Hi-de-Hi? No de no! Welcome to the British holiday park, 21st-century style

Butlins is opening a sushi bar. It's not the only venue of its kind breaking the mould. Kate Simon reports on Center Parcs' facelift

Seven o'clock on Friday night and the weekenders are descending on Elveden Center Parc in Suffolk. The car park is nearly full; most guests have dropped off the luggage at their lodge and dutifully parked up, because at midnight, car access within the grounds is restricted until it's time to quit this rural idyll on Monday morning.

This is just one element of Center Parcs' carefully constructed brand of rural escape, a concept created by Dutch businessman Piet Derksen in 1967 and introduced to the British public two decades later.

Its success here over the past 21 years has been phenomenal. The first Center Parc in Nottingham's Sherwood Forest has spawned three more sites across the UK, which welcome 1.5 million guests a year. (A spokesman told me Elveden achieves 96 per cent occupancy year round, with 60 per cent of guests returning.) It's no surprise that these parks are now owned by an American venture capital company, the Blackstone Group.

Elveden is a vast leafy landscape with a lake at its heart and an attractive cast of ducks, pheasants and rabbits (which oddly seem to hang out together). Fortunately, humans are not so ubiquitous; the 400-acre park may have the capacity for 4,000 visitors but on our first evening we barely met a soul on the 10-minute walk from our far-flung lodge to the "village", a paved precinct with a shop and restaurants. In fact, throughout the weekend, the only real crowds could be found at this hub and in the indoor leisure facilities.

But from the outset Center Parcs has aimed to offer more than just a breath of fresh air in its countryside havens. Back in the Sixties, the first park – then known as Sporthuis Centrum – in the forest near Reuver in The Netherlands, provided colour TVs and central heating in its 30 "luxury villas", and an outdoor pool.

That quest to give holidaymakers more of what they want has continued and is one of the main reasons behind Center Parcs' enduring popularity.

Today's sophisticated holidaymaker is currently being treated to an overhaul of the accommodation itself. The original lodges were built with flat roofs so that the surrounding vegetation could grow over them. While Derksen's "villa in the forest" concept remains central to the Center Parcs' experience, the choice of accommodation has expanded and been enhanced and its very shape has changed.

Now visitors to Elveden can choose from six types of lodge (there is also a hotel). As the price ascends (along with the height of the structures, from the flat-roofed one-storey cabins to pitched-roof two-storey houses straight out of Brookside Close), extras offered include dishwashers, flat-screen TVs, PlayStations, en-suite bathrooms, games rooms, patios, barbecues, saunas, outdoor hot tubs and maid service.

Guests can also enjoy "enhanced decor", the latest multi-million pound investment aimed at impressing the Changing Rooms generation, for Center Parcs has employed the talents of top interior designer Tara Bernerd, and given her a remit to wave a stylish wand over its Woodland, Exclusive and the most recently opened Executive Lodges.

The result is a showhouse look in white with bold accent colours, wooden floors, tactile cushions, throws and rugs, modish furnishings, plenty of chrome in the kitchen, photographic prints, and recessed spotlighting – Ilva meets Magnet meets The Bath Store.

The appetite to upgrade is also evident in the village. Center Parcs own American diner, Huck's, which was added to the choice of restaurants this March. And a take-away cafe is due to open. Where once there were only own-brand restaurants in the park, Blackstone has introduced franchising to offer familiar high-street names such as Bella Italia and Café Rouge – a third Starbucks will open, too.

In another part of the grounds the old country club has been transformed into a spa, a rare adult-only bolthole in this child-centric world, offering a seductive array of treatments and exotic spaces including a Japanese Zen garden and a Turkish hammam.

But some things never change. The signature glass dome that covers the Sub-tropical Swimming Paradise – it's a common misperception to believe the whole park is under glass – is still one of the major reasons why people come here. As are the multitude of activities on offer (plan your budget well, these can be costly, and beware there are steep rental prices for bike hire – £72 for a family of four for the weekend).

After all, with everything from framed silk painting to tree-top walks on offer, a holiday at Center Parcs is all about getting the family active. That's what really matters to its hardcore fans, but no doubt they'll appreciate a little extra style and comfort, too.

Further information

Center Parcs (08448 267 705; centerparcs.co.uk) offers a three-night weekend break at Elveden Forest from £969 for a new four-bedroom Executive Lodge, sleeping eight.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk