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Watching brown bears and grey wolves from Pairi Daiza’s hobbit hole hideaway
The lumbering mass of a brown bear is at our window, pawing the ground in search of scraps. While admiring its gorgeous thick pelt of fur, those massive paws, claws and sharp teeth are a reminder why bears remain at the top of the food chain.
Now a grey wolf slinks past; long rangy legs beating a path through woodland while in the distance two other members of the pack spin around in a snarling skirmish.
It’s initially difficult not to recoil as we observe the larger than life animals from the panoramic window that dominates the living room of our overnight accommodation at Pairi Daiza animal park in the village of Brugelette.
After a day roaming around the various worlds of the zoological and botanical park, we’ve been invited to spend the night in a Full Moon Lodge for the ultimate immersive experience. Overlooking the 10,000m2 bear and wolf reserve, it’s a natural hideaway. Accessed from the park via a gate and rockery garden and terrace, the underground effect, stone-clad walls and enormous swinging round door evoke a hobbit hole.
It’s fittingly nature-themed; all stripped wood, stone floors, plaid cushions, fur throws and antler-sculpture decor. Both the bathroom and sauna boast port hole windows for animal spotting, while two double bedrooms continue the log-cabin look. The living room offers additional sleeping accommodation and a dining and kitchen area; a log fire completes the cocooning effect.
The 10 Full Moon Lodges are just one of the park’s accommodation options set in its latest world The Last Frontier. Opened to the public earlier this year, the wild west theme was inspired by the Canadian province of British Columbia. Pairi Daiza prides itself on the authenticity of its decor. Some 1,300 Canadian trees were planted in the new world and canoes and colourful totem poles were custom-built by the Kwakwaka'wakw native tribe.
While difficult to tear ourselves away from the window, it’s feeding time, so we rush up to the vantage point of the public observing area stretching above the lodges. We’re not the only ones on the move. The eight-strong pack of bears - capable of speeds of over 50kmh – are showing off their short-burst skill as their keeper starts throwing down hunks of meat to the amassed carnivores. Bears clearly dominate wolves in the ensuing feeding frenzy as the latter scrap among themselves for second pickings.
The squabbling continues as we return to our quarters below. Equipped with a smart home system, I had been advised at check-in to read the lodge’s instruction manual before running a bath, which doubles as a jacuzzi. So it is with a twinge embarrassment that I call reception to confess to an inability to operate the plug. A technician is dispatched, and within five minutes the bath is filling and a bear-spotting soak ensues.
Although room service is available if you cannot stand the idea of abandoning this cosy refuge, we have a dinner reservation at the Octopus restaurant in the nearby Paddling Bear Hotel. Echoing the North American theme, it maintains a maritime vibe with an open terrace - tempting clients with two log-fuelled grilling stations – adjacent to a water park containing a pair of tourist-friendly Steller sea lions.
A recommended post-dinner activity is a nocturnal wander around the eight-hectare world that remains accessible all night for resort guests. We stroll through the Indian zone, where from the terraces of the wooden native cabins, guests can look out over roaming fallow deer and bears. The suitably waning full moon is just about visible through the pine trees as we return to our lodge. Time for a final check on any animal activity – everyone appears to be sleeping – before we also turn in for the night to the sound of silence and not a howling peep from any of our four-legged friends.
There’s little time to linger in the morning. With the park opening to the public at 10.00, resort guests can benefit from crowd-free access at 9.00 and drop in at feeding sessions in the eight worlds. The breakfast buffet is accompanied by a visit from birds of prey for close-up photo opportunities and the chance to watch the sea lion pair perform a number of tricks in return for a fishy feast.
As with our arrival, luggage is taken care of by reception so that we can make the most of our time in the park. Despite the call of the wild, there’s more than a little reluctance to leave. If an overnight stay provides a comfortable two-day visit of the park, a second night would be perfect for making the most of the highly original and more than luxurious lodgings.
The resort accommodates up to 250 guests per night. Rates per person include a two-day pass to the park, breakfast, dinner, free drinks in your room, parking, welcome gift, night access (24hrs) to The Last Frontier, exclusive feeding sessions with bears, wolves and Steller sea lions.
Prices start from:
- €180 per person per night for a double room in The Paddling Bear hotel
- €130 per person per night for a family room in The Paddling Bear hotel
- €133 per person per night for a Native House (maximum capacity seven people)
- €150 per person per night for a Full Moon Lodge (maximum capacity seven people)