I knew how much of an impact our recent trip to Center Parcs had made when this past Saturday night, I listened to the boyf waxing lyrical about it, telling a crowd of people at our friends house warming (we call them ‘The Power Couple’ – massive gaff, no kids, and big jobs), how everyone should go, and describing it in great, nostalgic detail. What’s even funnier though, is aside from having a reverent audience, yet again, there were a few people who immediately ‘admitted’ that they had been there, with others also telling us that they hear it’s ‘the place to go’.
And actually, it is. Center Parcs is off the hook!
Trust me, that’s saying a lot because I’m an exotic holiday/weekend abroad, or pounding the shops in the US kinda girl and when I explained to the boyf that we were going on a press trip to Center Parcs, he was distinctly unimpressed as he thought we were going to be trapped somewhere with lurid decor and has-been celebs.
Center Parcs is understated cool. It’s been gradually undergoing a mega re-design, which has seen Tara Bernerd, founder of architecture and design consultancy, Target Living (clients include Marco Pierre White and Selfridges), transform their lodges to reflect a contemporary atmosphere to lure in the likes of BG readers – people who are discerning about what they buy and where they go with their kids, that are highly likely to find the idea of a ‘holiday camp’ scary.
We stayed in a spacious 3-bedroom Woodland Lodge, which has a boutique hotel yet cosy feel inside. When you arrive, you drive along winding woodland roads, park outside, offload your baggage, and then the car has to be abandoned to the car park so you can use your legs or a bike for your stay. I admit I felt nervous about all the walking (good work on the ‘ole thighs and calves) but took to it like a duck to water.
We hired bikes and we highly recommend getting the ones with the carriage on the back – the bambino laughed the whole way through the first journey! Baby Nia was a little too young for bikes so I was spared having to cycle…tee hee…
The outdoors is brought indoors so the walls of the sitting room have retro landscape images of the woodland which are in stark contrast with the contemporary white and metallic mix of the kitchen and dining area. Flat screen telly in the sitting room and master bedroom, DVD player, dishwasher and mod cons in the kitchen, they really do try to ensure that you settle into woodland life.
We slept like logs and I’ll be honest and say that having a major nightlife will not be high on your agenda because you’ll be so worn out and relaxed from the walking and activities, that you’ll barely be able to keep your eyes open by 10pm! You can however get babysitters if you are venturing out or take someone with you who doesn’t mind staying in like a grandma.
We were thrown a bit by the whole organised activity thing and we have never been so scheduled as we were for those few days! We operate on a combination of Black People Time and Irish Time (relaxed and a running late), so vigourous diary management was needed which did cause a barney on one of the days… People who are afraid of routine may baulk at the planning but we do recommend booking some activities in advance, especially anything for kids because they can get booked up. They send a catalogue and form plus you can book online or at various points dotted around the center.
We thought doing activities may be a bit contrived but it was far from it. We did pitch and putt, table tennis, and a couple of others and we were a bit in awe of how much we could do and plan to do more next time. We feel like we barely touched 10% of what we could do.
The kids went to the Bumblebees CrÃ¨che and thoroughly enjoyed themselves plus they also did messy play and had a brilliant time at the pool. There’s more to do for kids during the week and plenty to keep under three’s occupied including the playgrounds dotted around the grounds. Activities get even better when they’re over three too so much to look forward to.
I personally loved the World of Spa and the guys liked it so much, they tried to trick us out of our spa passes, telling us we wouldn’t like it. I spent over two hours, nipping in and out of steam and sauna rooms that have been inspired by treatments from around the globe. There’s an outdoor pool too plus there are beds dotted around the place to lie down on and meditation rooms. Totally tranquil, totally cool!
There’s so much to do that you won’t go short on filling up time but we enjoyed walking, cycling, singing and playing chasing, looking for pine cones, and…getting lost. Bring some breadcrumbs with you – the place is huge! Ah no, it’s very well sign posted plus you can get the ground train.
If you’re normally tweeting, texting, emailing, be careful as signal is patchy which may be part of the abandoning the mania of day-to-day life, and for those that take your laptops, there’s wireless in designated areas. Oh and there’s Starbucks and other cafes, plus restaurants and bars. I had been warned before we went that the restaurants weren’t ‘great’ and I would say they’re OK, but we only ate out on one of the nights. The supermarket is fabulous, with a big emphasis on locally sourced food and organic. However, take as much as you can from home as everything’s at a premium. We did enjoy the grocery pack though that we got as part of our trip that had lots of yummy essentials.
There are people from all walks of life there, from families, to retired people, to singletons, to our next door neighbours who were hosting their own Come Dine With Me competition, and it was like a whole other world as we all nodded and smiled at each other.
I could wax lyrical about Center Parcs but I have to shut up at some point and say I highly recommend it (as if you hadn’t guessed) and we will be going each year. Jaysus, we’re converts! Trust me, you will be too!
Find out more or book your trip at Center Parcs or call the reservation line on 08705 200 300. There are five villages around the country – we stayed at Longleat in Wiltshire. Prices start from Â£209 – activities etc are extra. We were tipped off by a few peeps that you can also snaffle some great last minute deals so keep an eye on the website! There’s different types of lodge to suit all budgets.
PS – I’ve had direct messages on Twitter, emails, private messages on Facebook from people tentatively creeping out of the closet about their love of or planned trips to Center Parcs – hilarious!