A jewel in the sun on the shores of Lake Victoria

Monday April 5 2010

A view of the gardens and the lake as seen from the resort room balcony. Photo/MORGAN MBABAZI

A view of the gardens and the lake as seen from the resort room balcony. Photo/MORGAN MBABAZI 

By MICHAEL WAKABI

The scenery before me as I stand on the terrace of my of the rooms at the Lake Victoria Serena Resort is breathtaking.

The terraced rose gardens, the terracotta Tuscan villa and the open expanse of Lake Victoria— , it is quite easy to close my eyes and imagine I am somewhere in Tuscany on Italy’s Mediterranean coast.

Unlike Tuscany though, everything here is quintessentially Ugandan — the winding dirt road that brought us here, the simple dwellings dotting the surrounding landscape and the subtlerawness of the place.

The Lake Victoria Serena Resort is Serena’s second property in Uganda, which opened for business last September, joining the Kampala Serena.

Although it is definitely lower in classification than the latter, the general manager Rahim Azad does not give me a straight anwer about its star rating, simply describing it as good value for money.

The resort is however tastefully Serena from ambience to service.

The 124 guest rooms have none of that closed-in feeling one gets from staying in town hotels.

Each room here has a private balcony, offering stunning views of the lake and the life and colour of the verdant gardens.

A fair choice of restaurants and bars, a spa and gymnasium, will later this year be complemented by an 18-hole golf course and a marina, which are still under construction.

Designed by internationally acclaimed American consultancy Golfplan, the Lake Victoria Serena Championship Golf Course will sweep around the central channel of the marina and feature a number of natural lakes and fish ponds laid out according to Mr Azad, “some of the most panoramic greens in the world.”

The villas are converged around the main building, which houses the restaurants, an Olympic size swimming pool, the conference rooms and the gym and the Maisha health spa.

At only 15km from Kampala city at Kigo, the resort is just minutes away from the madding crowds and traffic of the city, yet the sense of isolation is almost complete.

While it does not let down on what one would normally expect of a Serena establishment, the other strengths of this property perhaps lie in its location, which is near the major economic centres — it is almost equidistant between Entebbe and Kampala — and yet far enough to provide one an escape from the urban crowd.

Teeming with bird life, the nearby Lweza hills are definitely a plus.

Until recently, the only institutional development here was the now dilapidated Kigo government prison at the end of a winding country road that breaks off the highway to Entebbe.

The Lake Victoria Serena Resort is not an all new development, however.

It all began 15 years ago when a Ugandan entrepreneur ventured out to build an escape for the then burgeoning middle class.

Aptly named Ranch on the Lake, it was briefly managed by South African hotel group Protea.

In 2005 it was acquired by the Pearl Development Group, an offshoot of civil contractor Cementers, who set out to redevelop it as the Citadel.

Along the way, and after doing civil works on the Kampala Serena, the two crafted a management agreement and the property was renamed the Lake Victoria Serena Resort.

The only reminder of the original name is the Citadel main restaurant.

In what will obviously be a first for the Ugandan market, just beyond the golf course, the developers plan to put up time-share condomuniums and villas that will be available for sale or rent.

Investors in the condos will have the option of keeping them for their exclusive use or allowing the Serena management to manage and rent them out for the time the owners are away.

Verdict: The resort is simply a jewel in the sun.