My favourite place: Tom Hall

In the April 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine, Tom Hall selects Northern Ethiopia as his favourite historical destination. HistoryExtra caught up with him to find out more...

The Sunken Rock Hewn church of Bet Giyorgis (St  George), Lalibela, Northern Ethiopia, Ethiopia, Africa *** Local Caption *** The most famous of Lalibela's Rock Hewn churches, The Sunken Rock Hewn church of Bet Giyorgis, 'St. George', dating from the 12th Century, Lalibela's Rock Hewn Churches rank amoung the greatest religio-historical sites, not only in the African continent but in the Christian World

Q: When did you last travel to Northern Ethiopia and why were you there?

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I was in the region three years ago for a little bit of both business and pleasure, as tends to be the case working for Lonely Planet.

Q: Why do you love the location?

It’s Africa, but not as you know it and gives a completely different take on history, religion and culture to what I’d expected. Plus the food (and beer) is brilliant.

Q: When is the best time to visit Northern Ethiopia?

It’s best to avoid the June to October wet season, but any other time is generally warm and dry. January’s Timkat (epiphany) celebrations are an exciting time to be in Lalibela and Goner.

Q: What top 3 sights would you recommend people visit while they are there, and why?

Lalibela’s rock churches for the jaw-dropping scale of the task; Gonder’s amazing painted church of Debre Birhan Selassie as a little-known masterpiece; and Lake Tana’s island monasteries for their sense of timelessness and peace.

Q: During what period of its history would you most wanted to have visited Northern Ethiopia and why?

During the peak of the Axumite Empire, around the time King Ezana converted to Christianity in the fourth century AD. I’d love to have seen the kingdom at its peak and experience the multi-cultural mixture helping to shape it. It would have felt remote and exciting.

Q: What would you recommend visitors to Ethiopia bring back home with them?

Ethiopia’s crafts are as unique and varied as the country itself, and you’ll find fine earthenware art for sale wherever you visit, most notably Addis Ababa’s sprawling Merkato. A simple coffee pot as used in homes across Ethiopia makes for an affordable and distinctive gift.

Q: Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?

Iran is top of the list: especially Esfahan and ancient Persepolis. There’s so much history to see there and the country is a fascinating and misunderstood modern destination, too.

Next month, Vanessa Collingridge visits the Great Wall of China. Share your tips for would-be travellers on Twitter  (@HistoryExtra) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/HistoryExtra)

Tom Hall is editorial director for Lonely Planet.com and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine.

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You can read Tom’s feature on Northern Ethiopia in the April 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine – on sale from 26 March