After the excesses of the festive season, I’m always in need of something soulful to rebalance my internal equilibrium. With a deep-set love of nature, wildlife and Africa, I wanted somewhere that would take me on an unexpected adventure whilst providing me with a truly organic experience. My searches lead me to Rwanda – a country I’ve longed to visit – and the newly-opened One&Only Nyungwe House. Barely open two months, the hotel – which is set in the heart of a tea plantation and borders Nyungwe National Park – offers an exclusive window to Rwanda’s famed countryside, as well as acting as neighbourhood watch to multiple troops of monkeys, so it really is a nature lover's paradise.
Where in the world would you rather be than here, at Nyungwe House?
I won’t lie, the travel to get to Nyungwe House is a little daunting – it’s a six-hour flight from Dubai, followed by a five-hour car journey – but driving from Kigali to the Western Province is a treat in itself, as the urban cityscape makes way to forest panoramas and mountain villages, the scenery peppered with more trees than one could hope to count. It’s bucolic and absolutely beautiful. Plus, the arrival ceremony waiting for you at Nyungwe House is (almost) worth the trip alone. One of the USPs of Nyungwe House is the novelty of its location.
The dining room terrace overlooks Nyungwe House's tea plantation
Too far south for Rwanda’s gorilla treks, it instead specialises in chimpanzee treks, and the walks are spectacular. Some easy, some more challenging but all equally rewarding. On day one, following a 4 AM start and a two-hour ramble into the rainforest, we come across a troop of tree-dwelling chimps and spend the next hour (the park puts strict limits on visit times to ensure the animals are not disturbed) in the company of six remarkable new friends. In the heart of the forest, where one swaps technology for nature, it strips everything right back and delivers the natural experience I’ve so been craving.
Spend time embedded in nature and make friends with these guys...
An even better highlight of Nyungwe House is that you don’t ‘have’ to trek into the forest to get that all-natural experience because here, the wildlife comes – directly – to you. Home to 87 species of birds, as well as colobus, blue and mountain monkeys, an al fresco lunch provides too much temptation for a family of inquisitive monkeys, who sneak up onto the terrace in search of titbits dropped under my table. To see them up-close is a real treat and a rich part of the Nyungwe House experience.
Traditional Rwandan dancing provides a truly unique evening
Between the jungle and waterfall treks, treetop canopy walks, spear throwing and hilltop archery that I wantonly undertake – when in Rwanda – one’s downtime becomes even more rewarding. An afternoon spent learning the art of picking tea leaves – with the incredibly knowledgeable and endearing Sam – followed by a genuinely revitalising Intonga Amasatchi deep tissue massage is what the doctor ordered, and preps me well for a spirited evening curled up around a campfire, feasting on mugs of home-made sweetcorn chowder (a speciality), whilst a group of boys and girls perform traditional Rwandan dances. Audience participation is expected, but how can you say no?
Food is one of Nyungwe’s feature points, as the head chef, Treasure, is an absolute master in the kitchen. Plucking organic herbs and vegetables from the hotel’s garden to create something truly exquisite each meal, Treasure’s Rwandan agatogo and tea sorbet, with leaves sourced from the hotel’s plantation, are the stuff culinary dreams are made of. Treasure and his team are incredibly talented and promise to put Nyungwe House on the map for more than rainforests and monkeys.
Linger in the Tea Lounge and discover Rwanda’s secrets to the perfect brew
A starlit walk back to my room one night, following one of Treasure’s insatiable dinners of tea pesto pasta and served by John, possibly the world’s happiest waiter, reveals a black sky flecked with a thousand stars. So used to city smog, the abundance of ‘diamonds’ literally takes my breath away. So when you visit, don’t forget to look up.
My room is as I had hoped... African in its design, cosy in its feel and as luxurious as required. It’s five-star but eco-conscious, too. There’s
a TV, but you won’t need it, a crackling log fire, a jungle-facing balcony that is perfect for an early-morning cup of tea, and a huge bathtub that demands to be filled. Sinking into the water amidst the cacophony of my rainforest neighbours is a real pinch-me moment.
Chic, sleek and sustainable – the beauty, and comfort, of Nyungwe House’s forest rooms
Waking up each morning to see the mist rolling in across the mountains, as dawn light bounces off the silver-tipped trees, is unforgettable. And knowing that with each new day comes even more once-in-a-lifetime moments, it’s worth getting out of bed for. The over-riding premise at Nyungwe is that it’s a house not a hotel and once you visit, you’ll know why. Or, as the T-shirt that they kindly give me to wear on the chimpanzee trek, says: ‘Rwanda Or Nowhere’. And I know where I’d rather be...
From Dhs5,745 per night, oneandonlyresorts.com