“Weekend escape to Hawzen, Tigray, discovering rock-hewn churches, enjoying endless landscapes, magical sunsets and mindfulness at Gheralta lodge.”

Stephanie Persson, co-founder of Responsify and ESHI In love with Africa.

With its unique chain of mountains, the Gheralta area located in Tigray Province, Ethiopia, is the home of rock churches. While some are famous for their architecture, ancient paintings and manuscripts, others are known for their magnificent views.

Never ending views are best shared. Photo by Stephanie Persson

Perched high and tucked away into mountain cliffs are the rock-hewn Ethiopian Orthodox cave churches, some of which are more than 1,000 years old. The Gheralta cluster includes more than 30 structures. High and hidden, the  churches’ positions served two purposes: to bring devotees closer to heaven and to be out of sight to raiding armies passing through the valleys below.

Safety first. Photo by Stephanie Persson

No ropes, no shoes and:  “Right foot there, left hand in that hole. And don’t look down.” To get to the churches requires some guts.

A rock-hewn church requires some windows for light. Photo by Stephanie Persson

Details of the church Abuna Yemata Guh.

Three out of 12 apostles did not make the cut. Photo by Stephanie Persson

Nine out of 12 apostles painted on the ceiling of Abuna Yemata Guh; the remaining three apostles are find on a side wall. Art historians believe the paintings date from the 15th Century; they are well preserved since their remote location has protected them from looting and from the scars of conflict.

Gheralta lodge. Photo by Stephanie Persson

Founded and run by Enrica and Silvio Rizzotti, the Gheralta Lodge is a little piece of Italy in the heart of Tigray. The hotel is made with techniques and local materials traditionally used by the farmers of the Tigray region: stone walls, wooden ceilings, thatched or stone-made roofs.

Sunset. Photo credits Stephanie Persson

And then there are the sunsets. And the people. And striking colors.

With a strike of sun. Photo by Stephanie Persson

And the endless landscapes.


Living close to heaven is perhaps the best way of spending your life on this earth. And with churches up in the sky there is no way you can stop reaching for the top.


by Catharina Holm

 Stephanie Persson lives in Africa, currently Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, where she and her colleague Madeleine Rosberg through Responsify and ESHI work to bridge the gap between Sub-Sahara Africa and the international community.

Destinations: Ethiopia, Hawzen, Tigray

Escapes: Country, Safari, Summer