Esquire (UK)

Hotels Rwanda

A country once synonymous with brutality and bloodshed is remaking itself as a breathtaki­ng luxury destinatio­n

- By Alex Bilmes

The first thing that strikes the newcomer to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, is the exceptiona­l orderlines­s and cleanlines­s of the place. Especially if one has spent time in other East African capitals — Uganda’s teeming Kampala, Kenya’s riotous Nairobi — the impression is almost uncanny. A city of steep hills and plunging valleys, Kigali is most thrillingl­y navigated as a passenger on one of the motorbike taxis that wriggle through the rush-hour traffic, buzzing like mosquitoes. If it sounds dramatic, even risky, then, like the nation itself, when you’re on the ground there, it makes a strange kind of sense.

Small, landlocked, sun-blessed, Rwanda is a country undergoing a radical transforma­tion. In 1994, during 100 days of savagery, close to 1m people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtere­d by their mostly Hutu neighbours. Twentyfive years on, still traumatise­d by its recent past — how could it not be? — Rwanda is ruled by the austere Paul Kagame, former rebel leader and ruthless moderniser, who has fast-tracked his nation from what was, then, close to a failed state to what is, now, one of Africa’s economic success stories.

In travel-industry terms, Rwanda in 2019 is hot, literally and figurative­ly. Actually, not right now: right now, it’s the rainy season. But from

June to September the dry weather returns, and a number of new developmen­ts make it an attractive destinatio­n for both adventurou­s travellers, keen to hike its trails and kayak its rivers, and those who enjoy more sybaritic pursuits.

A number of new hotels and safari camps have recently opened, and more are on the way. The photograph on the previous pages is of Nyungwe House, One&Only Resorts’ first venture into the country, opened late last year. Situated within a working tea plantation on the edge of the Nyungwe Forest National Park, it offers the world-class comfort and hospitalit­y that visitors to other One&Only hotels might expect, with the unique addition of chimpanzee trekking (oneandonly­resorts.com). As its name suggests, the soon-to-open One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, in the foothills of the Virunga Mountains volcano range — Africa’s oldest national park — goes arguably one better, offering proximity to the rare mountain gorilla in its natural habitat.

Also about to open, also on the edge of the volcanoes park, Singita Kwitonda Lodge — named after a great silverback gorilla — has the clever advantage of offering combined safari trips with the company’s property on the Serengeti, in northern Tanzania, shuttling guests between the two locations by plane (singita.com).

For those who would rather not wait until August, Wilderness Safaris’ (wilderness-safaris.com) brand new Magashi is a six-tent camp that offers the only private access area in the Akagera National Park, the plains of which are home to lion, rhino, hippo and more.

Getting to Rwanda is easier than previously, thanks to RwandAir’s new routes. Getting around it is simpler, too, since a recent programme of infrastruc­ture improvemen­ts. And Kigali’s Remera neighbourh­ood — a recently gentrified area of restaurant­s, coffee shops and nightclubs — has a claim to be East Africa’s version of East London: young, buzzy and hip.

Also worth a visit is the Kigali Genocide Memorial, an almost uniquely upsetting but also inspiring place, in which the permanent exhibition­s document, in detail, the events of 1994, and of other genocides or attempted genocides: the Nazi holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia. Granted, it’s not as much fun as seeing a gorilla in the wild, but it’s an important reminder, for those that need it, that, for all the justified controvers­y surroundin­g President Kagame’s autocratic leadership, Rwanda has come a very long way in a very short time.

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 ??  ?? Clockwise from left: one of East Africa’s last remaining chimpanzee population­s can be observed by guests at Nyungwe House; the resort’s 23 bedrooms and suites are sited on a tea farm edged by a jungle reserve; a bustling produce market in Rwanda’s capital Kigali
Clockwise from left: one of East Africa’s last remaining chimpanzee population­s can be observed by guests at Nyungwe House; the resort’s 23 bedrooms and suites are sited on a tea farm edged by a jungle reserve; a bustling produce market in Rwanda’s capital Kigali
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