See the woods and the trees at One&Only Nyungwe House, a plantation palace on the edge of an ancient forest in south-west Rwanda. After primate-seeking strolls through the primeval paradise, return for barbecue nights by the fire, swims overlooking the emerald estate and spa treatments that are really rituals. They don’t call it the one and only for nothing.
Double rooms from £1718.75 ($2,100), including tax at 18 per cent.
Rates usually include all meals and most drinks, two activities a day, as well as a reasonable amount of laundry.
On the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans all unite to work together in the local community and guests can join them – Umuganda is a nationwide programme where everyone unites to help tick off the country’s to-do list (protecting the environment is a top priority).
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, gym with personal trainers and fitness classes, yoga deck. In rooms: iPad, coffee machine and Rwandan coffee, plus local tea bags; trekking gear (ponchos, gaiters and backpacks); TV; fireplace and Africology bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Families and groups can book a two-bedroom suite, set between the rainforest and the tea plantation. The Nyungwe rooms all have jungle-facing balconies to look out for L’Hoest’s monkeys; Imigongo accents (technically art made using cow-dung but don’t let that deter you); and hand-woven plates created by women from Rwanda and Ghana.
The national-park-facing outdoor pool is open for swims overlooking the ancient forest between 6am and 7pm.
The hotel’s holistic spa can come to the rescue for post-trek treatments, including a two-hour-long Forest Awakening, which starts in the swings out in the forest and ends with a mud scrub in the outdoor shower before a full-body massage; a limb-rescuing hot-stone and deep-tissue combination; and a ritual that begins with a smoke bath and guided breathwork.
The national park is home to dazzling and diverse wildlife, so don’t forget your binoculars. Your room has a handy trekking kit – featuring a poncho, gaiters and backpacks, but layers, gloves, hats and waterproofs are all sensible suitcase additions. And don’t worry about bringing various pairs of boots if you don’t want mud spoiling your look – the team will clean them for you after every trek.
Over-10s are welcome, but the excursions into the national park are not geared towards them – though younger guests can enjoy activities such as cycling and archery.
Turndown gifts are created by local artisans, there’s no plastic on-site and produce is sourced either from the chef’s garden or nearby farmers. And members of the Nyungwe Cultural Village Cooperative from the local village, Gisakura, come to pick tea from the resort’s plantation to help generate income and pay for things such as school fees for their children.
There are lots of ancient arboreal spots here, but top place has to be the tea deck in the middle of the plantation.
Law of the jungle.
The Dining Room is open all day for comforting Rwandan cuisine, such as cassava-flour flatbreads, stews made with vegetables picked from the garden, and house-baked breads and pastries. The menu changes daily, and there are traditional barbecue nights regularly, too, with fire and a troupe of local dancers in case the rainforest wasn’t interesting enough.
There are two types of tea lounge: one that hosts traditional Rwandan tea ceremonies and another that swaps out the tonic for G and tea. Try the Gisakura 1952, with black tea from the estate, infused gin, bitters, vermouth and Campari; or a stiff steeping of gin, lemon-leaf syrup and lemon juice – all of which can be taken out on the terrace to be enjoyed with a fitting view of the plantation.
Breakfast starts at 7am, lunch at noon and dinner at 7pm. The Dining Room closes at 10pm. High tea is served between 3pm and 4pm. The bar is open from 6pm until midnight.
Dishes from that day’s menu can be ordered to your room around the clock. The menu can be found on your room’s iPad (paper versions can be delivered to the screen-averse).
Nyungwe House is on a tea plantation at the edge of the namesake national park, in south-west Rwanda.
It’s a serious (five-hour-plus) but scenic drive (especially the last 90 minutes) from Kigali – guests in a hurry can connect to a 35-minute domestic flight to Kamambe airstrip, which is a 45-minute drive from the hotel. Road transfers from either Kamambe or Kigali to the hotel cost US$450 for up to three passengers.
The forest (one of the oldest in Africa) is there to be hiked through – but if you have come by car, there’s free parking.
Helicopter transfers from Kigali to Nyungwe’s helipad can be booked through Akagera Aviation.
Worth getting out of bed for
One of Africa’s oldest forests is waiting for treks, encounters with the region’s rare chimpanzees, flora appreciation (there are more than a thousand species of plants, including a whopping 140 types of orchid) and mountain-biking. Anyone immune to vertigo can complete the Canopy Walk, a 160-metre-long suspension bridge 70 metres above the rainforest, or head up in a helicopter to see it from an (exotic) bird’s perspective. You’ll be able to befriend the colobus-monkey troops and keep watch for the 322 types of bird in residence in the national park. The hotel is on a tea plantation, so it would be rude not to join in with a tea ceremony or at least have a pot. Guests can also try their hand at spear-throwing or hilltop archery, or get creative with painting and photography classes. Stargazing can take place on one of the resort’s elevated decks or on a nocturnal guided tour of the forest; and visitors will be able to visit a local co-operative to shop for handmade artefacts.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this remote hotel in Rwanda and unpacked their hiking boots and handicrafts, a full account of their bucolic break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Nyungwe House in Nyungwe National Park…
Whatever your idea of Arcadia, we’re guessing it comes pretty close to the vision of pastoral perfection you’re met with at Nyungwe House in Rwanda. Guests can take the scenic route from Kigali: a five-hour transfer, the final 90 minutes of which are through the national park; or hop in a helicopter to see Lake Kivu from above. More dramatic road-trip backdrops await on the four-and-a-half-hour drive north to the sister hotel in Volcanoes National Park (worth the drive if you want to meet gorillas as well as chimpanzees on this holiday). The latter are in residence in Nyungwe National Park, one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, along with mongoose, serval cats, Congo clawless otters and the Albertine Rift’s own monkey (L’Hoest’s), which you can go in search of on daily treks.
The emerald estate has a plantation house at its heart, for Boma barbecue nights with traditional dance, dinners on a deck in the middle of the tea plants and spa rituals to feel (even more) at one with nature. It’s a harmonious heaven – and you don’t have to be goat-footed to go there (though it will help with the hikes if you’re fit).