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Relax, Create, Explore

Your Centre Parcs Staycation crack

If the idea of flying fills you with fear, go for a relaxing break at Center Parcs in Suffolk.

There are four Center Parcs villages dotted around Britain: Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, Elveden Forest in Suffolk, Longleat Forest in Wiltshire and Whinfell Forest in Cumbria. Encircled by 400 acres of forest environment, they all have well-equipped villas, apartments and lodges in a natural environment amongst trees and streams.

At the entrance gate, my long-suffering Mondeo was surrounded by Mercedes and BMWs. But deep in the forest, it is soon time to leave your gas-guzzler in the car park and ‘think bike’ instead, and consider all the pollution which we could avoid by walking and cycling everywhere.

Our villa was heated by an ‘intelligent’ thermostat and lit by energy-efficient bulbs, while I could recycle kitchen waste in a three-section bin.

On a previous visit, we’d stayed in a cosy, if box-like, villa set in woodland, but our real treat this time was an Executive Lodge – a two-storey Scandinavian-style house, complete with attached sauna to enhance the outdoors Nordic feel. Suddenly, I could see why the ‘staycation’ craze persuades Britons to holiday at home. The lodge was so snug and comfortable - with a log fire to relax by, dishwasher and maid service.

The case for staying inside was even stronger when we discovered the games room - not restricted to Monopoly, with missing pieces, reminiscent of so many British self-catering holidays - but with a cupboard of board games, a massive flatscreen TV and Playstation, plus a pool table for the more active. It even tempted our sons away from their wall-mounted TVs in each bedroom.

Much as we enjoyed eating out at one of the restaurants - our family favourite was the American-themed Hucks, great for big burgers and even bigger steaks - it was even nicer to call up a takeaway. Using the new Dining In service, we ordered curries for us and pizza for the boys from a service which included Chinese, Indian and Italian food. It was not too decadent, because I got on my bike to collect the meal instead of using the delivery service. It also saved money. Our group of five ate in for around £50, while two courses with wine and soft drinks at Hucks came in at around £100.

Of course, our isolated idleness couldn’t last. Soon, our youngest son was demanding action in the dome-covered Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise, a palm-fringed pool complex that is the focus of most family breaks. It is impressive, and free, but it’s worth getting there when it opens at 10am to enjoy shorter queues for flumes and rapids.

A weighty brochure is needed to detail all the activities and adventures on offer at Center Parcs, so this is a great time to tackle something new. We chose a popular family activity - ten pin bowling - and then each of us selected a favourite individual activity. Some are great value, such as a session on the indoor climbing wall for our 12-year-old son (£5). Specialised activities are more expensive – it cost £21 for our adult son to try his outdoor climbing skills on a 13-metre climbing wall and tree-top ropes.

There is so much to try, from craft sessions to windsurfing, from yoga to quadbiking or paintballing. If, on the other hand you, or your children, always wanted to try scuba diving or fencing, but lacked equipment or experienced instructors at hand, this is a great opportunity.

We all enjoyed a special activity as a treat during our stay, with some of our best times spent simply cycling around the woodland setting. The bike is not only the most convenient way of getting between your lodge and the central village square or sports plaza, it is also the best way of seeing the wildlife.

Not just the ducks splashing around the water cascading through the Village Square, but the squirrels, pheasant and deer in the woods. Much of Elveden’s conservation policy goes into effect behind the scenes, with its variety of species earning several biodiversity awards.

Energy-efficient lodges like ours also include dishwashers and wine coolers. Although Center Parcs has embarked on a £150 million programme to refurbish basic villas and build more high-end accommodation, it is committed to environmentally-friendly policies.

At times, it even offers a sense of holidays abroad, such as the sauna with the outdoor shower. In the Aqua Sana spa you can savour spa experiences from around the world, from Greek herbal bath to Turkish hammam – a perfect way to relax on your staycation.

Key facts

Best for: Trying out new activities.

Time to go: Spring or autumn when it’s less busy.

Don’t miss: A relaxing spa session.

Need to know: Book your activities in advance - they get taken quickly.

Don’t forget: You can’t get into your villa until 3pm, but you can arrive earlier and start using the village facilities.

Travel facts

A four-bedroom Executive Lodge at Center Parcs in Elveden Forest starts at £299 for a three-night weekend break, or four nights in midweek.

Activities prices start at £3 per person.

For further information/activity prices visit:
www.centerparcs.co.uk/thingstodo.

Center Parcs reservations: 08448 266 266