A glorious 2.5 hour drive from Rwanda's bustling capital, Kigali, nestles the Virunga Lodge, atop a forested mountain surrounded by volcanic lakes. As if the drive through the 'land of 1000 hills' wasn't breath-taking enough, your final ascent, through banana palms and the terraces of the local farming communities, leads you to the oasis that is Virunga lodge.
Arriving in what seems like a clearing in the jungle, our bags were taken to our own banda where you first realise the extent of the view; 3 large extinct volcanoes and the lakes of Virunga below. Each banda is made using local wood, slate and terracotta clay. Simple, warm and with a local charm that immediately endears you to the natural spirit of the lodge.
The lodge itself centres around a warm fire with a library and old black and white photos of the local gorilla trackers from the turn of the century. The African interior uses local patterned fabrics and wood in the extremely comfortable, open plan, main room; with a 360 degree porch for pre-dinner cocktails or taking in the sense that you really are on top of the world.
Seeing gorillas is a once in a lifetime opportunity, something that affected us deeper than we could have imagined. You rise in the dark and the trek can be long and steep. There is definitely no better base or 'family' to prepare you and receive you either side. Whether that be with a full English breakfast or making sure you have all the kit to best survive the jungle climb. Although we instinctively wanted to enjoy the incredible surroundings of the lodge, the staff unobtrusively offer so many interesting things to do that until the evenings we barely had a spare moment. Whether gorilla tracking, hiking a volcano, visiting Diane Fossey's grave, visiting the local villages or indulging in a massage.
They have their own bees, pick their own mushrooms and grow a huge amount of their own vegetables and fruit. The owner and staff could not be more involved in the local community which is evident throughout the lodge; whether it be through 100 year old photos of the lodge or the sensational produce used in every dish they served. Whether steaks and risottos or local curries. It supplies electricity to 200 homes and runs women's project promoting equality or teaching skills like basket weaving. The owner has given one sheep to every household and provides 5 private school scholarships a year. All in all you can feel the sense of pride in every corner of this lodge and every person you meet. Summed up best by the large turnout for our farewell.