Staying at ‘La Bella’ in Gisenyi turned out to be a fortunate accident after another well-known establishment, (who shall remain nameless!) cancelled my booking at the last minute. And so we arrived in Gisenyi late at night mid-week in the middle of an Armageddon-type storm, destitute, homeless, and in need of food and shelter.
The mood was low but that didn’t last long. As we neared La Bella, a member of staff was waiting for us outside, stoically poised in the middle of the storm, waiting with two umbrellas at the ready to usher us inside to a warm cup of coffee, a hot meal and a comfortable bed. So comfortable in fact we spent the next four nights here.
La Bella is a gem of lodge, located further along the lakeshore road about 7 kms out of Gisenyi town where the strip of hotels are. It’s about 1 km further on from Paradis Malahide and 400 metres from Inzu Lodge on the left, down a hill and well signposted. The lodge has five spacious, simply decorated rooms, all very private with their own bathrooms, hot water, huge double beds, and a table and chairs. Two of the rooms have private verandas and the other three rooms share a huge veranda between them. Rooms cost Rwf 55,000 (around US$80) per night and this includes breakfast. You can also camp here for Rwf 14,000 (US$20) a night and the garden makes for excellent camping grounds. It has a restaurant and a fully stocked bar, serving great fish and local food as well as a range of European dishes. Everything we ate had a wholesome, home made quality to it.
The thing that sets La Bella apart from almost everywhere I’ve ever stayed in Rwanda these past 18 months is the service, its genuinely excellent. Food is ready quickly and will be served anywhere you choose, in the restaurant, by the lake, on your veranda. By day three we didn’t even need to order to breakfast, when staff saw we were awake breakfast would magically appear on our veranda. Speaking of which, the breakfast is included in the price and is simply scrumptious! A substantial omlette with your choice of filling, delicious chapatti and home made pineapple jam (new favorite), tea made with some grass I’ve been informed is called mu-chai-chai (actually yum) or coffee if you prefer. We happened to mention the chapatti were delicious, the next day, unprompted, the chapatti fairy had deposited extra ones on our plates – its that kind of a place!
The real feather in La Bella’s cap is the setting. In a country where jaw-dropping scenery is par for the course, the gardens of La Bella are outstanding. Seemingly landscaped by the same guy who did the Garden of Eden, the panoramic, elevated views of the lake sweeping down to your own private beach by the rooms is simply stunning. Even if you’re not staying here it would be well worth a visit for an afternoon spent on the sun loungers while enjoying the beautiful gardens, great food, and excellent service. Staff will also arrange boat trips at your request and it makes a lovely setting off point for a wander around the lake.
So in the midst of all this wonderfulness were there any downsides? A few minor ones but nothing that will prevent me from making this my regular haunt in Gisenyi. The drive down into the lodge is steep and unpaved, no worse than other places I’ve been in Rwanda but certainly not moto friendly (if you value your life) and traumatizing for your average vehicle. In the same vein, it’s likely not the most accessible place for wheelchairs or buggies given the steps to get down into the lodge. Saying that I did see a family there with small children in buggies so I guess its possible. My only other gripe, which is more a general one typical in Rwanda is the need for lights, lights and more lights – navigating your way to your room in the dark is not for the faint-hearted or those without a torch.
On our last morning here we had the pleasure of running into the owner of La Bella a charming and gracious lady. She was overseeing staff as they set up a marquee for a private function in the garden that afternoon – I know where Ill be hosting my next birthday. Getting to and from the lodge with your own vehicle is easy,and if your using motos or need a taxi the reception staff will arrange a pick up for you.
If you’re looking for a peaceful rest in beautiful surroundings and comfort La Bella is really a top class option in Gisenyi.