Ever wondered what it would be like to spend the night at London Zoo? Think sleeping in a Gujarati-inspired wooden hut next door to a pride of Asiatic lions, the freedom to roam the zoo at night after it is officially closed, and feeding pygmy hippos their supper during a private tour.
Gir Lion Lodge is located inside London Zoo’s Land of the Lions exhibition, where Asiatic lions Bhanu, Heidi, Indi and Rubi spend their time sleeping amongst the white flowering osmanthus shrubs. There are other residents too: peafowl partridges with luminescent green plumage plod around their pens emitting ear-shattering shrills, while griffon vultures lurk high in the trees, spreading their Dalmatian-spotted wings. Penguin Beach, Tiger Territory and Gorilla Kingdom are just a few minutes’ walk away.
From a practical perspective, one of the joys of London Zoo is its central location in Regent’s Park. It’s a 20-minute walk to the nearest tube, which is Camden Town, but there is a bus stop just outside the main entrance too.
Style & character
The tinny Gujarati music and fluorescent burst of pink, yellow and orange paper flowers that adorn the entrance gate for the Land of the Lions, where the Gir Lion Lodge is located, sets the electrifying, festival-like tone. The space is modelled on an Indian town — complete with Hindu temple ruins that look like something from an Indiana Jones set, a staged bicycle repair shop vivaciously decorated with a forest-scene mural, and a market square glittering with exotic fruit stands and jutti slipper stalls.
The attention to detail is fabulous — think ‘tint your mane’ shampoo bottles in the mock barber shop, hand-painted lions on the tuk tuks dotted around, and an exhibit of a ‘typical’ town dweller’s house complete with vintage tins of darjeeling tea and ‘Lions Favourites’ spices on the kitchen dresser.
The sounds here are equally adrenalising — including the silvery, high-pitched hoot of the langur monkeys, and the roars of the resident Asiatic lions.
Service & facilities
The swimming pool is strictly penguins only. The outdoor gym is reserved for the gorillas. And the closest you’ll get to a spa is the steamy rainforest building where two-toed sloths cling to branches and white-moustached tamarin monkeys stick out their tongues.
A stay at The Gir Lion Lodge does, however, include tours at sunset, by torchlit and early morning, all of which take place out of hours, when the zoo is closed. You may find yourself handling live grasshoppers to feed the aardvarks, watching the lions feast on a breakfast of raw chicken wings, or sunbathing cross-legged with the lemurs in the crisp early morning sun long before the crowds arrive.
The lodge is composed of nine wooden huts, all of which are brightly painted in colours like burnt orange, lagoon green and azure blue. They have a traditional Gujarati feel, thanks to their frilly roof fascias and ornamental windows with tapered arches.
Inside, there are nods to theme — my ‘songbird’ hut had a mural of three blue birds, wings flecked with red, yellow and white, on one wall. The swan towel art on the bed seemed, for once, appropriate, given the zoo context. Overall though, the huts are simple, with just about enough space for a bed, sofa, bedside table, and three coat hangers tacked to the wall. The narrow en-suite features shower, basin and lavatory, complete with aloe vera-enhanced toiletries. No Wi-Fi.
Make good use of your private veranda and kettle in the evenings — we sipped on our bedtime hot chocolate listening to the caw of the flamingos and the flutter of bats overhead.
Food & drink
A stay includes a buffet dinner in the Terrace Restaurant to a Bollywood soundtrack. No views of the animals unfortunately but the food is of a high quality: we feasted on juicy pot-roasted chicken provençal with a very sprightly, salty salsa verdi, and firm, tender, slow-roasted leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic. Dessert was a sacchariferous Eton Mess with plump, perfectly ripened strawberries. There was plenty of good-quality sauvignon blanc and red Spanish tarabilla wine available too.
Breakfast is also served in the Terrace and features a cooked buffet with the likes of scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, hash browns and baked beans. There is a continental corner with fruit, cereals and pastries too.
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