WITH all the talk of ‘staycations’ during the ongoing financial crisis, places like Center Parcs must be rubbing their hands together with glee.
Of course, one wonders whether the reality matches the hype as to whether people really are staying at home rather than venturing abroad.
But with exchange rates not looking too rosy either, one can hardly blame people for remaining in Blighty for their hard-earned breaks.
And if they are, it’s hard to imagine somewhere better than Center Parcs for offering a holiday experience that’s as special – and out of the ordinary – as one might be able to get without leaving these shores.
I recently visited Elvedon Forest, in Suffolk, for the first time. Normally we would have opted for the Sherwood Forest site, north of Nottingham, which is slightly closer to home.
Despite the extra distance it’s a reasonably easy place to get to, though travelling there on a Friday afternoon took a little longer than the return journey on a Monday morning.
Elvedon is certainly a nice location, and on the weekend that we visited, we had an extra reason to be grateful that we had opted to go east rather than north.
While the Midlands was experiencing the sort of turbulent weather that seems to have characterized the British summer so far, we were basking in more or less continuous sunshine.
Of course one of the good things about any Center Parcs site is that there is so much to do that you are not really dependant on the weather. However a bit of sunshine certainly helps makes a short break away a lot more pleasurable.
Over the years Center Parcs seems to have increased the range of accommodation on offer, and this time around we got to experience the delights of an Executive Lodge – one of the newer properties created as part of a £150m Center Parcs upgrade over the past three years.
These link-detached buildings are nicely spread out in a little cul-de-sac, reminiscent of what one imagines an upmarket Scandinavian suburb might look like.
The lodges offer a fair measure of privacy, and the interior accommodation is impressively designed, and spacious too. Another added bonus is a games room, complete with pool table, widescreen television, Sony Playstation, and more besides. One could almost hole oneself up for the duration of weekend in one of these lodges, which also have a cosy patio, complete with furniture, a gas barbecue, and even your own sauna.
In reality we didn’t spend that much time doing so, preferring to get out and about on our bicycles to explore the site. If you’ve never visited Center Parcs, a bicycle is essential for getting around, and we hired cycles on site to save the bother of bringing our own. Elvedon is not too hilly, making cycling to your chosen destination a breeze.
The youngsters in our group enjoyed one of the many outdoor activities on offer in the shape of junior quad biking, and after a little bit of trepidation, loved the experience. We also managed a couple of visits to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise where one can enjoy swimming, water slides, and the rapids whatever the weather.
To be honest the youngsters would have happily spent the majority of their time there, but we always seemed to be rushing to move on to something else.
One of our group enjoys a reputation as an expert barbecue chef so we made the most of the patio and barbecue, enjoying visits from the plentiful wildlife – the highlights of which were a hedgehog, and a Muntjac deer.
As far as dining out goes there’s an impressive array of options from a gastro pub to an Indian restaurant. In recent years Center Parcs has teamed up with some established high street chains, offering dining experiences that will be familiar to most, though it also continues to plough its own furrow with a few restaurants. We dined at ‘Cafe Rouge’ where we enjoyed a very pleasant meal and really felt like we were on holiday.
If the Subtropical Swimming Paradise is the kids’ idea of heaven, then the Aqua Sana has to be the adult equivalent – probably the closest thing you can get in this modern age to what the Roman baths must have been like. The three-hour sessions fly by remarkably quickly, and the mums and dads took turns to spend a little time away from the chaos of family life.
You can experience everything from a Turkish Hammam (very like the real thing according to our friend who had been to one) to a Japanese salt steam room. If complete relaxation is your thing you can even take a nap on one of the water beds.
All in all Center Parcs continues to provide a family break with a difference, and is continually evolving and moving forward.
To find out more about Center Parcs visit www.centerparcs.co.uk or call 08448 267 723.