Ireland has its very first Center Parcs – here’s everything you need to know

Ireland has its very first Center Parcs – here’s everything you need to know

My legs have turned to jelly as I cling to a rope for dear life. My hands are shaking and my brain is wondering why on earth I thought tree trekking with my husband and kids was going to be a good idea. But as I sit back in the harness and zip wire my way to the end, my heart knows we made some proper families memories in the last 45 minutes.

For my kids to see me equally as scared (OK, more scared) than them, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway, is big, heart-pumping, bonding stuff. And once I get to the bottom and free my body from all the ropes, I’m proud of myself too.

Having adventures together is one of the main reasons families come to Center Parcs. There’s indoor and outdoor fun as well as total relaxation and accommodation in lovely wooden lodges that blend into the forest perfectly.

For me and my family, it’s one of our absolute favourite places. So when we heard about Longford Forest – the brand new addition that’s only just opened in Ireland, we couldn’t wait to come and see it.

Why Ireland?

The Subtropical Swimming Paradise (Center Parcs/PA)
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise (Center Parcs/PA)

Make no mistake, the UK might be spoilt with five different Center Parcs dotted across the country, but this is a really big deal for Ireland. It’s taken four years to launch, since they announced the plan to expand here, and the €233 million development has been delivered on time and within budget. Having created 1,000 permanent new jobs, Longford Forest is expected to inject €32 million into the Irish economy each year.

And for local visitors, the 400 acres of wondrous woodland (housing 466 self-catering lodges and 30 apartments) is home to Ireland’s largest water park and biggest stand-alone spa.

What’s new?

Aqua Sana Spa (Center Parcs/PA)
Aqua Sana Spa (Center Parcs/PA)

Anyone who knows the forests in the UK will discover Longford is very recognisable as being a Center Parcs. Everything looks pretty much the same, but it does feel more open in the outdoor spaces. The trees seem a little further away, and perhaps there’s a bit less cover.

There are some nice touches with water features as well, artsy installations around the crazy golf course and beautiful wild flower growth, injecting even more colour into the outside space.

Restaurants-wise, there are two exclusive eateries in Longford. The main one is Cara’s Kitchen and Bar, which uses local produce and offers all the family favourites for between €12-€30 , kids main meals from €6 . The space is light and airy, with lots of glass and funky wicker lampshades, the staff are really attentive, but the thing we like most is the injection of live music – something that’s synonymous with Ireland. Come 9pm on Saturday night, local musician KTG is tuning up and playing some cover songs, and we can’t get enough of it.

Other new and exclusive additions include The Coffee House, serving a Java Republic caffeine fix, and a host of massages and facials. Aqua Sana Longford offers treatments by VOYA – a family-run Irish brand, which produces organic and sustainable cosmetics, using seaweed handpicked off the west coast of Ireland.

The VOYA Men’s Revive and Refresh Face and Body is only available here, and focuses on relieving muscle tension, while reducing signs of tiredness. My other half James felt the tension disappear as his legs were pummelled during an invigorating massage, with tailored strokes across his back and shoulders.

I find the best way to arrive for a treatment is to be completely stressed. As a busy, working mum, this is easy for me, but as I stroll to the spa, Rosie (10) and Poppy (7) pedal off on their bikes to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise with James, I’m all alone and worry-free.

Simon, my therapist, uses sweeping strokes to gently detoxify my skin, before giving me a relaxing full body massage, followed by a peptide facial. After 115 minutes of being pampered, I snuggle down in the dark relaxation room, under a fluffy blanket with a mug of Earl Grey, until I feel ready to face the world again.

What else is there to do here?

Center Parcs accommodation (Center Parcs/PA)
Center Parcs accommodation (Center Parcs/PA)

The lodges follow the same spec as other Parcs. We stay in an Executive Games Lodge, which is pretty mega: Four bedrooms, an open plan living space and a games room complete with a pool table, Xbox and enormously squishy beanbags. But outside you’ve also got a BBQ and dining area, four sunloungers, a hot tub, steam room and a sauna. It’s a wonderful space to live in for the weekend, but to have enough time to really use and enjoy it, you’d want to book in for a week.

Families can decide whether to go out for food or cook in their lodge, but if you’re not able to drive here and load up the car with all your shopping, staying in can be almost as pricey as going out. A ready-made Opihr G&T from the ParcMarket costs €4.80 – double the price I pay at home. After picking up a few essentials – dinner on the first night, booze and breakfast stuff – I scuttle out feeling a bit broke as I hand over €130 . But they do deliver it for free.

Anyone who’s been to Center Parcs before knows the swimming is unforgettable and the Subtropical Swimming Paradise does not disappoint. The enormous indoor water park is heated to 29.5C and home to wild water rapids, frenetic flumes and relaxing hot tubs – there’s 350m of exhilarating rides, slides and children’s water play areas.

Subtropical Swimming Paradise (Center Parcs/PA)
Subtropical Swimming Paradise (Center Parcs/PA)

And there’s over 100 indoor and outdoor activities to get stuck into here, open daily from 9.30am–9pm. So, whether you opt for the scary stuff and give yourself the shakes with tree trekking and indoor climbing, have some fun tenpin bowling or get creative in the arts den, it’s impossible not to find something everyone will enjoy. All the activities do cost though (apart from the Subtropical Swimming Paradise) and they are expensive. Tree trekking will set you back €120 for a family of four, and bowling costs €34.50 .

The spa, however, is really good value. You don’t have to book a treatment to lose yourself in the maze of saunas, steam rooms and hot pools. A three-hour session (from €42) is plenty of time to explore the different spa zones and experiences (there are 21 of them in total). Beware of the Deep Relax water beds – I’m told zen spa-goers often have to be woken up after falling asleep at the end of their spa journey.

Who will come to Center Parcs Longford?

Longford Forest will mainly attract families from Ireland – and most of the people I encounter (though not all) are local. Packing up the car with bags, groceries and people is by far the easiest – and cheapest – way to get here.

However, it’s a short flight to Dublin and then an hour and a half drive from the UK, or you could plump for the ferry. The transfer might sound a bit lengthy, but you get to cruise Ireland’s undulating roads and take in all that gorgeous green countryside. It also means you have the option to tag on a city break in Dublin, or explore some of the beautifully unspoiled parts of Ireland.

How to get there

Short breaks at Center Parcs Longford Forest (centerparcs.co.uk) start from €299 . Aer Lingus (airlingus.com) offers flights from London to Dublin from each way.

- Press Association

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