Check in, chill out at Center Parcs

Andy Russell goes for relaxation rather than recreation and enjoys just chilling out at Center Parcs at Elveden Forest.

Center Parcs must be the ultimate guilt trip – that 'me time' where you do just what you want, where you want, when you want.

For some guests that might mean cramming in as many activities, sports and exercise classes as possible but if your everyday life is hectic it's a chance to chill away from the hustle and bustle and chore-chasing of homelife.

We've done the former on previous visits, chasing our tails to follow an itinerary that ran with almost military precision with activity after activity broken only by meal breaks… if that's what you like great, but the danger is you can arrive home needing another break to get over it!

So this time when we made the short trip just over the border into Suffolk to Center Parcs's Elveden Forest holiday village it was for relaxation rather than recreation.

For me the holiday starts once I've unloaded the car at the villa and returned it to the car park – getting around the village means walking or cycling (you can bring your own or hire them from �22 for adults and �12 for children per midweek or weekend stay) and that's part of the fun… and leaves me questioning why I don't use my bike more at home.

And we soon felt quite at home in our new-style Woodland Lodge – Center Parcs has embarked on its most ambitious change project ever and completely restyled its accommodation – and this mid-range cosy villa has been designed exclusively by Tara Bernerd from respected London design consultancy Target Living. The interior is clean and contemporary with oak-style flooring and khaki and orange colour scheme with modern furnishings. The only problem we found was that one bathroom between six people needed careful planning to get everyone in and out.

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If you want to cook, the compact kitchen area is fully fitted and because the living accommodation is open plan you don't feel left out if you are on cooking duty and a dishwasher means you don't waste time washing up. With a fully-stocked, competitively-priced supermarket on site it very easy to cater for yourself, especially if you pre-order one of the grocery packs that will be delivered on the day you arrive.

Villas also have their own patio and barbecue area outside so you can eat outside in good weather.

But there's no shortage of options for eating out from quick snacks to full-blown dinners to suit all tastes including Italian, French, Indian, Chinese and an American Bar and Grill – always popular with families so it's a good idea to book.

On the Saturday, our first full day, while Denise and Yvonne went to the Aqua Sana World of Spa for relaxing facials – �79 and �59 for 70 and 55 minutes respectively – the rest of us headed to the nearby Foresters' Inn country club for a game of snooker and a coffee – vaguely sporty but not too strenuous. That would come later in the day when Nick and Tim splashed out at the lake – literally – to have a go at cable water skiing, one of the latest new activities. It costs �30 for 90 minutes including instruction, wetsuits and crash hats but is not available in winter.

I don't know who had the most fun, our boys or the adult big kids (including one man who jokingly said he might be playing golf one-handed at the nine-hole course the next day but it wouldn't affect his game!) getting to grips with kneeboards, wakeboards and water skis or the spectators having a good laugh at their expense. After some spectacular splashdowns, when they disappeared in a cloud of spray, most of the skiers soon found their feet and were whizzing round the lake, lap after lap. At the end of the session they were exhausted, elated… and ready for a hot shower.

Unfortunately our boys' aching muscles recovered sufficiently for them to scuttle our limited skittle skills with a couple of games of ten-pin (�26) at the Leisure Bowl in the Sports Plaza – the adults' only chance of sporting glory on our relaxing weekend for that was as competitive as it got.

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest – rarely in our house – but there were no excuses for it not to be at Center Parcs.

The day got off to a great start with a gourmet breakfast in the Lakeview Restaurant which slowly revolves to give panoramic views, while you enjoy the gastronomic delights and watch the world go by – breakfast is never like this at home. The smoked haddock on potato puree with poached egg, chopped and poached tomato and herb sauce (�8.75) was to die for while the Lakeview Grande Grille (�9.95) was the full works.

Suitably satisfied – stuffed to be exact – the boys headed to the Aqua Sana for energising back and face massages (�65 for 55 minutes) and then on to the flumes, slides and wild water rapids at the Balinese-themed Subtropical Swimming Paradise.

We saved our energy for cycling to the Parc Market supermarket to stock up with Sunday papers, reading them over a coffee at the villa while watching squirrels darting about in the trees and the odd deer wandering past and not feeling guilty as we would have at home with so many odd jobs waiting to be done!

Even though we had not crammed too much into our weekend, the time passed all too quickly but we saved a relaxing treat for the final day. Having loaded the cars and returned our hire bikes we finished recharging our batteries at the Aqua Sana with a three-hour spa session (from �26). And after the sensory delights of 16 experience rooms including sauna, steam and herbal baths and the outdoor spa pool with its hydrotherapy jets, we had lunch at the new Zilli Caf� with the fresh and healthy menu designed specifically by Italian chef Aldo Zilli.

But all good things come to an end and as we set off for home after our four-day chill, Yvonne said: 'I didn't know doing nothing could be so tiring.'

Or enjoyable.


Center Parcs has four locations in England all set in about 400 acres of forest – Elveden Forest near Thetford; Sherwood Forest near Newark, Nottinghamshire; Longleat Forest near Warminster, Wiltshire; and Whinfell Forest near Penrith, Cumbria.You can take three-night weekend breaks (Friday to Monday), four-night midweek breaks (Monday to Friday) or seven-night week breaks (Friday to Friday or Monday to Monday).

Various types of accommodation are available to meet both budget and size of party from two-bedroom Comfort Villas through to four-bedroom Executive Lodges with their own games room including PlayStation and pool table and Exclusive Lodges with sauna or steam room, outdoor hot tub and their own parking space. Elveden Forest also has the Lakeview Hotel.

For more information, prices and special offers at UK sites log on to or telephone 08448 266266.

There's a wealth of sports, exercise classes, activities for all the families and pampering available at Center Parcs. So you don't miss out it's advisable to book them in advance online at or telephone 08448 266200.

Center Parcs also has six villages in Holland, two in Belgium, four in France and two in Germany. Log on to or telephone the European reservations team on 08448 267725.