Home   Bury St Edmunds   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Suffolk’s Center Parcs Elveden Forest has something to offer everyone, as we found out on a weekend break





I’m an uncomplicated person and I enjoy simple things, so it was no surprise to me that the highlight of a weekend at Center Parcs Elveden Forest came as a result of just looking out of a window.

First cup of tea of the day in hand, sitting in the lounge area of our lodge and taking in the grey February morning outside, my attention was drawn to movement on a nearby pine trunk . . . a tree creeper, not rare but a lovely little bird that we certainly don’t get in the garden at home.

In fact, the tree creeper led a 20-minute procession of wildlife which included a host of muntjac deer, grey squirrels, mallard, geese (incorrigibly bashing on the window, no doubt seeking food), moorhens, coot, jay, magpie, blue tits and more. Delightful, it made my day.

A close encounter with wildlife.
A close encounter with wildlife.

But we hadn’t been invited as guests of Center Parcs to spend a weekend studying the wildlife; so much more to experience and enjoy.

Luckily for us (that’s me, Mrs Turner and our son Rory - more of him later) our weekend break coincided with the last few days of the holiday village’s Winter Forest Lights event. What a clever way to add warmth, brightness and fun to the gloomiest part of the year.

Bursts of colour and twinkling lights with a musical soundscape in the Enchanted Light Garden, interactive installations, 3D holographic wildlife and a Celebration of Light with illuminated drummers and bubble blowing pixies were a delight and kept the cold night air at bay.

The Wishlight Village was at the centre of the Winter Forest Lights attraction.
The Wishlight Village was at the centre of the Winter Forest Lights attraction.
The Enchanted Light Garden.
The Enchanted Light Garden.

Unfortunately, you’ll now have to wait until next year if you want to experience this (it closed on February 25), but Center Parcs has a habit of building and improving its offer - this year it invested £1 million in the Winter Forest Lights - so it’ll probably be worth the wait.

However, winter chills were a million miles from our minds as we took to the water in the resort’s Subtropical Swimming Paradise.

Mrs Turner and myself are not habitués of swimming pools, but this is no cold, echoey municipal facility! Warm (a steady 29.5C apparently), bright and welcoming - close your eyes and you can imagine yourself on a tropical island, not 35 minutes up the road on the Suffolk/Norfolk border.

We felt quite at home in the complex, though too timid to take on the rapids or Tropical Cyclone - the gentle pull of the Lazy River on the edge of the central pool was more our scene.

The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is a focal point of the Elveden Forest resort.
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is a focal point of the Elveden Forest resort.

For us, the pool did offer a bit of a challenge as Rory - 26, but with a severe learning disability - was keen to try out the gentler activities of Venture Cove, unfortunately designed to cater for young children and not for his ‘larger’ frame.

However, we had great fun in the pool - the wave machine was a big hit - and we spent a lot more time there than we originally intended to.

The fact that the pool is included in the cost of your break at Center Parcs means it is a popular attraction, but it never felt overwhelming or too busy. And it was wonderful that the showers were hot, the hair driers worked, the changing cubicles were clean and the lockers locked (using the same rubber wristband that opened your lodge door) . . . paradise indeed.

Rory may have been restricted in the pool, but that all changed outside, thanks to the trike we were able to hire. I think Center Parcs can rightly boast that it has a bike for everyone and anyone, no matter their age or ability - mountain bikes, road bikes, trikes, children’s bikes, child seats, even bikes that can carry physically disabled guests. Locks and helmets are included in the hire charge.

Center Parcs has a bike to suit everyone.
Center Parcs has a bike to suit everyone.

It was wonderful to see Rory riding in safety along the car-free roads and paths, though it was slightly unnerving for Mrs T and myself (riding in front and behind) when he decided to veer off to ride through the next puddle.

Bikes are not essential to get around the resort, but it was fun to have them available. Many families, of course, had brought their own with them.

Our bikes, parked up at the end of the day. Locks and helmets are provided as part of the hire charge.
Our bikes, parked up at the end of the day. Locks and helmets are provided as part of the hire charge.

Of course, you can visit Center Parcs and simply chill . . . but you could do that at home.

Like the bikes, Center Parcs has an activity for everyone and anyone. Yes, these do cost extra, but our view was that if you’re booking these in advance (most need to be, especially the popular ones) you have factored that price into your holiday, it’s not a surprise added extra.

There really are too many things to list - indoor, outdoor, active, relaxing, creative . . . for young and old.

There's plenty of indoor activities on offer in the Sports Zone.
There's plenty of indoor activities on offer in the Sports Zone.
One of the challenging outdoor activities.
One of the challenging outdoor activities.

We all enjoy a game of ten pin bowling, so we gave that a try. Rory has a good eye and Mrs T is lucky, so I somehow trailed in last. Bowling shoes (looking clean, wholesome and, according to my wife - who has problems with her size 8s - correctly sized in both UK and European sizes) are available to borrow.

There was a lovely atmosphere in the leisure bowl with whole families having fun.

Less successful for us was an attempt at short mat carpet bowls - purely because of a lack of aptitude and ability! My dad, a champion outdoor and indoor bowler, would have shuddered to have seen our attempts!

We stayed in a two-bedroom New-style Woodland Lodge which was warm, cosy and comfortable - a double bedroom, a twin-bed room, open plan kitchen and dining area plus bathroom and a separate cloakroom. And a boiler room was a great place to toast our swimming costumes between pool sessions.

The lodge's lounge area.
The lodge's lounge area.

Crisp clean white sheets, a duvet with a nice weight to it (13.5 tog, said Mrs T) and plenty of towels.

TVs in the lounge and double bedroom, family friendly wifi, log burner, private patio and (probably more a summer thing) a barbecue all helped to make the lodge feel like a home-from-home.

The kitchen was fairly well equipped - small fridge, microwave, hob, oven, kettle, toaster and (most importantly) a dishwasher - but you’re not going to be cooking elaborate meals here.

The kitchen area of our lodge.
The kitchen area of our lodge.
A family grocery pack meant breakfast was sorted throughout our break.
A family grocery pack meant breakfast was sorted throughout our break.

We had a very handy family grocery pack waiting for us on arrival which covered breakfast for the weekend but, rather lazily, we ate out a couple of times.

Center Parcs Elveden Forest offers a range of well-known family chain restaurants: Hucks, Las Iguanas, Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Rajinda Pradesh plus its Sports Cafe and plus three Starbucks (one in the Sub Tropical Swimming Paradise).

We ate at Bella Italia and then ‘across the border’ at Café Rouge. You know what you’re getting from both chains, so no need to detail our meals, but in both establishments the staff were warm, friendly and efficient, something that can be said for the whole resort, from the smiling welcome we got at the arrivals lodge to the baristas at Starbucks. (Visitor tip: If you don’t want to queue too long for your caffeine fix, head for the Starbucks adjacent to the lakeside Pottery Painting Studio - nice views, too).

If you are catering for yourselves, you’ll probably want to take some supplies with you. There is a very well stocked supermarket in the village square, but you will pay a premium, like most convenience stores. However, you’ll not visit a neater, cleaner store - our local supermarket resembles a jumble sale compared to this.

Of course, a standard three night weekend break at Center Parcs Elveden Forest isn’t long enough to sample everything it has to offer, though if you’re timing is right you can arrive at 10am on the Friday and not leave until late on Monday, though you will need to vacate your lodge by 10am (and similarly if you arrive on a Monday and leave on the Friday).

Thanks, we had a great time.
Thanks, we had a great time.

The award-winning Aqua Sana Spa on the site remained unvisited on this occasion but, at just 35 minutes up the road that may not remain the case for long.

For further information about breaks at Center Parcs Elveden Forest visit its website.

Other Center Parcs resorts are at: Whinfell Forest, in Cumbria; Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire; Longleat Forest, Wiltshire; Woburn Forest, Bedfordshire, and in Ireland, Longford Forest, County Longford.