Kigali, Rwanda

Photo: 1000 Hills Distillery

A Vodka made with distilled rainwater. A London Dry Gin filled with locally sourced botanicals. A Single Malt Whisky filtered through charcoal. Plus a Coffee Liqueur that combines cold-brewed coffee and a Light Spiced Rum. These are some of the liquors being made at East Africa’s first craft distillery.

1000 Hills Distillery sits on the outskirts of Kigali. Yes, the capital of Rwanda. Twenty-five years ago, during the Rwandan genocide, there were no distilleries, tourists, or even hope in the landlocked country. Much has changed since 1994. Life expectancy is rising. The poverty rate is steadily decreasing. The economy is booming. Tourism has greatly aided the latter.

None of this was on your mind when you arrived at the distillery, though. You were focused on the tasting. It started with a tour. You learned about the history of the five-year-old distillery, its eco-friendly commitments, and the local companies with which it partners. You were walked through the triple distillation process. Then you moved into the Distillery Cocktail Bar & Bistro for samples. Rwandan Tex-Mex tacos—featuring homemade tortillas and barracuda—and a rum cocktail followed.

Photo: Heaven Restaurant & Boutique Hotel

After lingering at the open-air restaurant with a second cocktail and the gorgeous hillside views, you’re ready for some pool time at your hotel. The Retreat is in Kiyovu, a quiet, residential neighborhood in Kigali. The small boutique hotel certainly lives up to its name. Its owner, an American, built the hotel out of frustration with the large international chains that filled the city. Its 11 rooms feel like they’re part of a private home. While the chic restaurant and the open-air gym are open to all, so that visitors can connect with local residents.

Kigali’s traffic is a nightmare, so the Retreat feels like a true oasis when you arrive. Banana and frangipani trees, plus birds-of-paradise, fill the garden around the hotel. White, solar-powered buildings are decorated with bamboo floors, Tanzanian teak furniture, and contemporary local art. Your room features a deadwood king bed, a handmade mattress, and super-soft sheets. There’s a huge, walk-in shower in the black-tiled bathroom. Your favorite spot is probably the cozy terrace out back, though.

Your first focus remains on the pool. The heated, saltwater pool is lined with white-cushioned sun loungers and umbrellas. You’re considering a late-afternoon pilates or Zumba class after a swim and a nap. Then a four-course dinner will be served on Fusion’s terrace, which is perched on a rock garden above the pool. You’ll begin the evening with another cocktail, of course.

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