24-hour room service: Mahogany Springs, Uganda
A lodge with creatures and comfort
Saturday 06 August 2011
It's easy to see where Mahogany Springs gets its name. Standing 60 metres high, the 400-year old mahogany tree in the centre of its gardens is impossible to ignore when you're sitting on the terrace of Buhoma's newest lodge, just outside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. "Strangely, the silhouette of the tree mirrors the shape of Africa," manager Jotham Awiti tells me "but people don't see this until they look back at their photographs."
Beyond the mahogany tree and the freshwater spring that emerges as a stream in the grounds, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest smothers the hills in the distance, taking its ominous name from the dense cover of trees, vines and shrubs. But ignore the repellent title; you can and should infiltrate the jungle, because inside lives almost half the world's population of mountain gorillas, thought to number about 340.
Gorilla tracking can be arduous, with long hours trekking through thick vegetation, but the reward of coming face-to-face with these majestic primates is immeasurable. And returning to creature comforts at a lodge such as Mahogany Springs afterwards keeps the endorphins rushing.
The men behind the luxury lodge are Barrie Gotch from the UK, and the owner of a Ugandan construction business, Allan Jamani. It opened in May after four years of hard – and sometimes frustrating – work, involving complex land ownership issues and logistical challenges in getting supplies to this remote location during the rainy seasons. Gotch had fallen in love with the area – and its gorillas - on a business trip to Uganda for his father's London-based travel company. He dreamt of creating a stylish lodge that would add another option to the handful of existing lodges around Buhoma; it's now a reality.
The main building – terracotta coloured with a thatched roof and a dark wood terrace – contains a bar made from reclaimed mahogany; the hotel claims it to be the longest in Uganda. When the ever-smiling barman David is pouring gin and tonics, there seems little reason to argue. Dinner is also served here, in an open-sided, wood-beamed room with a fireplace for chillier evenings.
Fanning out from the main building, the gardens are instantly soothing – lush green with dazzling orange marigolds and trumpet lilies, leading down to a bubbling river. And if one encounter with gorillas isn't enough, you might be granted a distant audience with a local group, Rushegura, which often appears on the hillside opposite (although you need binoculars to appreciate the moment).
The lodge is in south-western Uganda, in Buhoma – a centre for gorilla tracking. You can either arrive via a pricey plane journey from Entebbe, or more commonly, a 10-hour drive.
It's only a short distance from the lodge to the Park's headquarters where you'll receive your briefing on gorilla etiquette before heading off to track one of three habituated groups and hopefully experience an unforgettable hour in the company of your primate cousins. But Bwindi also boasts other interesting nature walks and cultural experiences that add a different perspective to a visit. Unesco lists the protected forest as "a key site for biodiversity on the continent" and "a superlative natural phenomenon".
The eight terracotta-coloured bandas (round chalets) with en-suite shower-rooms are more urban-contemporary than rustic safari-chic inside. However, they blend in sympathetically with their environment by use of wooden flooring, banana leaf ceilings and furniture made from reclaimed mahogany or sustainable pine and eucalyptus. The palette is one of soothing cream and dark wood, while fresh flowers add splashes of colour.
In deference to colonial history, the seven one-bedroom suites are named after British royalty, such as George, Albert and Victoria. They are spacious and secluded, with intricately-carved dark wood terraces that overlook the pretty gardens and hills beyond. Finally, the Presidential Suite, with its huge terrace, two en-suite bedrooms and a living area, is well-suited to families.
Mahogany Springs, Buhoma, Bwindi, Uganda, (020-8736 0713; mahoganysprings.com).
Double rooms start at US$403 (£268), room only.
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