You know how certain places become woven into the tapestry of your life? Well to me, Center Parcs at Longleat Forest is one of those places.
We’ve been going there ever since my nephew was a toddler (he’s now a strapping 15-year-old) and we lived a child-free existence.
Since those days we’ve had two children of our own and, as they’ve gone from babies to boisterous boys aged six and nine, we’ve made several more visits to Center Parcs as a family.
The great thing about a break among the pine trees in rural Wiltshire is that you can do as much or as little as you like.
There are so many different activities to choose from, but you can also just sit back and enjoy the scenery and the freshness of the forest air - or escape to the calming sanctuary of the Aqua Sana World of Spa.
This time we opted for a festive Winter Wonderland short break. Picking up the kids from school on a Friday, it was a straightforward drive of around two hours to the Center Parcs village (complete with lit-up trees and convincing fake snow).
The modus operandi hasn’t changed. You drive up to a reservations window, get your key and then proceed to your lodge to unload.
Then you take your car back to the car park - and there it stays while you get around the forest by walking, cycling or catching the land train.
It all makes for a very peaceful, relaxing environment where you know the children are safe.
After a night’s sleep in our comfortable three-bedroom lodge, we started Saturday by hiring bikes, helmets and locks.
Then it was off to check our bearings (it’s a big site) before lunch and a fun game of ten pin bowling. After that there was more cycling around the lake and watching impressed as people on the Action Challenge traversed rope bridges up in the trees and then whizzed across the water on a 200m zipwire.
By early evening we’d worked up quite an appetite and enjoyed an excellent meal at Huck’s in the Plaza before going to see real reindeer and hear carols in the Village Square.
The restaurant proved a real godsend, with a hot buffet for hungry children so they didn’t have to wait, a fun indoor play area and even Apple Macs where they could play computer games while the adults chatted.
Come Sunday morning and the boys were excited to be experiencing the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, the complex at the heart of the village that boasts wave machines, different rapids, slides and hot whirlpools (plus an ice- cold plunge pool for the brave).
They had a great time before refuelling with a tasty burger at Dexter’s Kitchen. Then it was on to the next activity.
For the six-year-old, it was time to be creative in Santa’s Elves’ Workshop at the Time Out Club, while the nine-year-old showed he had a head for heights by donning a harness and hard hat and tackling the Jacob’s Ladder challenge of high ropes and obstacles.
And mum and dad? Well, we managed to escape for a couple of precious hours to the Aqua Sana World of Spa.
It’s a child-free zone where men and women float about in white towelling robes and experience a range of rooms designed to calm the mind and relax and detox the body.
I particularly liked the Turkish Hammam, a steam room where you breathe in the damp, aromatic air. Meanwhile, Mrs T enjoyed an Elemis Face and Body Sensation treatment.
All too soon it was over. But the fun wasn’t finished as we stayed at the lake to enjoy a stunning fireworks display and saw Santa as he waved from a boat.
As we headed back into the real world, two tired but happy boys asked: ‘When can we come back?’
Christmas breaks at Center Parcs (December 23-27) start from £699. Winter Wonderland breaks (up to December 22) start from £279.
Activities are priced individually. For more information and to book, go to centerparcs.co.uk/villages/longleat/ or call 08448 267 723