Bisate Lodge, which opened this summer in North Rwanda, is the newest property from Wilderness Safaris. Built on 42 hectares of what was once farmland just outside the Volcanoes National Park, the lodge consists of six thatched villas, plus an open-plan main building (inside there’s a restaurant, bar and living area, and a wine cellar) all by architect Nick Plewman, with interiors by designer Caline Williams-Wynn.
“The property is right in front of Mount Bisoke, and from our nature trail it’s possible to see six mountains at once”, says General Manager Ingrid Baas of the dreamy location. “The ceiling detail in the villas references the King’s Palace, and elements of Rwandan culture were used throughout the lodge.”
In keeping with the brand’s ‘4C’ pillars (commerce, conservation, community and culture), there has been integration with the community right from the start. The owners of the farmland – and there were more than 100 – all reinvested the money back into the land (around $580,000 has been injected into the local economy), and 250 locals were employed during the build itself.
It’s not the only way Wilderness Safaris is working with the community, either. The villagers set up the Tuzamurane Co-operative, which supplies the hotel with produce, such as potatoes and firewood. Guests are encouraged to learn more about the community by taking a walk with in-house guide Aline Umutoni across the fields to meet the villagers in their homes. There are several potential plans for long-term projects in the pipeline, which could include running Eco Clubs and camp stays for local children and skills development or language courses for adults.
The ongoing indigenous reforestation project is also a fundamental part of the lodge. “Since 2009, Wilderness Safaris has contemplated how its Ecotourism model could contribute to the conservation of the Virunga Massif ecosystem, and to iconic species like the mountain gorilla”, comments Wilderness Safaris COO Grant Woodrow, referring to the thinking behind the reforestation, which has so far seen more than 16,000 trees replanted. “The vision is to create a world-class venture that will make a dramatic and far-reaching positive impact on more than just the mountain gorilla.”
In a unique partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation, the company’s aim is to expand the Volcanoes National Park by reforesting the land, then donating it back to the Rwandan government for inclusion in the park. “We are excited at the potential of this project to increase the mountain gorilla population, as well as the population of a host of other endemic Albertine Rift wildlife”.
Just as guests are able to meet the community, they can also actively get involved in the reforestation by planting a tree during their stay with the help of enthusiastic agronomist Jean–Moise Habimana. As Woodrow concludes:“We want to take guests beyond the gorilla express to enrich their experience in this inspiring country.”
London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.