Center Parcs, at Longleat Forest in Wiltshire, offers a holiday village in the beautiful English countryside with self-contained villas in a range of sizes and types to cater for all kinds of groups.
Once you've gone through the American-style drive-thru check-in you can't help but get that holiday feeling as you're so detached from the rest of the world despite only being an hour or two drive from home. You can drive up to your lodge to unload baggage but then the vehicle must be returned to the car park to maintain the natural state of the forest.
A group of five of us, plus my sister's six-month-old baby, stayed in a lovely three-bedroom lodge with two bathrooms. It was basic but cosy and well equipped for all our needs, so we immediately felt completely at home. As the park is so large, with attractions at different ends, it is a good idea to hire bikes during your stay or bring your own to make getting around easier. We were able to get a toddler trolley for the baby, which she would happily sit in and doze off. There is also a free land train available.
With our bikes it was easy to travel from our lodge, which was situated at the very end of the park, to the range of restaurants and adequate supermarket.
Even though the park attracts families with young children and large groups, it had a great atmosphere and was relaxed, quiet and serene. The main, and probably best attraction at the park, is the free subtropical Swimming Paradise which, even in the winter months, is kept at a temperature of 30 degrees. We didn't hesitate to get our swim suits on and try out the different slides and pools surrounded by the tropical foliage and rocks one evening. The best would have to be the Rapid Rivers, which takes you on various twists and turns, through the glazed roof of the complex you can see the stars above. Despite the freezing temperatures outdoors, the warm water keeps the cold away. There is also a baby pool available for people with young families.
Another major plus was the Aqua Sana Spa. The grand spa offers various luxurious treatments and impressive facilities offering every kind of steam room, sauna, relaxation area and treatment you could ask for. The resort also offers a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities, sports, crafts and lessons, woodland walks and watersports.
Although there is plenty of activities to do and lots of restaurants to eat in, we were quite content to cook in our lodge on two of the nights we were there after busy days of cycling around. It was great to be able to relax in front of an open-fire in the evenings while in such serene surroundings.
Center Parcs is ideal for families, groups of friends and couples. Your stay can be made as busy or relaxing as you choose and it doesn't matter if you visit in the winter or the summer.
The park can be quite expensive but you can save money by cooking at home and using the park's free attractions which include the water-park and children's games areas. Accommodation for three nights for up to six people is available from around £450 but this varies for different dates and types of accommodation.
For more information visit www.centerparcs.co.uk Inderdeep Bains