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.

Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
peopleComedian star of Ed Sullivan Show was mother to Ben Stiller
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?