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A winter wonderland

PUBLISHED: 16:50 19 January 2016 | UPDATED: 16:50 19 January 2016

People enjoying the outdoor subtropical swimming paradise

People enjoying the outdoor subtropical swimming paradise

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Charlotte Skidmore has a magical time at Center Parcs Longleat

Lake views at Longleat ForestLake views at Longleat Forest

Center Parcs holds a special place in the hearts of families up and down the country.

But when it lays on its Winter Wonderland from mid November to January each year, it adds that little bit of extra sparkle to a trip away – in more ways than one.

Having been a regular visitor to the Longleat site over the years I was well aware that organisation is the key to this holiday – especially at this time of the year when the 900 lodges and houses are booked out to capacity.

On arrival on the Friday afternoon we excitedly unpacked so that we could get on and explore the Winter Wonderland that awaited us.

The Japanese salt bath at the Aqua SanaThe Japanese salt bath at the Aqua Sana

A woodland lodge was adequate for six people, but with women in the lodge you might want a rota for the single bathroom!

Twinkling lights adorn the outside walkways at this time of year, Father Christmas is waiting in his grotto for the children (and the children amongst us!) and real reindeer peer out of their temporary homes in the Village Square. It’s like Lapland, but just down the road.

We perhaps weren’t as organised as we should have been and didn’t book our sports activities before arrival – I can’t stress enough how important this is at busy times.

But we did manage to get a swim in the subtropical paradise, which has everything for both adults and children and a wonderful half day spa in the Aqua Sana.

To our amazement we were given The Hideaway as an added extra during our spa session. This is a private area, equipped with refreshments, which is just perfect for larger groups to chill out in between popping to the various experience rooms that the facilities have to offer.

The friendly staff supply you with fresh towels and robes here and there are packages available where you can have some ‘mini treatments’ in this area.

I am a massive fan of the Aqua Sana and I think part of its appeal is the sheer scale of facilities and options it provides.

If you prefer to chill out with a magazine or have a snooze on one of the water beds that’s fine, but for those who can’t sit still for long, there is a whole range of experience rooms available, including a Greek steam room, Japanese steam room, saunas, an outside pool and foot baths.

We were lucky enough to get to experience a 50-minute dual treatment called Bliss, which involved a foot ritual, Hawaiian wave massage and scalp massage. I now know where it gets its name from as it had the perfect combination of everything – relaxation, stress relief and a therapeutic element to get those knots out.

In total contrast the following day we all took part in a festive cupcake decorating class - I have to admit that even the doubters were converted by this activity as we all had enormous fun and there was even a bit of friendly competition.

Dining at Center Parcs varies and you can either stay in and cook in the lodge, order a take away from Dining In or experience one of the many restaurants including Strada, Café Rouge, Hucks the diner or Indian Rajinda Pradesh.

We tried out The Grand Café, which is pitched as a ‘traditional bistro offering a relaxed ambience and great all-day dining, from breakfast to lunch, through to afternoon tea and dinner’. The fillet steaks that we tried were cooked to perfection and were absolutely melt in the mouth wonderful. To add an interesting element they are presented on hot stones and you finish cooking them yourself when they are in front of you. Judging from the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ everyone loved theirs as much as I did.

Transport to and from the restaurants is quite straightforward on the land train, although it can take up to about half an hour depending on where your accommodation is. The easiest thing is to walk at least part of the way, but that does depend on your mobility.

In conclusion we really felt that Center Parcs still retains its appeal for family holidays. Summer or winter there? We are still undecided which we prefer. We will just have to do both!

Top tips

Here are a few top tips from me to you so you can make the most of your Center Parcs break:

Relaxed clothing is the key – joggers, jeans, jumpers and plenty of layers at this time of year! Flat shoes too.

You can hire bikes from the cycle centre and book before you arrive if you want to save the hassle of taking your own.

Planning is key! Prebook your ‘essential’ activities before you go.

Do book into the Aqua Sana to make sure you get some relaxation in amongst all those activities.

Pre-plan where you want your accommodation to be according to where you think you’ll visit most. The Plaza for swimming and shopping, as well as a lot of the restaraunts. The Jardin de Sports area for the Aqua Sana and sports, as well as the sports bar. Or somewhere in between if you fancy a stroll to either. It will cost you extra to pick some areas or a specific villa before you go.

Take lots of essentials – including toilet rolls, swimming towels and soap for some lodges.

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