We count our visits to CenterParcs’ Longleat Village with reference to our son’s age. He was nine months’ old when we stayed there for the first time (and the village itself had been open for less than two years). He will be twenty years’ old in August, and we have spent at least a weekend in Longleat on probably fifteen or sixteen occasions during his life. We’ve just got back from a four night stay which included a first for us – it didn’t rain once during the whole time we were there! And it was fantastic!
Both our son and daughter measure some of the key moments in their development with reference to CenterParcs activities : playing in the now-defunct sand and ball pits that used to occupy space at the end of the Sports Cafe in the Jardin des Sports (yes – it is called that; and yes, it is a large, indoor sports hall!); being towed around the village in one of those caravan-like trailers that attaches to the back of a standard bike; learning to ride their bikes without stabilisers; their first time down the Wild Water Rapids, the big green slides, or the bumpy, white slide; their first meal at Rajinda Pradesh (the on-site Indian restaurant); and their first time fending for themselves while mum and dad spent time in the Spa (for the record, ‘fending for themselves’ amounted to swimming in the Sub-Tropical Swimming Plaza and feasting on burger and chips from the poolside bar!)
CenterParcs can be an easy target for those who haven’t been, and who might look upon it as a kind of Butlins for people who also shop at farmers’ markets. You can see an excellent example of the arguments for and against from this Telegraph piece from 2011 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/8711425/Center-Parcs-Did-David-Miliband-get-it-right.html). All I know is that, as a family, we have had loads of unforgettable experiences together at Longleat Village – from learning to sail, to highly competitive family badminton, table tennis and air hockey encounters; from tense crazy golf and putting competitions, to chilled out patio breakfasts and barbecue dinners. Yes – it can be expensive (especially if you are restricted to school holiday times), and the costs can mount up if you pack lots of extra activities into your day (only access to the swimming complex is included in the cost of a typical 3 or 4 night stay). But our experience has always been that the cost has been more than justified by the value of the time that we have spent there. There really is nothing quite like laying back in the outside pool as the steam from the water gently drifts drifts away and looking up at the stars in an inky black sky (winter time only of course; it wasn’t dark until after 10.30pm on this most recent visit!)
(Photos courtesy of Dan “Call me David Bailey” Pearce)