What to Do in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, According to Liya Kebede

Andrea Whittle | CNTraveler

Liya KebedeThe supermodel, activist, and designer of lemlem shares her picks for market shopping and coffee ceremonies in her hometown.

These days, you’ll probably find Ethiopian-born supermodel Liya Kebede on a runway in Paris, on the streets of Manhattan, or on a shoot in St. Bart’s. But Kebede grew up in Addis Ababa, where she now produces lemlem, her line of airy cotton dresses, scarves, and coverups in cheerful stripes and pastels. We spoke to her about the coffee spots, artisan markets, and day trips she always makes time for when she’s in town.

What are a couple of your favorite things to do in Addis?
I grew up in Addis, and have a long list of favorite spots and activities. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and home to an amazing jazz scene. In the afternoons, the Hilton Addis Ababa welcomes visitors with a beautiful traditional coffee ceremony in its lobby. And in the evenings, there is great jazz music at the Ghion Hotel. It’s one of the first hotels built in Addis, where you get the feeling of stepping back in time to golden era of Ethio-jazz in the 60s.

What’s your favorite shop or market?
Exploring local markets is one of my favorite things to do in Addis. In fact, it was a walk through the Shiro Meda market in Addis that inspired me to begin my brand. It’s a great spot to talk with local artisans and skilled tailors and find handmade traditional clothing, or order a beautiful custom-made garment.

How have traditional Ethiopian styles or fabrics inspired or influenced you? They are at the very heart of lemlem, which is a modern take on traditional Ethiopian styles made locally in Addis and across eastern Africa by artisans using hand-crafting techniques and local motifs in bold, beautiful colors.

Do you have any favorite trips into the countryside or other regions of Ethiopia?
Lake Langano has been the go-to weekend destination from Addis for as long as I can remember. It’s a four-hour drive from the city past some stunning rift valley scenery. The beach there is the perfect place to enjoy bonfires and barbecues in the evenings.

What are your favorite items to bring back?
Gabi shawls and blankets are my favorite gifts to bring home. They are traditionally worn by men—and you’ll see men in Addis wearing them everywhere. They are made from soft, warm, white cotton with colorful embroidery on the edges.


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