Win a break at Port Lympne
PUBLISHED: 09:24 04 December 2015 | UPDATED: 09:24 04 December 2015
A real treat for animal lovers, an overnight stay at the luxurious Port Lympne Hotel includes access to the wildlife park.
Not so long ago The Aspinall Foundation, which runs both Howletts and Port Lympne wild animal parks in Kent, faced an ethical quandary.
The charity, the life’s work of John Aspinall and now led by his son Damian, has its heart in conservation, breeding programmes and ‘back to the wild’ releases but at the same time it needs to appeal to visitors to fund this important work.
By far the larger of the two parks – and it’s an important point that it steers clear of the term ‘zoo’ – Port Lympne Reserve offers a unique safari experience. The guided tours on big, bulky safari vehicles create a real feeling that you’re out in the wilds of Africa or Asia, while offering the most incredible view over the Romney Marsh to the English Channel.
With this safari theme in mind, a few years ago they decided to diversify and offer safari-style tent accommodation. It was so successful that Port Lympne now offers six different ways to enjoy a short break in this breathtaking setting.
Last year saw the conversion of the old mansion house into a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant. The building itself is a little over 100 years old, built for Sir Philip Sassoon, a local politician and social host who welcomed guests including Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill to the house in its day. When John Aspinall bought Port Lympne in 1973, after his vast animal collection outgrew Howletts, he used the mansion for parties.
With its beautiful formal gardens, quirky animal-themed decor and sweeping views of the south coast, it is an undeniably stunning venue for ‘a bit of a do.’
As my husband and I were shown around we were led to the Tent Room on the ground floor, which is still as it was painted in the 1920s and today features a table displaying a selection of wedding albums of couples who have married here.
We sneaked a peek at one of the grand function rooms, but sadly that day it was being used for a business conference.
But if the Tent Room and entrance hall with its black and white marble floor are impressive, the restaurant is even more elaborate. Located in a room that John Aspinall had painted by artist Martin Jordan, the murals covering every inch of wall depict a crumbling ruined building open to the sky and revealing scenes of wild animals from around the world.
Upstairs, our bedroom was one of six luxury rooms and suites, refurbished last year but maintaining as much as possible of the original character. We were in the Sir Philip Sassoon bridal suite, complete with chaise longue, four-poster bed, dining table, huge wall-mounted TV, coffee machine, dressing room and en-suite bathroom. As if we weren’t already feeling spoilt enough there was also a bottle of bubbly sitting in an ice bucket.
Back downstairs, the bar was particularly appealing, with comfy chairs, decor blending the old with the new and a roaring log fire that was calling us to fetch a book and settle until dinner. But that would have been a terrible waste as we were booked in for an afternoon of animal encounters and a VIP safari.
Available to book separately or as part of an accommodation package, we were treated to a private tour of the reserve in an open Land Rover, and saw everything from lions and cheetah to ostrich, rhino and giraffe.
We were even allowed to feed some of the park’s more friendly residents, the De Brazza’s monkeys, and met internet star Ambam the gorilla (the silverback famed for walking on his hind legs like a man).
Our appetites well earned, we returned to the hotel to prepare for dinner. A drink beforehand in the cosy bar lounge was heavenly, with the room to ourselves and the brief feeling that we were sitting in front of our own roaring log fire in our very own mansion. It was brilliantly stocked too – including a staggering 12 different brands of whisky and bourbon.
After a hard day of safari on the plains of Kent, the choice of locally sourced dishes on the menu was outstanding and even kept me, a pescatarian who doesn’t eat meat but does eat fish, very happy indeed.
As a starter, I indulged my love of seafood with pan-fried scallops, perfectly cooked and very well presented with blood orange, parsnip crisps and a delicious spiced parsnip purée.
Then I chose to continue the theme (we could see the sea from the hotel terrace after all) and went for the pan-fried fillet of salmon with mashed potato, mussels, samphire and tomato beurre blanc. Samphire is real favourite of mine and it worked so well with the fresh and tasty salmon.
My husband chose the Kentish blue cheese tart with broccoli, walnuts and a carrot purée to start with, which was melt-in-the-mouth, and moved on to a slow-roast belly of pork with an array of vegetables and, rather quirkily, some ‘bubble and squeak bon bons.’
Topped off with a local cheese board and chutney (me) and a red wine poached pear with raspberry sorbet (him), the meal was simply delicious.
A wonderful night’s sleep in the suite’s enormous four-poster bed followed, only to be fed yet again the next morning from an impressive breakfast menu. Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs has rarely tasted as good.
It would have been easy to while away the rest of the morning in our warm suite but after our showers we heard the unmistakable morning call of the gibbons in the distance and remembered we still had more to see.
We were loaned a golf buggy and enjoyed the peace and quiet of a morning ride around the park before many of the day visitors had arrived. The idea of allowing guests to stay overnight in a wild animal park has proven to be a good one. It’s a great way of generating an income to keep up the charity’s work and a definite success with the visitors who briefly feel as though this wonderful, wild place is theirs and theirs alone.
But it wouldn’t work without appealing to what customers want and commitment to high standards. The range of accommodation on offer now includes budget glamping pods, authentic safari tents, a holiday cottage with your own private chef and even some new luxurious treetop lodges.
The hotel is probably the least adventurous of the options on offer, but is perfect for those who want a little more comfort during their stay.
But in all honesty the accommodation itself, no matter how luxurious or adventurous, can’t help but take a back seat to the natural wonders that surround it. A VIP safari and an overnight stay of any kind at Port Lympne is simply the perfect short break for anyone who loves animals and this particular animal lover enjoyed it immensely.
Or why not try …
Livingstone Lodge: 10 luxury safari tents with their own verandas, located within the ‘African Experience’ game reserve with catering from the authentic African firepit restaurant.
Livingstone Cottage: a luxurious cottage for up to eight people, with a private chef to cook dinner and breakfast after your VIP safari.
Elephant Lodge: For longer than overnight stays, these are safari tents are for families wanting three, four or seven night stays.
Pinewood: Opened earlier this year, these back-to-basics glamping pods for four offer a more affordable place to stay overnight in the park.
Treehouse Hotel: Launched in September, these glamorous new self-catering suites are nestled in the tree canopy, offer excellent views from their balconies and include the exclusive use of a golf buggy.
Where: Port Lympne Reserve, Aldington Road, Hythe CT21 4PD
01303 802648, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.aspinallfoundation.org/short-breaks
What: Port Lympne Hotel is a boutique hotel with restaurant in the midst of a wild animal park with breathtaking views over the south coast.
How much: Prices at the Port Lympne Hotel are from £150 per room, per night and include breakfast and entry to the park. Or book a dinner, bed and breakfast package from £200 or the VIP package which we tried out – which included dinner, bed, breakfast, a bottle of bubbly and a VIP safari.
Kent Life has teamed up with The Port Lympne Hotel to offer one lucky reader a one-night stay for two people at the hotel, including a bottle of bubbly, a three-course dinner, full English breakfast, plus entrance to Port Lympne Reserve and Howletts Wild Animal Park.
To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:
The Port Lympne Hotel was originally a private country estate belonging to:
A: Sir Philip Sassoon
B: Winston Churchill
C: John Aspinall
Write your answer on a postcard or a piece of paper and send it to: Port Lympne Competition, Kent Life, Kent House, 81 Station Road, Ashford TN23 1PP. Alternatively, you can email in your answer to email@example.com, with Port Lympne Competition in the subject line. Don’t forget to include your name, address and a contact telephone number with every entry.
Closing date: 18 December 2015
The editor’s decision is final. Any entries received after the closing date will not be eligible for entry. Archant terms and conditions apply and the prize is subject to availability; stays must be taken by end of March 2016. Travel costs are not included in the prize.