THE BEST PLACES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

Scouting Report 2007

We asked 10 people who explore for a living to reveal the places they've recently "discovered"--in other words, the best places you've never heard of (and, frankly, neither had we). Go now, before the rest of the world catches up.

Aregash Lodge (Evelyn Hockstein)

YIRGALEM, ETHIOPIA
Geoff Watts: Co-owner of and coffee buyer for Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, a Chicago coffee-roasting company (intelligentsiacoffee.com)

Geoff Watts was fresh out of college when he began working as a barista for Intelligentsia in 1995, the same year the socially conscious coffee-roasting company launched in Chicago. In his current role as green-coffee buyer, Watts spends up to nine months a year sourcing coffee beans in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. "We want to change the culture from being a farmer to being an artisan," he says.

Of the 18 countries where Watts works, Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, intrigues him most. "That's the same area where the human race originated. I guess it's a natural pairing," he quips. Small coffee farms and towns like Yirgacheffe, which lends its name to the coffee varietal grown in the region, dot a river valley about a six-hour drive south of Addis Ababa. "It's just beautifully wet, and the soil's really rich," says Watts. "You can tell the coffee enjoys being there."

It's also ideal for hiking, horseback riding, cycling, and taking a dip in the hot and cold springs. Watts recommends Yirgalem as a regional base; travelers can stay at the Aregash Lodge, where the 10 round, thatched-roof tukuls (bungalows) are decorated with woven baskets and handcrafts typical of the local Sidama people. They have a strong tradition of consuming coffee and perform elaborate ceremonies when preparing and drinking it, especially in the presence of visitors. "The culture is fascinating, and the people are so friendly and gentle," says Watts.

How to get there: Aregash Lodge, 011-251/46-225-1136, aregashlodge.com, from $34; car with driver from $130 a day, tourismethiopia.org.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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