Port Lympne (pronounced Port Limb) is a 600 acre safari park near the Kent coast – with a difference. Established in 1976 in the grounds of a Cape Dutch style manor house owned by the gambling tycoon John Aspinall, Port Lympne became an extension of his already existing private zoo, Howletts. Dedicated to the protection of endangered species of animal – particularly those from Africa – John Aspinall's park hosted many of the great and the good from film icons to aristocrats during his tenure as the owner.
After John died, the park passed on to his son Damian, who opened it to the public as a safari park where members of the public could get up close and personal with gorillas, giraffes, rhinos, zebras and more – as if they were right in the heart of the African bush. In recent years, the park has been building on its reputation and expanded in to the hotel business. It now offers a range of accommodation for guests young and old who want a full safari experience without leaving the country.
In 2015 Port Lympne opened ten tree houses, which despite being built in to a hill and not actually at the top of a tree, offer a taste of high-altitude living. But don’t expect any splinters, as each cabin has been slickly designed as a glass and steel box which houses two cosy bedrooms, a bathroom stocked with Bamford products, an open plan living room, kitchen and dining room that has Bluetooth speakers, a fully fitted range and comfy lounging area – along with a panoramic terrace that offers views of the park, sea, and on a clear day, the French coast.
Each cabin has been decked out by the interior designer Tara Bernard, who normally works with Four Seasons hotels, Marco Pierre White's restaurants and billionaire’s yachts. Every detail has been expertly planned and executed, from the top of the range electronics, to the down filled duvets and wildlife photography that adorns the walls. This feels like real luxury accommodation as part of a safari experience, rather than an afterthought to the park.
Upon arrival, guests are driven to a tented communal lodge in an open top Land Rover by khaki-clad rangers, where a welcome glass of champagne and open fire awaits. This space doubles up as the treehouse’s clubhouse. There are cocktails on offer, with marshmallows to toast on roaring fires, and blankets and telescopes on hand to spy on the animals as the sun goes down.
The real treat of staying in one of these treehouses however comes in the form of your own private golf buggy. Once the park shuts to the public guests are free to roam the estate, chauffeuring themselves on their own private safari between each animal's enclosure. Driving in the dark only to find a gorilla in your headlights is not something you can experience every day in the UK.
The golf buggies can also be used to explore the park’s other amenities, such as the animal-adorned bar and fine dining restaurant in Aspinall’s old house, a box-tree hedge maze and wood-fire pizza restaurant.
Any reservations about the nature of the animal’s welfare are quickly quashed – this October four gorillas raised in the park are being rehomed in Port Lympne's million acre reserve in the Congo, and the park focuses on both educating the public to the plight of each species, whilst also working tirelessly to reintroduce animals to the wild.
The love for the animals by the park’s staff is obvious. As guests explore the grassy fields, whether on a Segway or in an off-roader, expert guides expel their knowledge. Guests can arrange a variety of private safari and animal encounter experiences, allowing you to get up close and personal with the giraffes, tigers, gorillas and more.
And should you not have a head for heights, you can cosy up in one of the themed rooms in Aspinall’s manor, sleep in a log cabin next to the wolves, or even stay in Tiger Lodge, where you share a window with the animal’s enclosure – for the ultimate wake up call.
Although every child’s dream is waking up surrounded by African beasts, Port Lympne provides an ideal get away for adults too, with a range of adult-only activities and romantic accommodation perfect for a UK mini break. This winter a range of packages are on offer across the different types of accommodation, whether you want a B and B style night’s stay, or a private twilight safari and tented dinner for you and twenty friends. Log fires and hot chocolate abounds amongst the crisp autumn park – while the animals still come out to say hello.
Port Lympne in Kent is open 365 days of the year, with overnight stays starting from £99.00. The Treehouse Hotel starts from £375 per night and Christmas packages for a two night stay, include arrival drink, three course Christmas Eve dinner at Port Lympne Hotel, breakfast on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Christmas lunch on Christmas Day and a finger buffet on Christmas night. Available at Port Lympne Hotel and the Treehouse Hotel priced from £750 per room or per Treehouse, prices vary depending on number of people and accommodation.