If you are looking for an active break this winter, then Center Parcs could be just what you are looking for. Sportsister tested the facilities at Longleat Forest in Somerset and discovered that there was something for everyone, whatever the weather.
What struck us most on arrival at Longleat Forest Center Parcs was the friendly and well organised system for booking everyone in and the stress free way we started our weekend break. With 961 lodges and apartments and an impressive annual occupancy of 95% it could be a daunting prospect yet incredibly it rarely felt overcrowded during our stay.
The first highlight was discovering the delights of our accommodation, an eco style lodge not far from the swimming pool complex. We loved the simple open-plan style of the living area, and with plenty of bathroom facilities and well thought-out storage, it is practical too.
However the best thing by far is the sheer amount of outside space. Typically Center Parcs locations are 400 acres in size, so in our lodge we barely even noticed our neighbours. All around you are surrounded by woodland, with magical ponds and wildlife to discover. On our first evening a deer wandered by and during the weekend we spied numerous birds including a lesser spotted woodpecker – pretty special!
To get around the vast site, most people hire or take their own bikes and this is a joy. With very few cars around (staff vehicles only) and just the land train to contend with, the bike rules. It’s fantastic to see so many people on bikes, and it really adds to that feeling of freedom and escapism.
The longest journey in one direction is about half an hour, but as you become familiar with the paths and work out the most efficient routes the time can be shortened considerably. That said it’s great just to enjoy cycling as an activity rather than simply for transport and you could spend a good hour or two just exploring.
We had booked several activities to enjoy during the course of theweekend including badminton and the aerial adventure. With over 100 activities to choose from, you really are spoilt for choice and it is advisable to have at least a few things planned in advance as certain activities do get booked up.
Since 2008 Center Parcs have partnered with Badminton England, so it’s no suprise that each centre has at least eight courts. Badminton is one of the most popular activities with over 107,000 court bookings each year. This popularity was evident at Longleat too, with all courts being used and a wide range of people enjoying them. We would reccomend taking your own rackets if you have them though, as the hire equipment is understandably basic.
We also tried the aerial adventure. If you are scared of heights then this is either a no-no or an opportunity to conquer your fears in a safe environment. I chose the latter and had to dig deep to negotiate the various stages before enjoying the spectacular zip-wire over the lake. Truly an exhilarating experience.
A visit to the pool complex is top of the list for most visitors and it is worth the trip. However be warned - it is not designed for swimming so don’t go planning several lengths before breakfast. With rapids, slides and wave machines it is great fun, be prepared to queue for the most popular slides though.
If a child-free pool is more to your taste then the Aqua Sana Spa is worth a visit. Featuring a wide variety of steam baths and sensory experiences as well as vast treatment rooms, this is the perfect way to end a busy weekend.
Eating out is also high on the agenda and with 15 restaurants and cafes at the Longleat Forest site, there really is something to suit all tastes.
All in all Center Parcs is a great sporty break that allows you to be as active or relaxed as you wish.
Sportsister stayed in a New Style Executive Lodge. We loved the modern style with its practical open plan living space. The generous
bedrooms and modern bathrooms added a touch of luxury too.
Outside there is a patio area, an area to park up your bikes and lots of space between you and your neighbour – perfect if you like peace and tranquility.
What’s on offer at Center Parcs?
There really is something for everyone at Center Parcs you can spend hours in the pool complex, join an exercise class, test your nerve on some adrenelin fuelled outdoor activities or simply relax at the beautiful spa. Here’s our pick of the best on offer at Longleat Forest:
Aerial Adventure: Scary, challenging and great fun all in one package. An experience to remember!
Bike hire: Get on your bike and tour around the compex, there are miles of safe roads to enjoy.
Kayaking: Great value and a lovely safe lake to explore.
Table tennis: Good fun for all ages and great if it is raining.
Spa: A perfect way to unwind at the end of an action packed break.
Cost: Late availability for november from £279.00
More information: www.centerparcs.co.uk
Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine