Only a few hours away from Addis, Ankober is steeped in history and offers the adventurous traveler jaw droppingly beautiful scenery.
For anyone in Addis who’s looking for a quick weekend getaway, the small town and surrounding area of Ankober just 3 hours away next to Debre Berhan should be at the top of any list. Especially if beautiful mountainous scenery, history and great people are part of the formula that a traveler would wish to enjoy in such a getaway.
Ankober is the name for both the little town which functions as its administration center as well as the woreda (district) surrounding it, in the northern Shewa zone. It is known as the former seat of Shewa’s rulers right up until Emperor Menelik II sized domain over all of Ethiopia and subsequently moved his capital to Addis Ababa. Although traditionally quite difficult to access even during dry weather, it has in recent years been blessed with an all weather gravel road which winds through the district from Debre Berhan all the way to the foot of the hill upon which Menelik’s palace once stood. The Ankober Palace Lodge now sits on that location with the remnant of the old palace compound’s wall standing next to it as if in solitary guard.
The road to Debre Berhan is currently amongst the best you can find anywhere in Ethiopia. The pavement is smooth and you will note there is a marked lack of the mid-size Isuzu trucks you’re likely to see on other roads leading out of Addis to major towns in Ethiopia – and consequently a lack of the carnage their reckless drivers usually cause while driving on a khat high. During kremt (rainy season), their gently undulating meadows on either side of the road are shades of pleasant green, covered with different types of crops (gebs, sinde, bekolo). It should take no more than 3 hours to cover the distance to Debre Berhan which is where the turnoff for Ankober beckons on the right after driving through most of the main town.
Say goodbye to paved roads at the turnoff – the rest of the way (~35km to the town of Ankober and the Ankober Palace Lodge just past it) is going to be driven on the well constructed gravel road. It is probably best to make the trip with an SUV – even a small one will do – as a small car may simply find the vibration a bit too much. As gravel roads go though, this one is not bad at all. SUVs should easily be able to maintain 35-45 km/h on it with due consideration begin given to the twists and turns likely to be encountered. But you may want to take it slow just so you can drink in the beautiful scenery you’ll be passing on either side. The little villages you’ll sometimes run through are full of friendly, exceptionally pleasant and hospitable people that makes stopping for a brief chat a real pleasure and by the time you reach Ankober, you will no doubt have already developed an appreciation for this idyllic and legendary place.
On Cloud Nine
Pictures alone cannot do justice to the awe inspiring vistas of Ankober. Mountains and valleys dotted with smallholder farms that have terraced the sides of the mountains and planted varieties of crops on them, are the canvas for nature’s work of art. During the rainy season, their green hues are a perfect contrast to the white clouds wafting in and out of the mountain tops. Even the huts the farmers live in employ stone building methods that imparts a wonderfully medieval feel to the experience of wondering through Ankober.
The white clouds that lazily drift through and well below the mountain peaks of Ankober are a common feature of the area. It is after all fairly high (over 2,800 meters in places) and can get quite cold at times. But an early morning view of the low flying clouds from the verandah of your room at Ankober Palace Lodge, is just what the doctor ordered as a break from Addis’ smog filled skyline these days. Enjoy a hearty breakfast of eggs, traditional chechebsa and firfir at the lodge’s restaurant where you can get an even better view of the fantastic scenery all around you. While you’re eating, let your gaze wander around and take in the four murals that can be found at each corner depicting the Battle of Adwa from which of course Menelik II emerged supremely victorious. Perhaps that will give you the energetic kickstart you might want to take on a morning of hiking in the mountains around. The lodge’s staff will be happy to make the requisite arrangements for you. For those looking for a more relaxing sojourn into the annals of history though, the staff can also arrange for a guided tour of the Medhanealem monastery nearby as well as the small museum next to it. Despite the modest look of the museum, which is a small room made of mud, the contents in it are unique to say the least. The museum houses various items and clothing owned by the rulers who resided in Ankober during the heyday of the monarchy. Here you can also find rare books written on Brana which are one of a kind.
Legends Lived Here
History has it that Ankober was first settled by cohorts of Emperor Sahle Selassie in the 18th century. It later gained its fame as the site of Menelik’s first palace and the stronghold from which he defended his mountainous redoubt against Italian invaders in the 1880s. The site on which Ankober Palace Lodge sits, is in fact the very same place where the palace sat. All that remains of it is a long stone wall that stands as if still on guard of the compound that once housed the royal family.
Local folklore says Menelik first came to the area as an adult after stealing the crown from Atse Tewodros’ palace at Maqdala, the possession of which allowed him to claim the title of Emperor after Tewodros’ fateful death at his own hands as British forces threatened to overtake his positions.
History is something you will certainly learn a lot about if you were to spend a few days in Ankober. And while food for thought is not a bad thing at all, Ankober’s serene and peaceful beauty may give your soul just the nourishment it needs to take on life in the grind of the city with a fresh new charge.