At the time of my first visit to Rwanda, eight years ago, tourism was in its infancy and the country was still preoccupied with reconstruction, following the 1994 genocide and civil war. The sole purpose of my visit was to see the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The wildlife experience exceeded all expectations, but the best available place to stay barely met the minimum standard for a Harper recommendation.
My recent return trip was prompted by the opening of Bisate Lodge last June, a property designed and operated by the outstanding Botswana-based company Wilderness Safaris. I had also been intrigued by reports of a new emphasis on luxury tourism, an economic initiative encouraged by Rwanda’s forceful president, Paul Kagame. Wilderness Safaris plans to expand its operations into Akagera National Park on the border with Tanzania; the distinguished South African safari company Singita will open Kwitonda Lodge near Volcanoes National Park next year; and One&Only Gorilla’s Nest is also expected to debut shortly.
Bisate Lodge comprises just six lavish “villas,” stacked up a hillside, which is all that remains of an eroded volcanic cone. From a long, sinuous balcony outside the main public areas there is a spectacular view of two cloud-wreathed volcanoes: Mount Visoke and Mount Karisimbi. The lodge’s extraordinary design is based on the traditional forms of the old Rwandan Royal Palace, and the result is an architectural tour de force. Suffice it to say, over the course of a three-night stay, every aspect of the property was consistently impressive. Bisate is one of the finest lodges of its kind in Africa. The gorilla-viewing is as sensational as ever, and if you have a bucket list, I recommend that you put this place at the top of it.
From Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, I flew to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and then boarded a light aircraft into the 21,081-square-mile Selous Game Reserve, one of the last great wilderness areas in Africa. My home for the next few days was Azura Selous, a surprisingly sophisticated camp set beside a stretch of hippo-infested rapids on the Great Ruaha River. There I was fortunate to have exceptional leopard and wild dog sightings in a remote region that has changed little from the time of the 19th-century European explorers.
This issue also contains a report from Flanders, specifically the unspoiled medieval city of Ghent. As well as staying at a new boutique hotel, housed within part of the old neo-Gothic main post office, we also took the opportunity to try several of the city’s restaurants, three of which received stars in this year’s Michelin Guide to Belgium and Luxembourg.