Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Center Parcs Revisited

We're back! 

S'funny how I feel like a character from C.S.Lewis' 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' by saying that. Going to Center Parcs feels a little bit like stepping into another world - quite possibly Narnia, due to the forest location. 

This feeling (of being in another world) was heightened by the fact that our accommodation didn't have WiFi (this time). We had some mobile reception, but not enough to do much on the Internet, so it left us feeling a little bit 'cut off' from the outside world. There was the telly, but somehow it seemed wrong to be watching it - when we could be out and about, or relaxing with our friends.

Of course we hadn't gone for long. Previous trips to Center Parcs left us gagging for more, so we opted to return for a slightly shorter weekend slot (term time again, which makes it cheaper). The other advantages (it being Autumn) was a distinct lack of  both mosquitoes and hayfever. When we last visited (in June) I was bitten by wee critters and the wildflower meadow was in full bloom. There was one afternoon, down by the lake, when both The Hub and I suffered terrible hayfever. 

Guests for breakfast.
This time there was definitely an Autumnal nip in the air, as we wandered the site. The fireplace (something we'd not considered using before) definitely came into its own. Thankfully, the chalets were warm, there was sunshine during the day and a subtropical swimming pool 'Paradise' to keep us warm.

There were still the ducks and other wild life clamouring to be fed, including, on the first night, this badger!
Poor quality pic, I'm afraid!
The badger was after the remains of some bread left out for the ducks and came right up to our patio door! Having not seen a badger up close and personal before, I was very excited and couldn't believe how unfazed it was by our presence. Unfortunately, in my excitement, I rushed to take a photo on my new phone, not realising that there was a flash. Of course, the flash went off and scared the poor badger away. It was never to return. Doh!

On previous occasions, we visited local supermarkets, before arriving, to make sure we had all our gluten free and dairy free provisions lined up. However, last time we visited about four* before we got all the things that we thought we needed, so this time, as we were only going for a weekend we decided to try and do without the added supermarket hop. 

We decided to buy as much as we could from the onsite supermarket (otherwise known as the 'Parcmarket'). We still made sure that we took certain essentials: Genius bread (the Parcmaket does stock gluten free bread, but not the one loaf that I can comfortably eat), our long life milks (the Parcmarket sells soya milk and lactofree, neither of which are any use to me), Bolognese sauce, Orgran dried pasta (made with rice), some Dove's gluten free flour, Marigold Bouillion (we use it instead of gravy), our favourite snacks and a few extra cooking utensils. Oh, and some dairy free chocolate of course - they don't sell any at Center Parcs and I couldn't go without! 

As for everything else, I knew we could get Vitalite dairy free margarine in the supermarket on site, and for just a few days, I thought I could forgo my recently found dairy free cheese and yoghurt, after all, I've managed without for quite a while now.

Our confidence in the Parcmarket was dented somewhat by the lack of gluten free sausages and burgers (last time we brought our own, in a cool box) but restored by tasty apples and minced beef and... finding these: 

The more it snows, tiddly pom!
a new limited edition of gluten and dairy free Pom Bear snowmen (for a full list of ingredients, see below**)! 

The flavour was apparently 'Pigs in Blankets'. To be honest, I didn't think they tasted like Pigs in Blankets. Baby didn't like them (too spicy) but I did! Of course not all flavours (of Pom Bears) are dairy free, so I had to double check, and triple check, just to make sure!

Our 'Lodge' being closer to the main Plaza, this time, we didn't eat out as much as we have previously - we were able to return to the lodge for lunch. BUT it was good to know that the option was there, should the need arise... we still enjoyed our post-swim dairy and gluten free chocolate and hazelnut loaf from Starbucks though (said coffee shop is handily located in the reception area). 

Last time we discovered (to my joy) that I could eat one dish at Strada (there's one on site) which was dairy and gluten free! We've also eaten at 'The Sports Cafe,' and  'The Canopy' poolside cafe and bar, where we took a bit of a risk - by selecting dishes that had neither gluten or dairy listed as ingredients. I asked the staff to confirm that they didn't contain gluten/dairy, however, as to how well-trained they were about the need to avoid cross-contamination I've no idea. 

I don't like to take these kind of risks, but sometimes we lost track of time, or found ourselves further away from our accommodation than we thought - minus food and with a hungry little one in tow...

Of course this approach is, not to be recommended if you're at risk of an extreme reaction, such as an anaphylactic shock (Baby is not, and in fact has been okay more recently with tiny traces of cooked milk in her food) or if you're Coeliac (I'm intolerant to wheat/gluten, but not a diagnosed Coeliac). 

Neither of us came to any harm, although at the poolside cafe there wasn't much available for me to eat - just some salted 'Proper Popcorn' (a snack to keep me going, until we left the pool). However, the next time we were there, none of the salted variety of the Popcorn were left, so The Hub ordered me some corn on the cob - specifying no butter. When it arrived it was practically swimming in butter, but as 'no butter' was clearly written on the tab, the staff apologised and replaced it. 

We were far more sensible about exploring what options might be available at 'The Pancake House' - we went when we weren't desperate for food (just in search of a treat). We discovered that the Pancake House had gluten free and vegan options, but couldn't make me a pancake that was both gluten and dairy free - the gluten free mix contained skimmed milk. I was offered an omelette made purely with egg, but I would really have loved a pancake. 'Oh well!' I thought, 'I'll just have to stick to my own for now, then!'

I have to say, all in all, we had a great time (we spent most of our time in the pool, which Baby loved) and the weekend was over far too quickly. Now we're back, I'm already thinking ahead to next time - I'm writing a slightly modified list of essentials!

Homeward bound.

*On our previous visit, we visited the nearest Co-op (which turned out to be too small to stock Free From), Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Tesco. Tesco at Trowbridge turned out to be the winner for us, as it had most of the items we wanted. 

**Pom Bear Snowmen Ingredients: potato powder, sunflower oil, potato starch, modified starch, salt, sugar, yeast extract emulsifier: soya lecithins, spice, pigs in blankets seasoning: maltodextrin, yeast powder, yeast extract, onion powder, salt, sugar, garlic powder, spices, smoked salt, flavourings, herbs, colour (paprika extract), spice extracts

Update August 2015:

The 'Treats' sweet shop in the Plaza at Longleat Center Parcs now sells dairy free chocolate - you can buy Moo Free, or Kinnerton chocolate lollies. The Parc Market (onsite supermarket) now sell Black Farmer suasages which are dairy and gluten free, but bizarrely these were not placed alongside the other sausages! However, they no longer sell Vitalite or the higher end crisps/popcorn that are dairy/gluten free. AND nowhere sells those lovely Pom Bear snowmen anymore as Pom Bear have discontinued them! :(

Some of the menus in the restaurants/cafes at the site have changed. You can view them online before you go. You can buy dairy OR gluten free pancakes at the Pancake House, but none that are both. The Sport's Cafe at the Jardin du Sports has proved one again to be our best bet when eating out - with many more choices and a free soft play area for little ones! The Sport's cafe menu can be viewed online here

The only thing to watch out for are the disclaimers that cross-contamination cannot be guaranteed - hence the 'Gluten Free' menu at the Sport's Cafe has been named the 'Gluten Sensitive' menu. That said, the Canopy Cafe at the swimming pool were able to offer me gluten free fries that had been prepared in a separate fryer and then did warn kitchen staff about my needs. The lady who served me there has been there during our previous visits and was excellent. 

One thing I would like to have seen at the poolside cafe was some pre-packaged safe snacks as even the crisps were Walkers - which 'may contain' just about everything you could wish to avoid!

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  1. OK I admit I stopped reading after I saw POM BEAR SNOWMEN......do you know if they are vegetarian?*runs to shops* :)

    1. LOL! No mention of any real meat products (probably the reason why they tasted nothing like). I will add the list of ingredients to the blog post, so you can check for yourself :)

  2. I would just like to say how much I love your blog! It is so useful!

    My little girl is diary, gluten and soya intolerant so much of what you blog about is really useful for us.

    We're off to Centre Parcs in the New Year and had already had a good look online at the restaurant menus to work out where we could eat out. I was very exciting to think we might be able to eat at the pancake house, but that sounds like its out

    Look forward to reading more of your posts x

  3. Thank you so much for your kind comments. I'm glad if you find stuff useful - that's what, I hope, I'm here for.

    I'm sure you'll have a great time at Center Parcs and hope the weather is kind to you. Re. The Pancake House, ask anyway. You never know whether they might decide to effect a change. Here's hoping! :)