Throughout the journey my children’s anticipation has been building, and now, as we slowly approach our destination, Kit and Natasha can barely contain their excitement. With snow still clinging resolutely to the Nottinghamshire countryside (in London it’s already turned to a dirty, depressing slush), entering Center Parcs, Sherwood Forest, feels like arriving in our very own winter wonderland. To add to the sense of occasion, we are met by Kathleen, our dedicated host for the next few days, who guides us on the last leg of the journey, down winding roads and through dense woodland until, finally, standing there before us is the most magnificent structure – a beautiful wooden-clad treehouse that almost defies the description, being more like a luxurious lodge on stilts. The incessant chant of “Are we there yet?” ceases, as my children go slack-jawed in wonderment, and before I know it, they are running along the walkway, soon renamed the gang plank, leading to the front door, where they proceed to hammer on it to gain entry, such is their fervent desire to discover the delights that lurk inside.
The interior of the treehouse does not disappoint. No expense and design detail has been spared in creating this opulent addition to Center Parc’s vast range of accommodation (just three treehouses have been built, but there are plans to add more at a later date). To say that it has the “wow” factor would be something of an understatement. More like the “wow wee” factor if Kit and Natasha are anything to go by, as they scoot around the property, opening doors and galloping up the stairs, finding each of the four double bedrooms, all with en suite, before announcing which will be theirs. As Kit and Natasha do their impromptu recce, I stand there taking in the finer details, like the giant plasma television above a fireplace, surrounded by sofas that look so deep and inviting, I immediately want to throw myself upon them. The huge open-plan living area also includes a small but beautifully formed kitchen, a massive circular dining table and a daybed so big that half a dozen people could lie on it quite comfortably (an assumption later proved correct). But perhaps the most eye-catching aspect is the enormous tree trunk that takes pride of place in the centre of the room, around which snakes a stunning handcrafted spiral staircase (especially shipped over from the US), that leads to the master bedroom, which I mentally earmark as mine.
Floor-to-ceiling retractable glass doors lead out on to the terrace, where a further walkway takes us to what is known as the games den – something of a misnomer, since it is actually a treehouse in its own right, containing all the latest gadgetry, including a Wii and assorted games, plus a fully stocked mini-bar, pool table and ambient lighting. At this point, Kit and Natasha are beside themselves at the prospect of playing with a Wii, something we have so far managed to avoid at home, while the thought of shooting some pool and drinking a beer later that evening, when my husband and friends will be arriving, brings a definite smile to my face.
But first things first. There is a hot tub and sauna to be tried. Situated towards the side of the decking and well hidden from prying eyes, these Scandinavian-style additions may at first glance seem slightly superfluous, but quickly become one of the highlights of our stay. Despite the Arctic conditions, Kit and Natasha are soon stripped and in their swimsuits testing the water, and jolly warm and wonderfully bubbly they declare it, too. In fact, I have a hard job getting them out of there, but there is more exploring to be done and I am keen to get my bearings before the afternoon light begins to fade.
As a Center Parcs novice, I am immediately impressed by the unobtrusiveness of it all. Despite housing nearly 1,000 lodges, villas and apartments over its 400-acre site, with a capacity of 4,000 guests per break (annual occupancy rates rarely fall below 95 per cent), there is a sense of peace and tranquillity about the place. As we stroll leisurely towards the village square, past an iced-over stream where a lone duck skates precariously, much to the amusement of the children, I begin to feel at one with nature, breathing in the fresh air with its heady woodland scent, so unlike the polluted city we have left behind.
In contrast, however, the village square is a bustling hive of activity, with enough restaurants and shops to meet everyone’s tastes and needs. It is all so tastefully laid out, with such an interesting mix of outlets, that it feels like we have stumbled on a twinkly oasis. We grab ourselves a hot chocolate before heading back.
By the time we leave, night has well and truly fallen, and despite my bravado, it soon becomes obvious that we are hopelessly lost. Sensing the rising panic in my children, as we circle the same lake for the fourth time, I decide to call up Kathleen, who kindly and patiently talks us all the way back to the treehouse, which we enter with palpable relief. Unfortunately, thanks to my appalling sense of direction and inability to read a map, this becomes something of a recurring theme during our stay!
My husband and our friends arrive, and hearing their excited “oohs” and “aahs” as they take a tour of the treehouse soon reaffirms our good fortune. This really is a fabulous place to stay, especially as a group, and even though we have only been here a few hours, we are soon discussing our possible return, perhaps for the next big birthday or some other special occasion.
Dinner that night is at Huck’s American diner in the village, where the children (their number has now swollen to four) quickly make themselves at home in the play area that is housed within the restaurant. It is a genius idea, freeing up us parents to properly kick back and start to relax.
It’s been a long day, and lots of exciting activities have been planned for tomorrow, so after a quick game of pool and a nightcap in the games den, we decide to retire.
Waking in the morning after a blissful night’s sleep (memory foam mattresses are now on my wish list), to the sound of birds tweeting and a stunning view of the forest, it’s impossible not to feel excited about the day that lies ahead. Fortified by a full English breakfast, with the ingredients coming courtesy of the well-stocked hamper that greeted us on arrival, we head off for an aerial adventure. Well, when I say we, I actually mean the others, as I simply don’t have a head for heights. But it’s tremendous fun watching them tentatively tackle the overhead obstacle course, before plunging off the impressive Leap of Faith with only a harness and a zip wire to break their fall.
On an adrenaline high, the children top it up with a sugar one from the Village Sweet Shop, while us adults enjoy a cup of coffee. It’s then on to the Cycle Centre where we pick up our hire bikes before heading off on a rejuvenating ride around the forest. After a quick lunch (again raiding the Tardis-like hamper), roller skating followed by sauna and hot tub is the order of the afternoon. Meanwhile, I sneak off for a superb Swedish massage at the Romanesque-style Aqua Sana Spa. Upon my return, I join the others in the hot tub, where the adults can’t resist indulging in a bottle of chilled champagne.
Feeling light-headed, partly from the champagne, but mostly because of our hectic day, we cycle back to the village for an Italian feast. Home once more, via a circuitous route that takes nearly 30 minutes on the bikes instead of the estimated ten (yes, I was in charge of navigation), the children flop in front of the television, while we chat and play cards around the table. Despite our best intentions, none of us has the energy to stay up late, and with the knowledge that we must depart early in the morning, a slightly sombre mood descends. It’s lifted, however, when we unanimously decide that yes, we definitely will be back, next time for longer, and why wait for that big birthday or special occasion?
Short breaks in the three treehouses at Sherwood Forest start from £2,249 and sleep up to eight people. For more information, visit www.centerparcs.co.uk