An Honest Guide to the One&Only Hotels in Africa
Rwanda is one of the most fascinating countries in Africa. Located in the Great Lakes region, the small nation boasts a population of around 11 million inhabitants. Back in 1994, the events that unfolded in Rwanda were so devastating with an estimated 800,000 casualties. It was one of the darkest events in recent history, yet despite its tumultuous history and tragic past, Rwanda has experienced strong economic growth – becoming one of the safest countries in Africa for tourists to visit.
What to do in Rwanda? The country offers stunning nature, a varied landscape, numerous historic sites, and cultural experiences, as well as an interesting and unique culinary scene. Being one of the best places on earth to witness a total solar eclipse, Rwanda is also ideal for stargazing. Anyone from adventure junkies, explorers and honeymooners will find Rwanda an ideal choice for a memorable holiday destination.
1. ONE&ONLY GORILLA’S NEST HOTEL
The One&Only Gorilla’s Nest is getting rave reviews from tour operators. Best suited for honeymooners and explorers alike, these travellers love the homely feel of the hotel with its manicured grounds and gazebos, especially as it boasts a most unique location.
Imagine a world of mountains, meadows and lakes. Envision the luxury of having all this at your doorstep, with gourmet cuisine and expertly designed rooms that give you a fully immersive experience. One&Only Gorilla’s Nest hotel promises genuine safari adventure in an unforgettable location.
Nestled amongst a forest of eucalyptus trees, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest is situated in the heart of the Volcanoes National Park – home to breath-taking scenery and providing unparalleled access to the critically endangered mountain gorillas. This luxury tented lodge is located amongst rolling hills and tropical forests, a paradise where rural life meets modern safari luxury. Guests will be able to discover these magical habitats and other rare wildlife nearby.
Upon arrival, guests will receive a traditional Rwandan welcome including local music and vibrant drumbeats as they wind through the gates. Served immediately is either rose water, gathered from the resort’s own rose garden, or alternatively, Rwandan coffee in the main lodge where guests can begin to become acquainted with the hotel and discover what lies ahead of its dramatic natural surroundings.
INTERIORS & CHARACTER
Blending into its natural environment, a network of footpaths will wind throughout the resort, offering opportunities to see spectacular wildlife without disturbing the environment. Preserving Rwanda’s natural beauty, the hotel harks back to Africa’s past with its thatched roofing, wooden windows and doors, and the signature aroma of lavender. Natural and wooded surroundings, yet a modern interior designed by internationally acclaimed interior designer Hubertus Feit has created this luxurious hotel where a subtle African influence lies beneath its contemporary exterior.
With seven suites and 14 rooms, the property’s site is naturally set up for families and groups with kids. The guest lodges and suites, made fully by wood, are placed on stilts and tower over the ground – giving the impression to their occupants that they are floating. The 10 Forest King Lodges are 77 sqm. Designed to complement its natural surroundings, the rooms have an outdoor wooden terrace, the perfect spot to sip a cocktail and take in the views. Included as well is a lavish king-sized bed and a large gas fireplace which exemplifies the warm, wooden tones of the room.
The four Two-Bedroom Forest Lodges, each 87 sqm in size, are great for families and in general, larger groups of vacationers. It offers two private bedrooms and a small deck which can be accessed from the adjoining bathroom. The finer details which truly delineate luxury are the freestanding bathtub and rain shower and the breath-taking views. In terms of the aesthetic, the main bedroom is adorned with local artwork and offers a bluish hue to highlight modern African designs. The second bedroom can similarly have a king-sized bed, or alternatively, a twin bed with guests provided full access to a powder room. Like the Forest King Lodges, the Two-Bedroom Forest Lodge has a gas fireplace and an expansive Larchwood terrace, “each handcrafted by local Rwandan artisans”.
The 147 sqm Virunga Suites features an en-suite bathroom and a king-sized bed with floor-to-ceiling glass doors framing the picturesque atmosphere. A living area is included in the blueprint and features a spacious lounge, fireplace and terrace where guests can enjoy in-room dining and many other amenities without ever even stepping foot outdoors. This suite is perfect for group vacations.
Lastly, the two largest suites at the Gorilla Nest hotel, the “Ingagi Suite” and the “Silverback Suite”, each featuring a master king-bedded room with large en-suites – 250 sqm and 409 sqm respectively. The bathrooms are equipped with a freestanding tub and rain shower, showcasing handcrafted African baskets. The lounges, similar to the other suites, offer a large sofa bed, dining table, fireplace and an outdoor bathtub. In the Silverback Suite, additional amenities are included, providing guests with a private pool and boma. Both suites are equipped with a second bedroom -with its own private bathroom- and a kitchen with 24/7 chef and butler on call.
Dine in the lap of luxury at The One&Only Gorilla’s Nest hotel: here, vegetables are picked straight from the hotel’s garden, while meat and fish are sourced from local Rwandan farmers and fishermen. Instead of a buffet breakfast, there’s a choice of deliciously fresh pastries, and you can customise your own omelette with meats such as wild boar, chicken, or fish. Lunch is served family-style, so you get to sample the fruits of everyone’s labour, while dinner is a set menu – but inevitably delicious. Unique in yet another sense, the culinary philosophy is very much one of sustainability. Though your feast is bound to be enjoyed, rest assured that the team are flexible and willing to accommodate any dietary requirements.
The one-of-a-kind culinary concept at One&Only Gorilla’s Nest Hotel is curated by Executive Chef Bryan English, who has amassed experience across all of Africa – highlighting Rwanda’s own diverse flavours and ingredients. Nest, the main restaurant of the hotel, seeks to provide a neighbourhood for people to come together, rejuvenate and reconnect. Nest is an open restaurant featuring an interactive cooking station that invites guests to immerse themselves in local cuisine, sharing experiences and stories over drinks and dinner after a day’s adventure. Nest has a coffee bar and lounge making it a great place for breakfast as well as wellness shots, prepared by the resort team, to kick start the day. For celebrations, groups of friends or bigger families, Nest has a private dining room that seats 22.
The One&Only spa at the Gorilla’s Nest Hotel will offer unique treatments based on African inspirations to pamper guests at their most relaxed. Situated in a secluded area, it provides guests holistic treatments. The spa is partnered with Terres d’Afrique, a highly regarded and sustainably-minded African skincare brand. Its mission is to create high-end natural products for Africa and the world using indigenous ingredients from the continent with a focus on fair-trade and sustainable principles.
At the heart of the resort, the spa offers a sanctuary from the outside world. Here, one can find a sense of peace amid nature and rejuvenation through wellness. With two forest-facing treatment rooms, a separate massage room and a private plunge pool awash with rose petals, all is possible. At the separate Club One, a heated swimming pool and plunge pool can be found framed by nature. Ideally located for those looking to replenish precious energy reserves before heading out for an exhilarating safari drive or exploring the bush on foot.
The spa offers an exclusive experience that embraces traditional African-inspired healing practices with holistic wellness principles. Using active compounds from African botanicals such as Massai Mara Miracle Bush and Mogu tree oil, all treatments are completely plant based and are geared towards boosting your physical and emotional health. One signature treatment is the essence of rose. Inspired by the rose garden, this two-hour treatment is renowned for boosting energy and stimulating the immune system.
Though the spa is small, the staff are wonderfully experienced. A highlight is going for a deep-tissue massage after a long day of exploration. E-bikes can be found outside most of the public areas and are highly recommended for tackling the hills around the hotel grounds. For more active guests, there is a tennis court, gym (with personal trainers), three restaurants and bars, while the staff is on hand to organize golfing and other excursions.
2. ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
Large enough for a village reunion but intimate enough for honeymooners, travellers will want to stay for the sublime setting, the dedicated service and the spa.
In addition to the Gorilla’s Nest hotel, One&Only has a second lodge (and spa) in Rwanda: One&Only Nyungwe House. It is an imposing property inspired by colonial architecture, nestled among acres of manicured gardens. The Nyungwe House offers luxurious accommodations in 22 rooms.
Resplendent against a backdrop of dense forest, the Nyungwe House is a sophisticated wilderness retreat built on stilts and perched precariously at the edge of the Nyungwe National Park. Nyungwe Forest can be hot, humid and rainy but its magnificent trees, vines and insects are an experience you won’t forget.
Nyungwe House is built from the materials available in the area, with a conscious effort to reduce environmental impact. The effect speaks for itself: its low main building is angled to maximise the forest views. The main building has two wings. The southern wing makes the most of forest views, while the northern side nestles a low-rise structure with windows and verandas, built in dark stone and surrounded by gardens and ponds.
The resort’s design honours the natural beauty of the area while also incorporating local art, craftsmanship, and motifs. With soaring floor-to-ceiling windows and huge jungle-view terraces, the construction blends in seamlessly with the natural environment, maximising the breath-taking nature and mountain panoramas at every opportunity. Through Rwandan-inspired decor, One&Only Nyungwe House pays respect to the country and its culture while maintaining a contemporary style and feel. The traditional Rwandan colours of black, white, and red are used throughout the main lodge and guest rooms, as well as the Rwandan geometric art form of Imigongo. The 22 guest rooms and suites are contemporary and opulent, with traditional Rwandan art and inspirations, and all have individual terraces with views of the forest.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
The house itself is simple but stylishly furnished, while the private infinity pool and sundeck offer panoramic views across the park. The Nyungwe houses a total of 22 luxury rooms and suites, spread across six stunning villas. Each has been designed to frame views of the landscape. Open fireplaces in each room create a cosy atmosphere in which to unwind. Private decks offer extraordinary spaces to watch Nyungwe’s wildlife, with each suite and villa featuring a different view, and interiors are inspired by the natural beauty and traditions of Rwanda with artwork displayed throughout.
The food of One&Only Nyungwe House is inspired by Rwanda’s wonderful natural flavours, cooked in a rustic style, and delivered with a modern twist. The culinary crew creates each meal daily, based on the interests of the visitors and the best seasonal ingredients. Ingredients are taken from the resort’s Chef’s Garden or organic and local farmers whenever feasible, following a farm-to-table philosophy. The Dining Room, an exquisite Rwandan-inspired restaurant with magnificent plantation views, serves substantial breakfasts, leisurely lunches, and soothing evening dinners. Two traditional African bomas provide the ideal location for visitors to meet and exchange tales of their day’s activities while enjoying a barbeque of freshly cooked meat, local fish from Lake Kivu, and vegetables from the Chef’s Garden.
Like One&Only Gorilla Nest, the culinary team works on a new menu daily with a focus on Rwandan and African influences, based on guests’ preferences and dietary needs. This is to assure the freshest possible flavour; the staff bakes all the bread and pastries offered, blends house-made ice cream, and handmakes the pasta, ensuring that they deliver a dining experience that is complementary of the sustainability rhetoric perpetuated by the hotel.
The Dining Room, an exquisite Rwandan-inspired restaurant with magnificent plantation views, serves substantial breakfasts, leisurely lunches, and soothing evening dinners. Alternatively, the resort’s chefs may make a gourmet picnic for guests to enjoy while out exploring, create unforgettable private dining experiences on one of the resort’s stunning decks, or provide in-room dining in the luxury of their guest room or large private patio.
The Bar provides a finely prepared collection of rare gins from South Africa, each beverage specially mixed with fresh botanicals, herbs from the Chef’s Garden, spices, and fruit. Wine enthusiasts may pick from a carefully curated cellar that includes winemakers from the Western Cape of South Africa, as well as France, the United States, New Zealand, and Italy. The resort’s Tea Lounge is a cosy, pleasant location where visitors may unwind and enjoy a cup of Nyungwe tea while taking in the panoramic tree-top views. During the daily Secrets of African Tea programme, guests may learn more about the tea-making process, from picking the best leaves to tasting the completed mix.
WELLBEING AT THE HEART
The One&Only Spa is a beautiful retreat for tourists wishing for a moment of tranquillity to accompany their experiences in the Nyungwe Forest – suspended over the forest slopes and affording stunning jungle views. In the solitude of their large treatment room, guests may relax with treatments set against the peaceful vistas and natural sounds of the forest. Two spa suites are available, one for couples with outdoor jungle-view showers and one for singles, both with private decks that stretch out into the rainforest for relaxation or treatments. Guests who do not wish to leave their rooms can get spa services on their own decks in their villas.
Africology, a luxury natural body and skincare company, has teamed with One&Only Spa to produce a selection of unique treatments for clients. Intoga Amasatchi, a 60-minute deep-tissue, full-body signature treatment employing hands and various-sized wooden sticks that historically reflect the healer’s knowledge and instruction to stretch tight muscles and reduce toxic overload, is one of the trademark treatments. The African Imana Facial begins with a back massage enriched with shea butter, followed by a lovely ritual that includes cleaning, massage, and sound therapy for a complete health experience. The Fire Ritual, which works deep into the muscle system to remove stiffness and discomfort, is followed by fire imagery and breath exercises to kindle faith, and inspire the mind, among other therapies.
Awe-inspiring jungle views may be had from the resort’s unique infinity-edge swimming pool and pool deck that juts out over the edge of the forest. Following treatments, visitors may unwind on the spa deck, swing on one of the enormous hanging swings, or swim in the heated pool adjacent to the spa. Two new floating decks in the Nyungwe Forest provide once-in-a-lifetime settings for relaxing yoga courses, meditation, or dining cooked by one of the resort’s chefs. A spot to have a gin and tonic in front of a warm fire during apéro or a private dinner experience.
Guests may keep up their workout routine in the resort’s Fitness Centre, which is also located close to the Spa and has the newest Technogym equipment with individualised cardio, movement, and stretching training. The resort provides ‘Nature’s Bootcamp,’ a moderate to hard outdoor jungle exercise conducted by a motivated instructor in the fresh mountain air, for those looking for a workout with a twist. Guests may stay in shape by exploring the magnificent natural surroundings or joining one of the many outdoor walks offered by One&Only Nyungwe House. Trip past picturesque waterfalls and wetlands, scale summits to spectacular observation sites, and discover rare birds and primates on this hike designed for all levels of expertise.
By Kaya Geha