One of the first tented lodges along the Nile River in Uganda, the Nile Safari Lodge was founded in 1993 by Zahid Alam. Opened under the name Geo Lodges it was designed to be a place of natural beauty, where the presence of guests would have little or no impact upon the thriving wildlife of this legendary area. It was a worthwhile legacy, so in 2017 when the camp had begun to succumb to the marathon of time the family-owned company NOVAM Ltd took over the premises. Their aim was to uphold the legacy, restore the lodge to its former glory and add some tailored appeal for the discerning modern-day traveller.
We spoke with Nathalie Van Pée of Nile Safari Lodge regarding what the lodge stands for and why this legacy is worth maintaining. She explains, “Having grown up in Uganda and having lived here for over twenty years, we want to both share the beauty of the country and conserve it for future generations.”
According to Nathalie, once you understand that the thriving abundance of life in this area is nevertheless reliant on a fragile eco-system, wanting to protect it becomes second nature. And, sharing the experiences that can be had here with international visitors is the surest way to inspire people from across the globe to do the same.
“Enjoying the beauty of nature has never been academic,” she points out, “People need to make the journey and see what this world is like. They need to experience it with all of their senses and allow themselves to be changed by it. This is the truth of travelling to Africa, you do not leave the same person as you arrived.”
There are thirty locally employed, highly trained staff members at the Nile Safari Lodge which is located at the limit of the national park and right on the riverbank. But what is truly unique about the location is that the lodge is elevated from the mighty Nile River and this offers guests an uninterrupted view of the wildlife that congregates upon its shores, drawn in by the life-giving waters.
There are eight bandas in total. These include six standard bandas, a Family banda that includes a very popular private child-friendly nine-person pool and one exclusive Honeymoon banda which comes with a private plunge pool and an outside star bed. According to Nathalie, with little or no light pollution in the area, the available opportunities for night-time gazing at the cosmos are quite spectacular.
The lodge is built using eucalyptus poles and grass thatch as the dominant materials. Stilts have been used to deal with slopes and these have created spectacular views from the various cantilevering decks. Meanwhile, the steep geometry of the roofs allows the impressive structures to sink organically into the surrounding trees as if they had sprouted from the branches themselves.
With a unique selection of Rampel designed furniture, the bandas are a combination of comfort and simplicity with a big dose of luxury. The interiors offer the calming smell of thatching and eucalyptus, along with providing an exclusive style and ambiance that immerses the guest into the spirit of the location.
“This is important to us,” Nathalie explains, “We wanted an eco-lodge that would blend seamlessly with nature, hence the architectural design of the lodges that has allowed us to provide spacious accommodation for our guests while keeping them in touch with the ever-inspiring Nile.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF SPACE
While often understated, a sure way to determine the standard of luxury at any accommodation is the state of the ablutions. In the same way that a restaurant can be immediately judged on the state of its kitchen, so too can a resort or lodge be lauded or condemned by the state of their guest bathrooms. Bluntly, the kings of the Nile would feel quite at home here.
Imagine sinking into a tub in one of these spacious rooms, soaking the activities of the day out of your muscles while watching the steam dance across the thatching. Or, languidly peering out the window at the Nile and imagining yourself drifting lazily upon those currents, while all the creatures in the grass and leaves surrounding you buzz and sing and chirrup just for you.
The clever use of space in the sleeping areas and the bathing areas has created another aspect which sometimes goes unappreciated. Uncluttered living space. Nothing feels as luxurious as having a lot of uninterrupted room to move around in; be it to slow dance to some romantic music with a lover after sunset, or to chase your children around before tickling them to tears. Africa is all about dancing and laughter after all.
While there is no denying that the lodge is certainly an impressive sight providing the most breathtaking and Instagram worthy views, the team understand that the real strength of hospitality comes from the attention paid to the smallest details of guest satisfaction.
“Understanding that many of our guests will have certain expectations,” Nathalie explains, “We make sure to keep lodge and suite cleanliness above the usual standard one would expect. With this in mind we implement a daily procedure sheet designed to effectively train our employees and ensure they always have the best resources and equipment to maintain the highest standard of cleanliness.”
Relationship building is also a key aspect for them, and Nathalie reveals that to build these relationships they focus on exceptional communication. As mentioned, many of their clients come from faraway lands and different time zones.
“To exceed the expectation of our guests and ensure their comfort during their stay,” she says, “We make sure that we are present at the lodge and are open to guest enquiries or complaints. It makes it easy to address any problem and find a solution.“
Their above-and-beyond approach to customer focus has won the Nile Safari Lodge a handful of Trip Advisor awards in the past as well as featuring in 1000 places to go before you die:
Since NOVAM took control of the lodge in 2017, it has been fully renovated to its current status and 2019 has been a new start for them.
“We believe that each year is an opportunity to offer something new, exciting and worthwhile for the guests,” Nathalie says, “This includes not only things pertaining to guest comfort and the general luxury of the lodge but also making sure we are doing everything in our power to protect this remarkable and vibrant area we’re lucky to find ourselves.”
As a National Park, the area is protected. However, the modern sensitivity of global travellers to their own impact on the environment is growing and this is something that NOVAM plans to encourage.
“This is without a doubt one of the most mesmerising and humbling places of beauty you will ever find,” she says, “It’s beauty never lessens whether it’s your first night here or your twentieth year and guests always leave with a great sensibility to their place in this eco-environment.”
“Seize the opportunity to escape the ordinary,” she adds.