Whinfell Forest, Center Parcs – Review
By Richard Jones
It’s fair to say that Center Parcs is one of my family’s favourite destinations. The combination of homely accommodation, a massive range of activities and good restaurants, bars and shops, set in a forest teeming with wildlife, make it a winner every time with the Joneses. However, what we always love the most is the ‘family time’ – a few days away from the stresses and strains of modern life, and the rare chance to enjoy each other’s company.
Ever since our first visit back in 2012, we’ve been back to Center Parcs every year. But this spring, rather than opt for our usual Sherwood Forest weekend break, we book in at Whinfell Forest in Cumbria. The traffic gods were with us and the Friday evening journey up the A1 and across the A66 is thankfully stress-free, especially with the spectacular mist-shrouded mountains of the Lake District as a backdrop for the last few miles.
But if you are suffering from fatigue and irritability caused by traffic jams, rest assured it soon subsides once you pull into Center Parcs.
This year, we have a taste of luxury, and stay in a single-floor executive lodge in Bilberry Wood. The spacious, stylish and ultra-comfortable open-plan living/kitchen area has a log fire, large flat-screen TV and DVD player, dishwasher, wine cooler, and lots of other mod cons that make our stay as relaxing as possible.
The three bedrooms are all en-suite, while glass double-doors lead out to a patio area with a barbecue, private sauna and acres of never-ending pine forest. The lodge would make a perfect base for a weekend of relaxation and reflection, but with two energetic and adventurous daughters in tow there is zero chance of that.
By 9am on the Saturday morning, the cases are unpacked, a full English breakfast, courtesy of our Center Parcs grocery pack, is devoured and we are out and about to explore.
Of course, Whinfell Forest is car-free, so our first stop is the Cycle Centre where we pick up our wheels for the weekend. They have a large selection of bikes to suit all ages and abilities – Evelyn, six, wants a ride-along at the back of her dad’s, while Isla, nine, opts for a small adult mountain bike with gears which make it easier to get up some of Whinfell’s testing hills.
Then it is a short pedal to our first activity of the weekend – a splash around in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. Maintained at a blissful 29 degrees and open till 9pm, you could easily spend all day in this giant complex of swimming pools and tropical trees. Our favourite rides are the rip-roaring Canyon which carries you outside before splashing you down in the warm-water pool, and whizzing down the steep Multi Slide.
Back at the lodge, dried off and shampooed, there is time for a spot of lunch before Evelyn’s weekend treat – pony trekking. Despite being apprehensive beforehand, as soon as she makes acquaintance with her grey pony Robin, she is over the moon. After a 30-minute trek around the forest, Evelyn and Robin arrive back at the stables where she gives him a chunk of apple and a Polo mint to say thank-you, and buys a fridge magnet as a souvenir.
The week after our trip it is Isla’s 10th birthday, so we keep her activity treat under wraps. As she is quite adventurous and athletic, we think that the Junior Quads would suit her to a tee.
Once suited and booted, an instructor shows her how to use the vehicle, before leaving her to to speed around the muddy off-road track. Safe to say we are glad we aren’t washing her overalls afterwards!
Many people choose to self-cater at Center Parcs, but there are a range of restaurants if you want to dine out. There is Rajinda Pradesh, Cafe Rouge, the Lakeside Inn, Huck’s, Dexter’s Kitchen, the Sports Cafe and a couple of Starbucks if you fancy a latte. But we opt for Bella Italia, where the four of us wolf down antipasti, chicken wings, soup, lasagne, steak and seafood. That is all washed down with a couple of cocktails for the grown-ups, mocktails for the kids and plenty of chocolate gelato for everyone.
A family bike outing to burn off the calories is needed on Sunday morning, so off we spin on the paths around the forest and lake, before our final activity of the weekend.
Whether you are sporty or arty, there are more than 200 indoor and outdoor experiences on offer at Center Parcs and we want to do something we could do as a family. The Robin Hood and Little John Archery is a great way for kids to learn how to use bows and arrows, while also encouraging mum and dad to keep score and get a little competitive.
Before the weekend comes to an end, my other half Rachel takes off to Aqua Sana for a few hours. The luxury spa has the widest choice of spa experiences available anywhere in the UK, and in the space of three hours she takes a herbal inhalation bath, a lava-volcano sauna, a rain walk through a simulated tropical thunderstorm and is steamed, minerally, aromatically and blossomy.
As well as relaxing in the spa, she also has a full Swedish body massage, which I’m told increases the oxygen flow in the blood, releases toxins and reduces physical and emotional stress. Well, she certainly returns gleaming and relaxed – so much so that I think she struggles riding her bike back to the lodge.
It is a weekend of treats at Center Parcs, Whinfell Forest. Evelyn rides a pony, there is a quad bike lesson for birthday girl Isla, and mum has a massage at the spa. But I get the best treat of all – spending some quality time with my family in a beautiful forest. What more could a man want?
Richard Jones and his family stayed in a three-bedroom Executive Lodge at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest for three nights, with prices starting from £599. They enjoyed a number of activities, including Pony Trekking (£19pp), Junior Quads (£32pp), Robin Hood and Little John Archery (£11pp) and a Full Swedish Body Massage at Aqua Sana (£45).
For more information about Center Parcs, visit centerparcs.co.uk or call 03448 266266.