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Take a trip to the woods at Center Parcs Elveden Forest


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Can’t afford a holiday abroad but hate the prospect of holidaying in damp England? Impossible, you may say - but it most certainly isn’t.

Set in over 200 acres of picture perfect woodland, Center Parcs holiday villages, of which there are currently five with plans in place for a sixth opening in 2019, cater for small family breaks and pampering spa weekends.

Having visited previous villages throughout my childhood, this time around we opted for a family break at Elveden Forest in Suffolk.

After checking in at the Arrivals Lodge, we quickly got to grips with the village's one-way system to access our villa. Based in the Maple area, our Executive Lodge offered an open plan living space with a modern touch, set deep in the heart of the forest. Equipped with all the essentials of a self-catering apartment, alongside added bonuses such as daily maid service, flat screen televisions in all bedrooms, and a jacuzzi bath, it acted as the perfect base to the weekends activities.

As with all Center Parcs villages, the holiday homes are situated around the outside of the complex, with a main epicentre acting as the hub of activity for the break. Elveden’s meandering Village Square boasts restaurants of endless variety, from the rich smells and spices of Rajinda Pradesh’s contemporary Indian, to American classics at Huck’s. Popular family chains in the guise of Bella Italia, Café Rouge, and Starbucks are also all available and offer menus at similar prices to their high-street equivalents. If eating in is more your thing, Dining In offers a delicious takeout service, with the ParcMarket, Center Parcs own supermarket chain, open well into the evening.

Leisure facilities are at the heart of Center Parcs Sports Plaza, and this is where we headed after a break for dinner. Our evening entertainment of Squash and Table Tennis, followed by a few rounds of pool and a drink at the Leisure Bowl, only scratched the surface of what is available for guests. Everything from tennis to archery to Quad Biking are on offer, many with full tuition and lengthy sessions to get to grips with the sport - whether you are at a beginner level or re-igniting a former passion.

Set at the heart of the Sports Plaza, and the crown jewel of the village, is the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. With flumes, rides and hidden surprises set amongst a jungle theme, the on-site pool is basked in a gorgeous 29.5 degrees celsius all year round, allowing the whole family to take part in the fun regardless of age or swimming ability. For thrill seekers and experienced swimmers, the Wild Water Rapids offers an exhilarating outdoor course of slides and whirlpools, with Elveden’s Tropical Cyclone raft ride offering a full zero gravity experience as you take the 45 degree drop into the behemoth bowl below.

Center Parcs' award winning Aqua Sana spa is located at the edge of the village and offers treatments to suit every palette.  One of the most popular selections is the three-hour World of Spa, which sees guests transported to a peaceful sanctuary of saunas, steam rooms and relaxation areas. Or if you're short of time, brief but indulgent massage sessions and treatments are available that will make you feel fresh and rejuvenated.

The downside to this experience is price. On the advert Center Parcs promotes their “Short breaks in the forest from only £329”. However, this is nowhere near the true price you will shell out for the experience. The £329 price tag only reflects that of a Woodland Lodge (the basic accommodation at Elveden) between the colder months of January and February when prices slump. £999 is the average price for the same chalet during British school holidays, leaving many young families, the target audience for the resort, priced out of the market.

Furthermore, your base sum only pays for entrance into the forest and the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. Any extra leisure activities your party decides to partake in will incur further charges, some at considerable rates. The £5 for 45 minutes’ worth of table tennis isn’t too bank breaking, however £17 to take on the Indoor Climbing Wall, £30 for a week's or weekend's cycle hire and over £40 for a half hour Aqua Sana treatment means that expenditures can add up.

Furthermore, the ParcMarket may offer a wide variety of food, but this comes at a price. You can expect to pay a considerable amount more here than in any supermarket chain in Britain. So packing up the car with as much food as you can fit is more than just a tip, its essential advice.

Despite this, Center Parcs is an overall positive experience for the UK holidaymaker. The immersion in a rural forest setting sees you embrace nature head first, with enough leisure facilities to have as much or as little adventure as you like. If you can manage costs well and find an affordable villa in Center Parcs' cheaper months it is worth it. Although with a cruise costing the same as a break during school holidays and the summer months, you may well be reaching for brochures to Europe rather than to a British wood.

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