Rwanda’s new chic safari retreats

Bisate Lodge in Rwanda. PHOTO | FILE
Bisate Lodge in Rwanda. PHOTO | FILE 

Rwanda is set to become a top tourism destination in East Africa.

Jacqui Sebageni, the director of Thousand Hills Africa said the country has been wooing luxury seekers with progressive policies such as “being the first African country to ban the use of plastic bags, car free days and car free areas in Kigali and community service days every last Saturday of each month.”

Rwanda is often a pleasant surprise with a small but very efficient airport, good infrastructure, clean environment and friendly people.

The main tourist attraction for many travellers is gorilla trekking and staying in luxurious hotels such as Bisate Lodge which offers a front-row seat to view Mount Bisoke.

“We like to say that Rwanda has the Big 7; the Big 5 in Akagera, chimpanzees in the South West and gorillas in the North West,” said Ms Sebageni.

“All these amazing attractions are within short driving distances and on good roads since Kigali lies in the centre of the country.”

Food at Bisate

Gorilla tracking in Uganda requires an eight-hour drive or a fligh.

Despite being one of the smallest countries on the African mainland, the country has attracted several international chain of hotels such as Kempinski, Serena, Marriott and Radisson Blu, which now cater to discerning business and leisure travellers.

Lavish properties such as Bisate Lodge in the North West and Nyungwe House in the South West have also sprung up to cater to luxury travellers seeking safari retreats.

Ms Sebageni said Bisate lodge is in a league of its own.

‘‘The architecture style takes inspiration from the King’s palace. The design incorporates Rwandese culture and weaving, using local materials such as local brick with volcanic rock or colourful local fabric for staff uniforms,” she said.

The experience starts right from the first sighting of the lodge which is based right next to Volcanoes National Park and whose villas are nestled into the hillside.

Staff will welcome you with song and dance on arrival, and the view of the Bisoke volcano is visible once you get to the spacious main lounge or the private villas.

The Bisate Lodge. PHOTO | FILE

The Bisate Lodge. PHOTO | FILE

The lodge has a strong focus on reforestation with every visitor being encouraged to make their mark by planting a tree. The community’s involvement is also quite evident.

Since food can make or break an experience, this lodge focuses on training their staff to offer the very best.

Ingrid Baas, the general manager at Bisate Lodge said the menu was developed by Linda van Rensburg who visited Bisate several times to train the chefs.

‘‘Our Rwandan chefs, Jean Marie Muzamunzi and Claude Ntwari went for training to the Wilderness Lodges in Zambia and Botswana. For the first six months of opening the lodge we had the assistance of Lisl Meyer from Cape Town to further train them,” she said during an interview in Rwanda.

The menu is now a creative fusion of local and contemporary cuisine. Dining is a fresh farm-to-table experience, with produce being picked from their own vegetable garden as well as farmers in a surrounding five kilometres radius.

The menu evolves with the season, and being set on sustainability, only what is needed from the land is harvested.

On arrival at Bisate, for instance, you will get to soak up the breath-taking views while tucking into a traditional African high tea with an array of goodies such as plantain brownies, local cheeses and charcuterie or a passion fruit tart accompanied by fine creamy Rwandan coffee which has hints of lemon and orange blossom.

To fuel up for your upcoming gorilla experience, revel in an excellent dinner menu offering everything from roasted and shaved beets served in a macadamia nut crumble and avocado puree, East African fish served in coconut sauce or pork belly served with locally grown white beans and roasted cherry tomatoes from the garden.

For dessert, choose from baked tamarillo’s with red wine, Rwandan honey or a light granadilla soufflé with a vanilla anglaise.

There was an uproar earlier in the year when Rwanda doubled gorilla trekking fees for international tourists but adventure enthusiasts coming to Bisate do not mind paying the extra cash, Ms Sebageni said.

‘‘There actually hasn’t been a decline in the number of visitors thus far. This high season has been the busiest since we started in 2004 and it has gone on for longer than usual, right into November and 2018 looks promising as well,” she said.

She adds that with the increase in the price of permits, Rwanda is making it very clear what the country’s strategy is to focus on conservation which can only be achieved through low volumes and high yields.

‘‘This is will raise the bar in service delivery and attract like-minded investment. This can only be good for the protection of gorillas,” she said.