©Philip Lee Harvey/Lonely Planet

Rock-hewn Churches of Tigray

The landscapes of northern Tigray seem to spring from some hard-bitten African fairy tale. The luminous light bathes scattered sharp peaks that rise into the sky out of a sandy, rolling semidesert. The stratified plateaus, particularly between Dugem and Megab in the Gheralta region, lead to inevitable comparisons with the USA’s desert southwest.

The 120-odd churches are as intriguing as the landscape is beautiful. Very different from the more famous monolithic (carved out of the ground and only left attached to the earth at the base) churches of Lalibela, the Tigrayan churches are carved from cliff faces, built into pre-existing caves or constructed high atop some improbable perch – getting to some of them may not be for the faint-hearted, but getting there is almost always half the fun. And beyond a few famous churches, you’ll likely get to explore on your own, even in the high season.