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The Height of Luxury Among Rhinos at UK’s Top Safari Experience
Port Lympne treehouse

We get a wild taste of the high life, staying at a luxury treehouse overlooking 26 glorious miles of green, savannah-like scenery, with two rhinos barrelling around beneath us, like oversized puppies.

It’s difficult to believe we’re not on an exotic, Kenyan safari and are in fact, just 90 minutes from London at Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve in Kent. 

This extraordinary park is set within 600 acres of English countryside, which is home to more than 900 animals and over 75 species, and its prime purpose is to help The Aspinall Foundation’s successful efforts to save and repopulate endangered species. 

port lympne mansion

On arrival, we check in at its grand, Grade II listed mansion, which was built for Sir Philip Sassoon and has welcomed everybody from Winston Churchill to Charlie Chaplin. 

The Cape Dutch style mansion sits within 15 acres of immaculate, landscaped gardens, complete with hippo water features. Inside, we discover a gloriously eccentric and opulent warren of spaces, with hand-painted murals of dramatic wildlife scenes and a made-for-Instagram pink, flower-festooned Moroccan Courtyard.

port lympne buggy

Then we head to the bush-style lodge, where khaki-clad staff give us the keys to our golf buggy - if we think our kids’ excitement (and let’s be honest, our own) can't get any higher, the buggy raises it several notches. All Treehouse guests have their own buggy to explore the park, which is particularly magical in the evening, when you have it and the animals to yourselves.

We drive past primates, wolves and rhinos, through a grand security gate into the Treehouse Hotel area. Voted “Best Tourism Experience” by Tourism South East, these ten, glass-fronted apartments sit within the trees at the top of steps, which snake through the jungly scenery, above the rhino enclosure. 

port lympne treehouse hotel

It already feels like an adventure as we make our way to the top, where we arrive on our wrap-around balcony and get the first, jaw-dropping sight of our view across the grassy plains, to the English Channel and beyond.

Inside, we find a sleek, fully equipped kitchen in an open plan lounge-diner, with floor-to-ceiling, panoramic windows and doors to the terrace. Through sliding, Japanese-style glass doors, there are two elegant bedrooms (a double and twin) and spacious bathroom. 

port lympne treehouse

Tara Bernerd is behind the interior, so its sophisticated aesthetic reflects its setting, with olive greens, crisp whites and earthy tones. There are Scandi-style lounge chairs, earthy concrete lampshades and tawny fabric wallpaper. Naturally, all the luxury touch points are here - the fluffy white dressing gowns and slippers (which my three-year-old immediately dons) Nespresso machine, and luxury (sustainable) Bamford toiletries.

port lympne lion

This is just one of the many extraordinary accommodation options, which also includes the Lion Lodge - bathing in luxury with a lion’s nose pressed against the window - Rhino Lodge, Bear Lodge, Giraffe Lodge, Wolf Lodge, Hog Deer Creek, Leopard Creek and an assortment of futuristic bubbles, forest hideaways and glamping experiences.

port lympne clubhouse

Eventually, we drag ourselves away and head to the Treehouse Clubhouse (above), with internal and external fire pits, where we enjoy our welcome Proseccos, while our children are given bags of marshmallows to toast on the firepit outside, under the watchful eyes of the rhinos. It is pure magic. 

We jump back into the buggy and zip off for dinner, while the children squeal at the pleasingly bumpy ride and wave at the wolves, slumbering together like cuddly huskies.

Dinner is in the beautifully restored Garden Room, originally the stable yard of Sir Philip Sassoon's country estate. True to the name, its black or exposed brick walls are festooned with leafy foliage, while its glass roof is studded with oversized chandeliers. 

port lympne garden room

It’s opulent, but cosy and welcoming and our children happily plonk themselves among the perfectly chopped, tapestry cushions.

All of the food is sustainably sourced from artisinal suppliers, with produce picked from the Port Lympne gardens. It is high quality, beautifully plated dining, with our stand out dish being a perfect sea bream fillet (with skin like pork crackling and tender, flaky flesh) perched atop celeriac puree and cavolo nero and served with buttery, brown crab mashed potato, which I could happily eat by the bucket, with a spade. You can read our full review of the meal here

Afterwards, as the sun plunges towards the horizon, we enjoy an exclusive, after-hours adventure around the park in our buggy. The serenity is only broken by the squealing of monkeys - the park’s and our own pair. 

port lympne lion

And we are lucky enough to catch lionness Oudrika gracefully strolling a few metres from our faces, and in the distance a glimpse of her eight-week old cubs, the newest additions to the Port Lympne family. 

The buggies have interactive maps, which guide us through extraordinary encounters with a gaggle of magnificent creatures, from silverback gorillas and orangutans to leopards and lemurs.

port lympne gorilla

The following morning, all four of us leap out of our beds and are magnetically drawn to the terrace, to drink in the morning sun as it creeps across the countryside. 

Then it's back to The Garden Room for breakfast, which is a triumph of runny orange yolks and crispy rashers. Read more on that, here.

We have one last buggy adventure around the park, before grudgingly returning the keys and exploring further on foot. A particular highlight for our children is our walk through the wallaby enclosure, where beautiful, red-necked wallabies leap about alongside us, bouncing in front of my delighted son and around the corner for a nap beneath the whispering leaves of a tree. Read more about the park’s animals here.

port lympne giraffe

There are a range of extraordinary animal encounters which can be booked at the park, from hand-feeding giraffes - read our review here - to feeding Cheetahs with grab sticks, leopards or lions with bbq tongs or giving rhinos a good scratch, up close. 

We head off to scatter feed two, magnificent Spectacled Bears, Oberon and Rina. This is the only bear species in South America - and the inspiration for everybody’s favourite Peruvian bear, Paddington. And there are high hopes the pair will make cubs together. 

port lympne bears

The jolly ranger fields my daughter’s relentless bear questions with fascinating detail - they’re the second most vegetarian bear species after pandas; their only predators are humans and their long front legs make them excellent climbers.

The handsome, hungry bears are patient with my son’s terrible throwing skills, as we catapult giant Kongs of mealworms and tubes of sweet potato and carrot into their enclosure.

The experience also gives us the opportunity to explore the gated South America area on foot, which is normally only experienced in one of their safari trucks. Vicuña flutter their long lashes and gracefully leap alongside us, while giant Capybara rodents give each other piggy-backs across their watering hole. 

port lympne safari

We close the experience with a 90-minute Ranger Safari (from £30), which is included with the Treehouse booking and takes us in a wonderfully bumpy, camouflaged truck through the South American, Asian and African experiences. 

It’s the closest you can get to a Kenyan safari without jumping on a plane, as exotic animals run wild and free around us and our guide provides informative, entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking information about the animals and their reasons for being at the heart of a conservation drive.

port lympne rhino

We pass too many wonderful animals to name. Giraffes, zebras, water buffalo, black rhinos, wolves, ostrich and even Przewalski’s horses - the breed so wild that even Ghengis Khan couldn’t tame them. As our ranger tells us, this entire species of horse was brought back from the brink of extinction, when just NINE were found in a private collection after it was thought the last one in the world had died. Now, there are over 1,500 in the world, and Port Lympne has sent its own horses to China to help with the repopulation efforts.

As our unforgettable trip draws to a close, it’s Port Lympne’s - or, more specifically, The Aspinall Foundation’s - continued, successful efforts to save and repopulate species that sets it apart from safari parks or zoos. Visitors of all ages leave with renewed love for the animals and a sense of satisfaction from being allowed to share their home, knowing that our money has gone towards a great cause.

From the safari through to the overnight stays and the beautiful mansion house at the centre of it all, it’s clear that although we have felt like the kings of this jungle, it's the animals that come first.

Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve, Aldington Rd, Lympne, Hythe CT21 4LR. Treehouse hotel prices from £459. All stays include Treehouse stay for up to 4 people, golf buggy during your stay, entrance to Port Lympne and its sister park, Howletts Wild Animal Park, a safari experience and free onsite parking

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