A couple of weekends ago, we went to Center Parcs in Longleat and had a whale of a time.
Nestled in the heart of Longleat Forest, CenterParcs is a town in itself..... chalets, shops, sports centres, spas, swimming pools and even a land train. It was all so green and tranquil, it really was in the middle of a forest not just surrounded by a few trees as I'd imagined!!
When we pulled up to the Gate House, our Welcome Folder was ready and waiting for us with our keys. The very efficient staff gave us directions to the Bike Centre and after parking our car, off we trundled to pick up our bikes. You see, CenterParcs is a car-free zone and all and sundry either walk or bike around everywhere. Or in my case, go on a bike half the time and push it the rest of the time. I forgot to mention that Longleat CenterParcs is very hilly and if you're as unfit as me, then hills take a lot of effort to say the least.
We were staying in a brand spanking new and incredibly clean Woodland Lodge and wow was it lovely. It was very trendy and comfy and had the feel of a five star hotel about it. The bathroom and kitchen were very sleek and ultra-modern and we all loved the open-plan lounge with the log fire. Our bedroom even had an LCD TV on the wall and the new crisp white bedlinen, sumptuous duvet and new Sealy bed made sure that going to sleep was a cinch! One of the things I particularly liked was that our lodge wasn't overlooked by any others and it really did feel secluded.
The lodges and chalets come in varying price levels. I think the Woodland Lodges are somewhere in the middle. Some of the chalets even have hot tubs believe it or not as our children constantly told us.
There's an amazing amount of things you can do in CenterParcs
and just looking at the Activity Planner nearly exhausted me. If you were so inclined you could go on the golf simulator, do a cardio-workout , take up kayaking or raft-building, do archery or mountain biking, play tennis, go horse-riding or how about roller-skating, make jewellery or do T'ai Chi............ There really is an apparently endless list of things to do....even a bowling-alley and a boating lake for fishing. My lot went Tree Trekking and claim to have had the 'best time ever'! An Aerial Adventure Course ending in a 13 meter 'jump'! Me? I'm a scaredy-cat when it comes to heights and so I stayed in the lodge with the papers and had a couple of hours peace.
All facilities are pre-bookable so you can plan everything before you go and I really would advise you to book if you have something specific in mind as all the activities we watched or took part in, seemed to be very popular. I don't think you could ever run out of things to do here! There is a huge pool with a wave machine, a vast assortment of slides and flumes and ourdoor rapids and even a baby pool for the little ones. The lay-out of the Sub-Tropical Swiming Paradise is great and everywhere you look there is lush green foliage. Kids of all ages (even me and Mr. C) loved the pool there and we had an almighty job getting our lot out of it!
There is a bit of a down-side in that almost all the activities need to be paid for except for the swimming. But from what I could make of it, nothing is priced higher than it would be anywhere else. In other words, you certainly feel like you've had value for money and don't feel like you've been taken advantage of as can be the case in many 'touristy' places.
Maddie, who is 16, and I went for an indulgent 'Mother and Daughter' facial in the Aqua Sana Spa on the Saturday afternoon. I have had a few facials in my time but nothing quite as relaxing and sleep-inducing as this Elemis one. Afterwards my skin felt so soft, I couldn't stop touching it. Prices are similar to the 'outside world' surprisingly although if I'd bought all the products they recommended I would probably have needed to remortgage our house! The facial started with a foot massage which was really strange but surprisingly effective for getting you into 'the zone'!
The Aqua Sana was probably one of my highlights of the weekend. As well as offering all the usual beauty treatment plus some more exotic ones) you can spend a few hours using the various steam rooms and saunas etc for a relatively low price. It's a bit like being in a health farm, I suppose. I'm not sure now but I reckon that we wandered (in our lovely fluffy dressing gowns) in and out of about 10 or more rooms - The Aqua Meditation Room, Greek Herbal Bath, Indian Blossom Steam Room (my favourite!), the refreshing Ice Fountain and a lovely bubbly swimming pool too. It was so, so relaxing. I felt well and truly pampered and remarkably unstressed.
I couldn't believe how many restaurants there were in Longleat CenterParcs. The girls' favourite was Huckleberry's, an American restaurant where we ended up eating twice - once on the Saturday night and then again we did the Jazz Brunch on the Sunday too. Megan clocked the 'chocolate fountain' as soon as we went in and so there was no way she was going to eat anything sensible after that. Why would anyone want to eat proper food when they could decadently dip strawberries and marshmallows into hot melted chocolate? If you don't want American food in CenterParcs you can always go for Italian or even Indian. The food ranges from the fancy, sophisticated posh restaurant to the take-away on-site chippy! . There's so many that you'll probably feel spoilt for choice. Again, I'd heard that CenterParcs could be expensive but I didn't feel that the prices were any different to similar establishments in my own area, Cardiff.
Not everyone in CenterParcs eats out as let's not forget that we all have kitchens in our lodges. You can either take your own food with you or buy it in the on-site supermarket which sells all the same stuff as your local Tesco. As a family we've stayed in various holiday parks/sites (whatever you want to call them) but I've never seen such a well-stocked supermarket in any of them as the one in CenterParcs.
I have to say that l was also well impressed with the gift shops there. There were lots of different shops scattered around The Dome and in fact if my oldest daughter hadn't been with me in the one shop, whose name escapes me though I think it was called Natural Elements, I would have bought lots of really nice jewellery for Christmas for the girls. I always expect touristy gift-shops to be grossly over-priced and quite frankly naff. But there was some fab stuff there and lots of it cheaper than the high street. I ended up with a few candles but could easily have bought more!
All in all, the weekend was nothing short of fantastic. A CenterParcs break can be as relaxing or as exhausting as you want to make it. It really is one of those places where there's something for everyone. I can't recommend it highly enough for families with children of all ages or for that matter for mothers who want to have a bit of peace and quiet knowing that their kids are having what they call 'the best time ever'.
The parting shot from our mob....was 'When can we go back Mum?' Soon - hopefully.