Friday afternoon arrival
“Daddy, we’re here, back in the enchanted forest, come on – let’s get out and explore!” This high-pitched plea of unison came from our three young girls before we’d even collected the key to our lodge.
As we opened the door to our weekend home – the familiar shriek of approval as the girls battled for pole position on the stairs to claim rights for the ‘best’ bedroom. “I bagsy this one, no this one – or maybe this one has the best view” The truth is, of course, all the rooms have a wonderful outlook, nestled in the heart of the forest, amid nature herself. Nevertheless, bears and dolls were laid on pillows to mark their territory. Beds had been secured.
Our weekend had begun – and like all proper weekends, a warm up by the log burning fireplace while we dunked our custard creams in our tea. As we considered cosying down for a family movie night, the girls emerged from the playroom, swim costumes in hands and declared together “It’s time we went swimming” Hmmm, anyone would think they’ve been here before.
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is one of the main stars of the show at Center Parcs, with its positively balmy temperature and various water slides catering for all ages – including Tropical Cyclone, which had a grown man scared witless and his daughters laughing at his contorted features – wonderfully captured at the end on the ride by the in-house camera! It was so exhilarating, we went back for more….and more. “Again Daddy, again…” Mummy’s favourite is the Wild Water Rapids, flanked by tropical plants, it really feels as if you’ve discovered a natural paradise on some remote island. Saffron demonstrated true Scandinavian spirit by plunging under the ice pool – re-emerging with a brave grin and twinkling eyes – she’d earnt her Viking wings. After a couple of hours of splashing around and conquering all the thrilling slides and rides, we were all ravenous, so it was time for a late dinner at the nearby Café Rouge.
The addition of having our own hot tub just outside our lodge really felt like a treat. As we immersed ourselves in the hot water, sunshine gleamed through the pine trees, the scent of the forest all around. And then – as if on cue, an inquisitive Muntjac deer daintily padded her way towards us. As a family we keep revisiting that moment, blissfully relaxing with the intoxicating natural world all around us. This was to continue as our morning theme, as we changed into our outdoor wear and walked to our pre-booked activity ‘An Outing With Owls’ In fact, not only owls, some elegant hawks were in the mix too.
Our bird handler opened proceedings with an explanation of each bird and their individual characters – from friendly to feisty. With plenty of time to hold the owls – thick glove safely slipped on – the girls revelled in this close encounter, stroking the soft, white belly of the inquisitive and quite stunning barn owl. There was time at the end to capture our Outing With Owls with some family photos and we were told that if we ask the larger owl to show us his wings he may decide to show off! “Show us your wings” Teal exclaimed and with a little shuffle and wink of his eye, he obliged and spread out his enormous wingspan to the delight of our girls.
All this brain power afforded us a round of hot chocolate at the onsite Starbucks and a mix of lemon drizzle cake, chocolate dips on sticks and those delicious blueberry muffins which are a family favourite. That was soon burnt off, with an hour at one of the adventurous play parks – with plenty of crawling, climbing, balancing and swinging to satisfy the most fearless of children.
Our top tip if you have toddlers, is to bring the Nanny along – or whomever is your equivalent. After lunch, suitably worn out and the sunshine giving way to notorious English drizzle, the children were handed over to my mum – who’d had her own morning relaxation – indulging in the hot pool all to herself.
Whilst Saffron, Stella and Teal had an afternoon painting and laying out their collection of cones, leaves, nuts and bark we went off for our pre-booked time in the spa and our Dual Treatment. After 24 hours of being on the go, it was just the remedy for all the busyness of life and as we stepped into Aqua Sana, a tangible sense of tranquillity and unwinding greeted us. There were indoor and outdoor chillout areas and we secured one of the much-coveted round beds and cosied up under the blanket with a couple of magazines. Time flew – but we certainly felt pampered and no more so, than when our treatments commenced. The essential oils from extracted flowers lulled us into a blissful, dreamy disposition. I also experienced my first facial, which energised and uplifted my skin to a new level. We both returned to our cabin, feeling brand new and suitably pampered.
Curiously, all that hand to foot pampering works up an appetite, so back with all the family once more we set off into the night, for a feast at Bella Italia. Our hostess was a delight, providing the little ones with colouring pencils and booklets to keep them occupied. We all love Italian, so nothing was spared and we all ate like kings and the service really was exceptional.
Sunday morning, after the obligatory soak in the hot tub surrounded by the great outdoors, the girls skipped to the nearby Pancake House. This popular restaurant serves delicious sweet and savoury pancakes cooked in traditional Dutch style on a griddle with all sorts of decadent combinations on offer. Trying not to be tempted by the fancy stacks on display, Daddy fell on the first hurdle and ordered the spectacular triple tower with all the trimmings. The comfortable family booths and soft-play in the restaurant allowed for pre-breakfast diversion until our delicious pancakes arrived in all their splendour. A great spot for a leisurely, fun, family breakfast.
Miriam accompanied Saffron on another one of our chosen booked events; Nature Detectives. They were given a foraging bag and spent an hour exploring the forest, discovering more about this natural habitat and its abundant residents. Hannah, their guide, recounted several woodland stories and plenty of fascinating facts. Upon return, Saffron emptied her plunder all over the table. “Daddy, did you know, this cone has been eaten by a left-handed squirrel.
The sun returned Monday, which allowed for further outdoor exploring. A competitive family game of ‘Pooh’ sticks on the bridge across to the Adventure Golf, balancing along networks of rope and charging over beach and stream. We also stumbled upon the woodland discovery area – which was a little more off the beaten track – and the girls had it all to themselves. They made the little log cabin their school headquarters and spontaneously launched into a game of ‘teachers and students’ We sat back, with our take-out coffees and marvelled at the imagination of children.
You can’t leave Center Parcs without a final visit to the pool. Miriam and Moses (our one year old) went off to the toddler section, with its shallow warm pool and spectacular waterfalls, whilst we rode the waves on inflatable ducks and zoomed down those slides ‘one last time’!
Center Parcs is not your ordinary short break destination, it is brimming with endless activity, yet allows for restful escapism and recharge too, it has uniquely covered all bases. Whether it’s a calm retreat for an annual reboot or a daily fix for the adventure fanatic, it delivers on all levels. Underpinning all of this is the quite incredible service and spirit of the employees. They genuinely seem proud to work at Center Parcs – it’s a joy and not a chore. As we sadly departed, the mass of cleaners cycled towards their duties, all positively waving, smiling and chatting to one another.
By the time we got home, all of us agreed that we’d be hard pressed to find a comparable family escape that combined exhilaration, relaxation and above all simplicity.
[ Howell family: Colin (Daddy) Miriam (Mummy) Christine (Nanny – Colin’s mum) Saffron (7) Stella (5) Teal (3) and Moses (1) ]
Have you got a break booked at Center Parcs with your family and would love to tell us all about your stay? Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief description of you and your family and a photograph of you all together and we might be in touch!