For my two eldest sons, coming to Center Parcs was the realisation of a long-held dream. For much of their lives, they’ve listened enviously to glowing reports of their friends’ breaks at the popular holiday villages, with many of these kids now Center Parcs veterans who have been two, three or even more times (in fact, the father of my eldest son’s best friend has been a staggering 37 times, both pre- and after-kids). Clearly, the four Parcs dotted around the UK offer something special and possibly even addictive. We were all impatient to discover what.
A long weekend later and we feel, both as parents and kids, both exhausted and somehow restored. We spent a lot of quality time together as a family and were extremely active – even in freezing-cold January there was lots to do outside. The kids enjoyed quad-biking and pony-trekking/pony care, plus archery with me, and with their dad Laser Combat and a family football session culminating in a kids-versus-dads play-off. They also had swimming lessons and spent countless hours swimming and playing in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. In-between, we cycled through the forest to and from the various venues dotted about the 400 acres.
With all that to occupy us we didn’t spend much time in our accommodation, although our New style Woodland Lodge was perfectly welcoming. One of Center Parcs’ ‘new generation’ of lodges, it has bright modern décor and design motifs that bring the surrounding forest inside, including one wall covered by a photographic print of trees. The kids loved the wall-height blackboard in the dining area (great for drawing comedy pictures of Mum and Dad) and the picture-window with its views onto pine trees, wildlife (including rabbits, pheasants and red squirrels) and mountains in the background. Meanwhile, my husband and I appreciated the underfloor bathroom heating and the real fire in the living room, which made for a properly cosy space to flop in the evening.
And flop we did. With the kids exhausted from the activities and from the lashings of fresh air, they crashed out early each evening. We too were pleasantly worn out, both from our exertions and from our respective spa and pampering sessions. We were very impressed both by the facilities and the quality of the treatments at the Aqua Sana.
Quite unlike anything I’ve encountered elsewhere, this spa boasts an outdoor heated pool where you can swim unencumbered by kids, with views of the pine trees soaring up towards the sky, plus a number of intriguing heat and water experiences, including a Japanese Salt Steam Room, a Greek Herbal Bath, and a Balinese Multi Steam Bath scented with jasmine. My husband rated his back, neck and shoulder stress-release massage as one of the best he’s ever had, while my Madagascan Red Sea Island Ritual, involving full-body exfoliation using fruit seeds followed by a top-to-toe massage using a wooden implement, was a fabulously indulgent interlude that transported me to exotic climes for a hour or so.
For me, the spa is Center Parcs crowning achievement, allowing parents to truly escape from domestic routine and everyday stresses even in the context of a full-on family holiday. World of Spa sessions each last three hours, so you can either trade time with your partner or book your children in one of the kids’ clubs and go together. Or you could even get a babysitter and make an evening of it. Since the spa stays open until 9pm, you could come for a light meal and a glass of champagne, plus a night-time swim below the stars and perhaps even a dual treatment for couples…
Cycling home from the spa beneath a sky speckled by stars, I felt I’d had a mini-holiday within a holiday: it was the perfect antidote to a pleasantly active weekend that left me invigorated and ready for yet more fun with the kids. As someone who frequently returns from a family break in urgent need of a holiday, I’d thoroughly recommend Center Parcs on this basis alone.
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