A Lodge Like No Other
Talk about remote. From Addis Ababa it’s a seven-hour chiropractic drive to Bale National Park. Once there you’d hardly expect to find a bed, let alone a fancy lodge. But your wildest expectations would be exceeded when you – finally – arrived at Bale Mountain Lodge.
We had heard the mountains were quite something, and that we might get to see the elusive Ethiopian wolf. Something indeed: on the drive over the Sanetti Plateau and then winding down through the Harrena Forest, we notched up more endemic bird species than I could fit on one page my notebook. And we saw a wolf, trotting through the snow-white heather, its deep red coat shining out of the misty gloom of that otherworldly habitat.
The lodge is the dream made stone and timber for Guy and Yvonne Leverne, he formerly a career officer in the British Army (and OBE for his peacekeeping efforts in Africa). Soon after they were posted to Ethiopia a family incident caused them to reconsider their lives and goals. First was taking an early retirement package, and then came searching for the place to make new lives for themselves.
Bale was not the first place they looked, just the last. Once found, they poured their prodigious minds and labours into creating a lodge that, although less than a year in operation, stands alongside the very best safari destinations on the continent. And green? It’s positively emerald. “There is still room for improvement,” admits the jovial but always humble Guy, “but we are as green as we can be.”
The family unit, Jackal House (named for the family of golden jackals that lives in the woods behind), is a straw-bale construction. Then, in the treeline looking out above the stream that provides the lodge with power, are four timber chalets including a fairytale treehouse.
There is no grid to be off in their neck of the woods, so their power comes from an innovative micro-hydroelectric plant: there is more water than sunshine, hence the abundance of woods. They repurpose, recycle and reduce like crazy. No water in plastic bottles, and even the wine they serve is local: rather tasty Rift Valley red and a white, which is far more refined than the South African plonk (Culemborg and Drosty Hof) that is served up elsewhere in the country.
The kitchen and menus were set up by a Gordon Ramsay-trained friend, who in turn installed his own hand-picked protégé at the lodge. Don’t expect haute cuisine l’Ecosse, but rather a kind of local fusion. Remember that Ethiopia has its own everything, having been isolated from the outside world for the better part of two millennia, and that includes its splendid food.
As we were packing to leave, rather reluctantly, Guy and Yvonne heard over the scratchy Internet that they had been judged runners up in the Safari Awards as the best new lodge in Africa. Reason enough to open a bottle of Rift Valley red.
Serious nature lovers need to get there.