If you’ve ever wanted to go on a safari but can’t spare the time/finances on a trip to the likes of Kenya or Namibia, then this is for you.
Established in 1976 as an animal conservation space, founder John Aspinall took over this former party mansion near Ashford in Kent (which used to host the likes of Winston Churchill, Wallis Simpson and Charlie Chaplin back in its heyday), to make it his own.
And, eight years ago, the safari park started offering accommodation to its visitors from glamping to more traditional luxury accommodation.
Just don’t call Port Lympne Reserve a zoo. The staff are keen to keep it as a breeding park as each animal has a reason for being there – with the hope of being let out in the wild again. Through programmes such as these, species like the European Bison (which were endangered back in the 1920s) are now in the wild in droves.
So, the question really is, why wouldn’t you want to go somewhere ethical, educational and that houses giraffes, lions, rhinos, antelopes and the like?
With options including various lodges, pinewood pods, cottages and a treehouse hotel, every kind of taste and comfort are catered to.
We stayed in Hog Deer Creek in a luxury shepherd’s hut which overlooked extremely friendly – and curious – hog deer. Ideal for couples or small families (seeing as there are two small single bunks on top of the master bed), the hut is as chic as it is cosy.
Complete with a wood burning stove inside and outside on the patio (the perfect spot for waterhole watching), it’s the perfect setting for a relaxing weekend – even after all the animal excitement.
In fact, we wouldn’t blame you if you’re tempted for an early night watching Netflix after a day of driving your golf buggy around the 600-acre reserve.
For dinner, we drove our golf buggy to Italian restaurant Babydoll’s for some wood fired pizza, fried courgette fritters and rosemary flatbread. Based within a horticultural haven, as well as sparkly-lit courtyard, the decor, as well as the atmosphere, is as enchanting as it is delicious and hearty. But, make sure the designated driver doesn’t get too distracted by the wine list as you’ll have an thrilling drive home in the dark soundtracked by the howling of wolves and roaring of lions.
And, in the morning, make your way to the Port Lympne mansion (which is also a stunning wedding venue) for a hearty breakfast with adorable names like ‘the giraffe’ for vegetarians and ‘the butler’ for a full English.
We defy you to meet a non chilled-out park ranger. With the dress code du jour pretty much always a cap and shorts for the staff, the vibe of the entire place is incredibly relaxed. So, grab your country gear, trainers and boots and enjoy.
After enjoying a safari tour of the open park (complete with free-running rhinos, antelope, zebras, giraffes etc) and an experience such as feeding the giraffes, head up to the tree clubhouse for telescopic views across the Kent coastline followed by roasting marshmallows on the open fire. Or, if you’re staying in the pinewood pods, enjoy lying in the hammock while watching the pack of wolves play. And, for those who fancy a tipple in the mansion, you can even fit in a game of pool beforehand.
You can get a train to Ashford from St Pancras which takes 35 mins. Then it is a £25 taxi which takes 20 mins to Port Lympne.
Or enjoy the rolling countryside views and the very convenient motorway drive from London (it’ll take you around 1.5 hours) in style. We rented a BMW X6 which not only made us feel countryside appropriate but chic as hell too – it is a luxury 4 Wheel drive car, after all.
An overnight stay in Hog Deer Creek at Port Lympne Reserve start from £249 which sleeps four (two adults and two children.) This also includes unlimited entry to Port Lympne and Howletts Wild Animal Park during your stay, with a free use of buggy for duration of stay. aspinallfoundation.org/port-lympne