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Hotel review: One & Only Nyungwe House in Rwanda

Words by Rob Chilton

You ain’t seen green until you’ve been to Rwanda. Rob Chilton travels to this beautiful and peaceful east African country and drinks in the forest oxygen at a secluded forest resort.

We’ve all been in forests and seen beautiful green foliage, but you haven’t seen true green until you’ve been to Rwanda. The trees in this beautiful east African country resemble giant pieces of broccoli and are so green they look like they’ve been designed on a computer by a CGI technician in Hollywood – it is green x 100. All this lush greenery brings a sense of calm to the country and produces oxygen that makes your lungs sing. I casually asked one local about pollution and he chuckled at the very word.

Endless green

There are lots of chuckles in Rwanda. On our five-hour drive from Kigali Airport to Gisakura in the ancient Nyungwe rainforest, people frequently waved and smiled at our jeep. After a bone-jarring journey we arrived at Nyungwe House, the new hotel from One & Only that’s set in a 13-acre tea plantation 1,850m above sea level.

Dining room

Tea is everywhere in Rwanda. Dotted among the green plantations are pickers, expertly and swiftly plucking leaves and tossing them into baskets carried on their backs. Tea is Rwanda’s second largest source of income, tourism is number one and coffee is third. The climate and acidic soil make Rwandan among the best in the world and, after a delicious tasting session in front of a log fire in the hotel’s cosy lounge that has chandeliers made from tea strainers, we’d have to agree.

Tea pickers

Local food, culture and people are key to this eco-minded resort that has a strong relationship with the local community. Local children stage dance shows for guests, their wages going directly to their schooling. On the last Saturday of every month Rwandans and expats are encouraged to get outside and clean up their local areas. The resort is closed in April out of respect to the genocide that began in April 1994 and continued for three bloody months and resulted in the death of around 800,000 people. Local people, we are told, will talk of their experiences of the genocide if the time is right and they feel comfortable. But in this beautifully peaceful land, the right time never appears.

Tea lounge

Sam is a guide at the One & Only Nyungwe House who can turn his hand to anything. After leading the previously mentioned tea tasting session, he took EDGAR on a nature walk and provided numerous facts and figures about local flora and fauna, including the colobus and mountain blue monkeys that skip around the hotel grounds. The icing on the cake was the bullseye Sam scored as he gave us an archery lesson on a stunning hilltop in the forest.

Colobus monkeys

A canopy walk on wobbly metal gangways 70m above the forest floor is a popular excursion (approx AED 220) but the number one on your to-do list should be the chimpanzee walk (approx AED 330). Takeaway coffees – containing strong Rwandan coffee in re-usable cups of course – are welcome for the 5am start of our 90-minute journey to Cyamudongo. Find a good spot, crouch down and watch these mesmerising creatures call, scratch, snooze and leap from tree to tree in their forest home.

Canopy walk

Main house

Back at the hotel, a stunning infinity pool that looks out onto the mist-covered forest is a good way to loosen the muscles before a massage with Betty and her anti-fatigue oils from the premium Africology range. That should work up an appetite for lunch and then perhaps an afternoon snooze in your charmingly rustic room. Make sure you display the ‘do not disturb’ sign outside your door, which takes the form of a 30cm tall wooden sculpture of a Rwandan tribal man.

Soon, it’ll be time for a pre-dinner drink in the inviting bar that has more than 30 types of boutique gin. Accept your drink, say ‘thank you’ in the local language – murakoze – and you’ll have a friend for life. Then find a sofa outside on the deck, wrap yourself in a throw and let your lungs drink in that special, one-of-a-kind Rwandan oxygen.

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