I fell in love with Gondar as soon as I got off the plane. Gondar Airport is small and quaint and looks more like a museum than an airport. After a couple of selfies we proceeded to get our bags. The manager of the hotel which I had booked picked us up and we immediately hit it off. Simon is super friendly and chatty and after a brief welcome he asked us if we would like -mango juice – no water, no ice, – just sweet mango juice. To this we agreed and had an oooh and aah drive to the hotel.
As soon as we got past the little flags that welcome you into the UNESCO World heritage protected zone, it was like we had entered a different era: cobbled streets with horses roaming about; ladies walking in white attire and babies playing in the fields. I immediately knew I would love this city.
For Gondar, I had booked Lodge du Chateau, an acute and cosy hotel right next to the Royal Compound complex. The staff was super friendly and even had a small banner with my name in their office. The hotel has a very open style concept where all the rooms open to a common courtyard. This is a nice concept as you get to easily meet the other guests staying at the hotel.
Since we arrived late afternoon we took a stroll in the city soaking in all the beauty the city had to offer. I have always been a sucker for the medieval times and there was something about Gondar that connected me to that era.
The Royal Compound complex also known as Fasil Ghebbi or Gondar Castle is the main attraction and can take you a couple hours to fully explore it all. It was built in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Emperor Fasilides and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. The remains of the fortress are still in perfect condition and you can climb up a big stairway to see its massive halls inside. The complex includes the remains of various castles, dining halls, stables, a library and three churches, which were built by different Ethiopian rulers over the centuries. It covers about 70,000 square meters in total and at some point we lost our sister. As we were pretty much the only visitors at that time it took us about 20 minutes before finding her seating at the entrance…. “Weren’t we all taught to return to the start point when you get lost?” was her only statement when we found her 🙂
The entry fee for the fortress is 200 ETB which is about US$ 9 (KES 900) and also gives you access to the Fasilides bath. It was originally built for King Fasilides but is today used as a baptismal during Timket (the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany, celebrated on the 19th of January every year). Legend has it that’s this is the best time to find you a wife or husband “wink wink”. During Timkat Festival the baths are filled with water and people jump in to receive their blessings.
Debre Birhan Salessie Church was built in the 17th century as well and is the only church in Gondar that wasn’t destroyed during the invasion of Sudan in 1888. The church is rather plain from the outside but upon entering and waiting for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, the paintings come to life in a pretty impressive way.
Our final stop for Gondar was Kuskwam complex, a ruined palace of Empress Mintwab set high up on a hill proving some great views of Gondar.
Gondar is not to be missed, from the Royal castle complex itself, to the Fasilides Bath, to Debre Birhan Salessie Church to Kuskwam complex. What really makes Gondar special though, is the little things – the throngs of blue tuk-tuks crowding the streets, rich cultural heritage that spans all three Abrahamic religions, horses used more like donkeys, to eclectic architecture that ranges from modern mid-rises to ancient tenements, that is what makes Gondar as special as it is.
And since we love food ohh so much, The Four Sisters restaurant was our dinner venue on both nights.
If you love a good trek and have more time Simien Mountains would be a great extension which I didn’t take due to time constraints and the idea of pulling my “no hike please” sister didn’t sound too appealing. Instead we took to the streets to do some shopping and enjoy the local life of Gondar.