Richard Hercock and family got on their bikes to experience the delights of a long weekend at Center Parcs.
Warning, Center Parcs can seriously improve your health – okay, it’s maybe not going to win any advertising awards but it really does mean what it says on the tin. I challenge anyone not to feel more refreshed, energised and glowing after a weekend away.
That was my verdict after spending a long weekend at Sherwood Forest – one of four sites in England, soon to be five in the next year or so – set deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside.
From the moment you wave farewell to your car on the Friday lunchtime and pick up your assigned rental bike for the weekend, I got the impression this was not going to be your usual mini break.
Center Parcs is celebrating 25 years in this country this year but there may be some who are not quite sure of the concept behind it. Well the venue centres around a micro-village, featuring restaurants, shops, spa salon, sports arena and the jewel in the crown, an amazing swimming centre.
To call it a swimming pool would do it a disservice. You have a gigantic lagoon-style pool, complete with wave machine, but then throw in a pirate ship for the children, numerous water-rapid slides and flumes and an outdoor heated pool which is like a guilty pleasure on a crisp Spring morning.
Then comes your accommodations. They range from basic one-bedroom apartments to luxury four-bedroom tree houses. My family stayed in an executive four-bedroom, four bathroom home – complete with maid service – on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest. It was tucked away from the foot traffic, meaning the children could play outside without fear of losing them in the crowd, although looking at the map I was concerned we would be isolated from park life. I didn’t need to worry. Okay it was a 10-minute “commute” on the bike to most places, but unlike the daily grind of going to work, this was enjoyable graft.
Whether it was getting the legs pumping on the pedals, or just a lazy meander through the wooded grounds, my weekend away helped me rediscover my childhood on a bike. Even my wife had to agree, despite her initial fear that the prhase “it’s just like riding a bike, you never forget” was totally fabricated.
Cycling became the norm over the three days, so much so that it was with some regret when I handed my two wheels back and had to trade back to my motorised four-wheel upgrade.
There’s an amazing list of activities for people of all ages. My father-in-law finally got to try out sailing on the lake, although he did somehow manage to fall in, while I tried out quad-biking on a wet Sunday morning. Complete with overalls and helmet, it was far cry from the image of lager louts shooting around narrow Greek streets on quad bikes of holidays from hell, and probably much safer. But it was exhilarating, and just a shame my back garden at home wasn’t a tad bigger so I could set up my own assault course.
If that all sounds too energetic, then there is a sports hall offering an array of sports from soccer coaching to roller skating, badminton to American pool.
My four-year-old Thomas loves play-acting with his Star Wars light-sabre, so he was like a duck to water when it came to swashbuckling action in the sword fencing class, before going on to test his Robin Hood skills on the archery range. And that’s not forgetting the fun he had on the children’s jetskis in the indoor pool. A babysitting service in the park means mums and dads can get some quality time too, while a kids centre offers time away from the parents.
We took this opportunity and headed for a three-hour spa session at Aqua Sana, Centre Parc’s amazing spa centre. Here you can dip in the pool, walk from a Turkish Hammam, to water relaxation rooms, back for a Greek Herbal Bath before plunging into the Japanese Salt Steam Bath. There are 15 different spa experiences and you can immerse yourself in relaxation, while soothing those aching calf muscles you discovered from all that cycling.
Now don’t get me wrong, while there is plenty to refresh the mind, body and spirit, Center Parcs isn’t found wanting when it comes to refreshing the stomach too. There are numerous restaurants on-site, even a Starbucks for that all-important latte, but we tried out Hucks – an American diner with fabulous steaks and jamjar cocktails – and Forresters, a country club-style occasion nestled near to the golf driving range.
Both were fabulous for the kids, with assigned children’s play areas meaning a more relaxed approach to dining which is so important to many families. And while I know staff service should be as standard, Center Parcs really does set the bar when it comes to customer care and satisfaction. Right from the first lady who greeted us at the gate on our first day, to the maids, pool lifeguards and store spa staff, nothing seemed too much trouble to make the experience memorable.
The only downside to our break was that it ended far too quickly. We hardly had time to power up the private sauna at the house, squeezed in a delightful breakfast barbecue courtesy of my father-in-law, while I didn’t even come close to discovering how long the activities list went on for.
That’s for next time, and with venues in Cumbria, Wiltshire and Suffolk to choose from, I can see I am going to have to get some serious pedal practice for my next weekend away.
Center Parcs spring breaks start from £379.
For more information or to make a booking call 08448 266 266 or visit www.centerparcs.co.uk