How Centre Parcs opened my eyes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As a teenager, Tracey Davies's eyes were opened to the delights of the very first Centre Parcs in the Netherlands. Returning with her own children proved even more gratifying

"If it's good enough for Judith Chalmers then it's good enough for us," was my mother's mantra when organising family holidays back in the Eighties. As an avid viewer of Wish You Were Here...? she was often inspired (in both the fashion and the holiday sense) by the grande dame of travel programmes. One summer she announced that we were going to a Dutch holiday camp as recommended by Chalmers herself. Being a surly teen with a bad perm and a rabid aversion to organised fun, I was a little dubious. But Center Parcs was no graduate of the Billy Butlin school of holidays. Back then, this environmentally friendly forest paradise in the Netherlands was the height of suburban sophistication. Now almost a quarter of a century later I went back with my own children in tow.

Although much has changed over the years, the wholesome virtues of a holiday in the Dutch polder has not – and I silently thanked Chalmers for her divine inspiration.

"Many of our guests came here as kids and are now trying to relive the memories with their own children," Paul Geraeds, the marketing director of Center Parcs Europe, said. New attractions such as the Marina De Eemhof and swanky waterside village that surrounds it are designed to keep this new generation happy.

Center Parcs started out nearly 50 years ago as a small campsite in the south-eastern corner of Holland. With an ethos of fun family holidays in a forest location, it grew rapidly and after two decades of success in Europe it came to the UK in 1987. Despite using the same name and branding, the UK arm was sold off in 2001 and now operates the four British parks as a separate entity. Nevertheless, the company's philosophy remains the same.

De Eemhof opened in 1980. It was the first Center Parcs to introduce Aqua Mundo, the glass-domed subterranean swimming extravaganza for which the brand later became renowned.

Back then it was like nothing I'd ever seen before: waterfalls, wave machines and supersonic slides, not to mention shy Dutch boys to wink at in the Jacuzzi. It even had a knuffelmuur, which literally translates as cuddle wall– a curved, heated wall built simply to lean on. Twenty-five years later and the knuffelmuur had gone but the rest of the park – the grey Bauhaus-style cottages, forest cycle tracks and pine-fringed lakes – was still comfortingly familiar.

As all great trips should, our holiday started before we'd even arrived. The children loved the overnight ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, where we kicked back with a good meal before being lulled into a quiet slumber until we docked the next morning.

From Hook it was an easy 90-minute drive past windmills and tulip farms to De Eemhof, 30 miles from Amsterdam in the Flevoland province.

Holland is, of course, renowned for being flat, but revisiting the landscape is a reminder that there's not even a whimsy of a camber as far as the eye can see, with vistas interrupted only by pods of wind turbines rotating serenely against the green baize landscape.

We stayed at De Eemhof's new waterside development, which overlooks the marina and Lake Eemmeer. These swanky new apartments, all high ceilings and minimalist décor, wouldn't look out of place among the smart converted warehouses of a docklands development and ours was supremely decked out with four large double bedrooms, two bathrooms, plus a huge Jacuzzi and sauna.

Inspired by Port Grimaud on the Cote d'Azur, the sleek water quarter has a different appeal to the rest of the park. With modern apartments overlooking the lake and the melodic clink of sails in the marina, it's cited as "a little piece of the French Riviera in the Dutch polder".

Whether the French Riviera weather is guaranteed is another matter. While the apartments are owned by Center Parcs, the marina is the domain of the owner, Willem Zijl, who's worked with De Eemhof for the past 15 years.

"I'm very excited about the launch of the beach club," Zijil said enthusiastically. "We'll offer many different water sports, including wake-boarding, windsurfing and sailing and there'll be a nice beach café, too. Guests can even bring their own boat and moor it here."

The challenge with Center Parcs is there is so much on offer that it's easy to get holiday burn-out. However, don't feel too guilty if you don't leave the park. Bar Amsterdam, there's little on offer in the surrounding area. Bikes are essential (and can be hired on site) and are a great way to navigate the 70 hectares of forest and lakes. Although the kids will have little chance of getting bored, if you can drag them away from the pool there are numerous activities on offer from the zip wire to wild-water rafting from a few euros each.

We embraced our waterside location: with the whole family ensconced in rubber, we waddled to the "beach" for windsurfing and paddle-board lessons. With smaller boards and child-size sails and the knee-deep waters of the lagoon, even the six-year-olds were able to have a go.

Lake Eemmeer is also ideal for kids to learn to sail. One afternoon we strapped the gang into life jackets and took to the water to learn the basics of sailing. While the twins fought over the rudder, brother Angus took his role seriously to master the sails.

"You can sail to Amsterdam in three hours or all the way to the North Sea in a day," said Paul, our sailing instructor. However, if all this sounds bit ambitious, he also recommended a short sail to nearby Dead Dog Island for a barbecue or picnic.

On our last night, exhausted by almost a week of non-stop activity, we treated ourselves to dinner at Zuiderzoet, the trendy new brasserie which overlooks the waterfront. While the sun set over the masts, our three exhausted kids quietly dozed off into their half-eaten pizzas. We ordered another pint of Dutch beer and toasted Judith Chalmers once more: Center Parcs Europe was certainly good enough for us.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Stena Line (08447 70 70 70; stenaline.co.uk) offers twice-daily return crossings between Harwich and the Hook of Holland with fares starting from £118 return for an adult and car. Return fares for additional adults are from £24; additional children (between four and 15 years) are £12. Overnight cabins cost from £29 per person return based on two sharing.

Staying there

The writer was a guest of Center Parcs De Eemhof (00 31 10 498 97 54; centerparcs.com) where Waterfront Suites VIP in the new Marina De Eemhof start at €579 (£460) for a three-night weekend, based on four sharing. Water sports and some activities extra.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor