Woburn Center Parcs, review: A woodland retreat for all ages

Bike hire is available at Center Parcs. Picture: Center Parcs

Bike hire is available at Center Parcs. Picture: Center Parcs - Credit: Archant

Cycling down the car-free paths at Center Parcs you can’t help but be struck by the idyllic setting.

Older children will enjoy the aerial adventure course. Picture: Center Parcs

Older children will enjoy the aerial adventure course. Picture: Center Parcs - Credit: Archant

Our corner of north west London may be ‘vibrant’ but it’s blighted by flytipping. And my walk to work bathes me in the pollution of Finchley Road.

Without the thrum of constant traffic you can actually smell the pine trees, hear the chirrup of birds and let your kids cycle without fear.

Just as I was lost in a sunny reverie I was greeted by smiling staff in a spotlessly maintained square – like the 1998 film The Truman Show, only without the unsettling twist that everyone’s faking it for hidden cameras.

Some misbelieve Centre Parcs is like the Jim Carrey movie – or the Eden Project – with the whole village housed inside a futuristic dome.

A three-bedroom woodland lodge at Center Parcs Woburn Forest. Picture: Center Parcs

A three-bedroom woodland lodge at Center Parcs Woburn Forest. Picture: Center Parcs - Credit: Archant

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In fact you’re very close to nature – at the back of our chalet (part luxury apartment part hotel suite) squirrels scampered in a forest that’s cared for by a team of rangers. We discovered a fabulous den that the previous inhabitants must have laboured on for hours.

Only the pool complex is under a dome – and there’s something for everyone here including whizzy slides of various stomach-lurching intensity. The Typhoon has gone down in family folklore for making mum scream, but there’s also a wave pool, lazy river and shallow toddler areas for my three-year-old with squirting jets and slides.

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The favourite for the six and 10-year-old were the rapids which begin in a bubbling indoor pool and progress via a twisty track into the open air. It’s heated so you can ride it year round. Watch the sky flash by as you shoot round the bends!

I was also struck by the age range of village residents; grandparents enjoying a getaway with kids and grandkids, nuclear families, couples, or middle-aged women having a weekend get together. More than one friend had told me it’s the only holiday that satisfies both their older and younger kids.

With a fair wind up the M1 Woburn is an hour from North London – it’s the newest village, opened in summer 2014 so everything is super clean and top drawer including the spa (more on that later).

Center Parcs is famed for its activities and you can certainly pursue almost any sport you desire. Perhaps the understandable urge to maximise the enjoyment of a short stay pushes people to gorge on the 100 plus activities, but despite the kids hassling you to return to the Acquadome for a second time that day, it doesn’t have to be a holiday of relentless activity. Do as much or as little as you like, I’d just advise you to book the activities you definitely want in advance.

The tiny one loved her short pony ride but was happy cycling around the acres of grounds or eating a pancake at an outdoor terrace overlooking the lake with beach and ducks. The boys enjoyed the high ropes challenge and played an energetic game of laser combat with their dad – teams of adults versus kids pitched together for a fun hour. But when I made noises about booking them onto the climbing wall they were happy to hang out in the chalet which had multichannel TV and well equipped kitchen where we cooked up a storm.

We were glad though to have restaurants like Café Rouge, and the American themed Huck’s on site to take the strain off us parents. Play areas at Huck’s avoided the usual fidgety wait for food, and allowed us to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails. Or there’s a babysitting service if you want to share time with your significant other. I was also restored by my Sunday morning visit to Aqua Saner spa.

After a relaxing massage I wandered through the sections themed around fire and ice, blossom, herbal, sensory, mineral and salt. The various rooms included a lava volcano sauna, an snow room, a salt inhalation room with ionised Himalayan salt, reflexology footbaths, and waterbeds to relax on.

My favourites were a room where warm tropical rain falls on you, and the extremely zen sensory experience which takes you through the sounds, sights, scents and temperature of the four seasons. Along with an outdoor pool where you can gaze out at the trees it’s an unbelievably unstressful. As I cycled back along the track feeling renwed in mind and body, I couldn’t help sneak a fantasy of moving here permanently.

Bridget Galton

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