My sister and I felt like queens for a day when we took a road trip to Nyungwe Forest Lodge in June. This oasis of calm has got to have the best service in Rwanda (even if the Immigration Department managed to somehow win the national customer service award this year).
Arriving at the lodge, we were greeted by friendly staff, shown to some comfy couches and presented with a delicious refreshing passion fruit drink which I’ve been trying to copy since. Our car was simply the means by which we arrived at the lodge, we stepped out of it, handed over the keys and didn’t even know where it was until we needed to go somewhere the next day. Our luggage was transported to and from our lodge room by golf car as were we – Nyungwe is the ideal destination for walking but at the lodge, walking is optional!
All the other Kings and Queens at the lodge seemed very happy too relaxing, hiking and so on. They were all Muzungus and mainly native English Speakers. And there were not so many and all scattered in lodges around the estate so there was no interference in our relaxation.
So how beautiful is this place really? Let me start with the setting. Deep in Nyungwe Forest, the lodge (and its mini lodges) is in the middle of a tea plantation which is basically just fields of uniform green leaves but quite relaxing. From the pool (which itself was a tad cold), there was an amazing view over the forest. We could lay on the sun loungers watching the pool fall into the forest as the colobus monkeys played in the trees not so far away.
As for the facilities, the rooms were pure luxury – we stayed in Room 1 which was a “basic” luxury room but it was anything but basic! The bathroom was like a suite in itself with separate rooms for the shower and toilet, double sinks, tasteful lighting, and a large bath with a view over the rest of the suite (if you wanted). A few steps down from the bathroom was the bedroom with a fabulous comfy bed, duvets, lots of pillows and cushions, into which we crawled in our luxurious robes to watch a DVD for the afternoon!
The room has a wood-fired stove, a lounger, large TV, minibar and they had also left us some apples for a snack. There was also the opportunity to relax on the balcony and the roof extended out so far that when it rained, you could sit and watch the rain without getting wet – We watched the rain from the bed and I don’t think I ever enjoyed rain so much!
The lodge itself was like one big living room with books about Africa, Rwanda, safaris etc. positioned on the nice tables for the guests to peruse. The restaurant was both indoors and outdoors with a view over the plantation and there were also a pretty conference room for about 15 people and a souvenir shop.
The price for one night’s stay in Nyungwe Forest Lodge is $220 per person which is valid until the end of May 2012. For Rwandan residents they do a better rate of $175. The odd thing is that the price is per person and not per room. We could have had a room each but we decided to share.
While you’re considering what else you could be spending that money on, consider this also – the price includes three meals – A four course lunch, a four course dinner (fourth course being tea/coffee) and a large breakfast of your choice. They also didn’t charge us for water and a soda cost $3 and you could get a cocktail for $9 and a glass of wine for $8 (mind you full bottles of wine were pricey!). On the whole, I found it good value for money and I would happily spend it again for good service and a relaxing break.
The food was nice but the menus were set and while they had asked about dietary requirements in the booking forms, they either hadn’t received the information or hadn’t considered it. My sister is a vegetarian and I’m allergic to wheat so that was fun! For lunch, there were three options for starters and main course and I had caprese salad to start which was disappointing because instead of mozzarella cheese, there was a local cheese (nice cheese but that’s not a caprese!). I then had a delicious chicken dish in a beautiful tomato-based sauce followed by chocolate mousse for dessert- Yum!
My sister had only one option in pasta but she felt like it and said it was delicious. When it came to dinner, she was offered pasta again and they couldn’t offer her much else because they had nothing in stock. However, the chef made up a rice dish and a sauce and she thoroughly enjoyed it. I had lamb medaillons for mains and when it came to dessert, I didn’t feel like chocolate mousse again (wheat is always a main feature of dessert) so I asked them what else they could offer me and they produced a delicious avocado ice cream – such a pleasant surprise. The breakfast menu was extensive, I went for the plantation breakfast which was the nearest effort to a full Irish/ English breakfast with some German sausage thrown in good measure!
Nyungwe Forest Lodge is in South West Rwanda in the district of Nyamasheke. It’s a five to five and a half hour drive from Kigali (about two and a half hours from Butare) the last hour of which is through the forest and along some very windy roads. The roads were being improved when we were there so the journey time may have decreased and times can also be shortened if you drive dangerously or don’t get stopped by police wanting to practice their English! Buses from Kigali to Rusizi (Cyangugu) via Butare pass the entrance, you can travel by car or if you fly from Kigali to Rusizi, the lodge can arrange a pick up as it is just 40 minutes away.
If this article hasn’t bored you to death, you can check out the Nyungwe Forest Lodge website http://www.nyungweforestlodge.com, email them at email@example.com or visit the Kigali office (of Shamwari Group I think) in the Canal 10 building beside RDB.
Would I go back? This is always the critical question and my answer is: YES, YES, YES! For me, the x-factor was the service. It really is a 5-star PLUS experience and the only five star service that I have experienced in Rwanda. Throughout our time there, the highly-trained staff were fabulous, friendly and most importantly, extremely helpful. At one point I asked three questions at once and the guy went away, came back and had solved all three issues. Having been in Rwanda almost a year my jaw dropped at the bit where he even came back! They made check-in seem like a minor detail in our luxurious experience by handing us the forms while relaxing with our welcome drink. At dinner, the servers backed away from the table rather than turning their backs and it was clear that service standards at the lodge were set to those to which their Dubai owners are accustomed.
The day we were leaving, we were going on a hike so we packed our bags and left them in the room for the hotel to collect and I was too lazy to leave the key at reception so I gave it to the chambermaid to bring to reception. Unfortunately she didn’t understand me and when I returned, there she was sitting waiting for us with the key at reception. Slightly misguided but customer-oriented all the same!
My only gripe about customer service there would be in the booking process where we had to book through South Africa and we didn’t even have a number for anyone at the lodge – but let’s face it, I’m a fussy cow! But to counter that, we were so relaxed we forgot some of our stuff and they sent it up to their office in Kigali for us and were very nice about it.
Also available are massages charged at (reasonable) European prices, which I’ve heard are very good, and the gym and the pool are available to use. (The gym was closed however when we were there). There is a dartboard near the pool and table tennis at the lodge too if you’re bored.
The best tip I got before going was to “Stay there and enjoy it.” If your focus is hiking all day every day, there are other good hotels that are much cheaper in the area. If you’re going to spend the money to stay at the lodge, you’ll want to be there to take advantage of the pampering. If you want to hike and won’t be there all day, choose a cheaper spot and you can always spend your last day at the lodge at the end to chill out, heal your weary body and relax!
If you’re looking for relaxation, luxury, an escape from the city and top-notch service, check this place out!
Phone: 0787 352 279