?
Limalimo Lodge is a small luxury lodge perched on top of the escarpment in the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, a UNESCO world heritage site. With jaw dropping views and the endemic Gelada monkeys roaming around guests can enjoy the spectacular Simiens in a beautifully designed lodge.
It was the dream of two Simien mountain guides – Shif and Meles – to build a lodge in the Simiens. They have worked alongside the people living in the Simiens, followed the wildlife and admired the spectacular scenery for over ten years. They wanted to build a lodge to show how responsible tourism can support sustainable livelihoods for those living in the area whilst promoting the conservation of the surrounding Simien Mountains. With a team of two Ethiopians, a Canadian and a Brit, partnered with the African Wildlife Foundation, that dream is now materializing.
What is the style of the Lodge and what inspired it?
The lodge is in a stunning location with dramatic views along the Simien escarpment and the rock formations of the lowlands, and is surrounded by indigenous highland trees. It is also close to Limalimo village, a traditional Ethiopian rural community. We wanted to build a contemporary lodge that complemented its natural surroundings, and that draws on traditional rural Ethiopian design. We have used soil from the site for rammed earth walls, local timbers for construction, and indigenous plants will grow on the green roofs. The interiors will include beautiful modern Ethiopian textiles influenced by traditional designs and made using long established techniques.
You’re really involving the local community in the building and running of the lodge. Can you tell us more?
The neighbouring Limalimo community currently relies mainly on subsistence farming and livestock. At the moment they see little benefit from tourism in the area, so do not necessarily value the importance of conservation in the Simien Mountain National Park. We want to show them that they can benefit from the National Park and its conservation in a sustainable way through responsible tourism, which will provide them with more significant returns in the long term.
We have involved the community right from the start and have gained their support in the project. The construction workers largely come from the Limalimo community, and we will employ more than 60% of our staff from the community. We want them to feel proud of the Simien Mountains at their doorstep and contribute to the future health of the National Park.
Ethiopia is an up-and-coming country in the world of luxury travel. Would you say you’re leading this trend?
Interest in Ethiopia as a travel destination is growing fast. The country has so much to offer, from great outdoor adventures to cultural and historical sites like no others, and much more. Tourism infrastructure is still relatively undeveloped, especially outside of the main hotspots, which can provide for some interesting challenges.
Limalimo Lodge is catering to the luxury traveller, and we are certainly one of the early pioneers in this market. We are very happy that there are new eco-lodge properties appearing around the country creating a network for visitors to enjoy Ethiopia, such as Bale Mountain Lodge in Bale National Park.
What makes the Simian mountains such a great destination to visit?
The Simien Mountains offer spectacular landscapes with mountains, high plateaus and deep gullies dropping off hundreds of meters – which have been described as Ethiopia’s answer to the Grand Canyon. These mountains are home to the world’s largest population of the Gelada monkey, which are endemic to Ethiopia and live together in groups of up to 200 individuals. Visitors to Limalimo are almost guaranteed to see them. There are great opportunities to trek over the mountains, including the highest peak in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen at 4543m, and also great wildlife spotting including a rich birdlife. But for those who want a more relaxing holiday, you can never tire of the view from the bar at Limalimo.
What are your top tips for our guests heading to Ethiopia?
Get out of Addis Ababa, and make the most of what Ethiopia has to offer by combining the beautiful outdoors with its cultural sites. From Limalimo, Gondar, the previous royal capital with its castles, palaces and beautiful Debre Birhan Selassie church is only 90 minutes drive away (it is also the closest airport). From there, a short hop by plane can take visitors to both Lalibela, with its impressive rock hewn churches like nowhere else, and Axum, the capital of the powerful Axumite empire in 1-9 centuries AD. Ethiopia is a beautiful and fascinating country, and any visitor will certainly leave with a very different impression of the country as they arrived with.
For more information call one of our Africa Consultants on 020 8682 5070 or visit scottdunn.com