Having stayed at Centre Parc resorts many times, both in the UK and The Netherlands, we are quite used to lodge style accommodation and self-catering breaks. We have found them to be a great way of bringing all the family together. We have used the Executive villas in Centre Parc and find them very comfortable and well equipped but the arrival of another Grand Child meant that 4 bedrooms are no longer enough so I had to look for somewhere that could accommodate 10, preferably with a small dog.
My research turned up Forest Holidays and their Golden Oak Tree House lodges. Their web site claims that the Golden Oak lodges are “our most well-appointed lodges that are often in the best locations and have all the luxuries to ensure that your forest break is pleasurable and relaxing”.
I selected Blackwood Forest because it was midway between the family and was not that far from Winchester and some of Hampshire interesting attractions. The Forest Holiday website says that “Blackwood Forest opened in Spring 2013 and it offers the chance to holiday in one of 60 luxury woodland cabins, hidden deep in a 270-hectare beech forest. Leave the world behind as you pass beneath the towering Blackwood Forest beeches and enjoy the unique Forest Holidays blend of nature’s wonder and life’s little luxuries.”
Our arrival confirmed that the lodges are deep in the forest and the location is very quiet and restful, especially at night. With only 60 lodges, the complex never feels crowded and you do not get manic cyclists trying to run you down at every turn. Whilst we were deep in the forest, over 7 nights, we never saw any wildlife other than birds. At Centre Parc we usually see deer, squirrels, rabbits and sometimes badgers, this left our Grand Children a little disappointed.
Space in the lodge is good and the bedrooms and bathrooms in the main lodge are modern and well appointed. The Tree house, whilst quirky, was much less attractive and ours needed maintenance as wardrobe doors were hanging off and the TV did not work when we arrived. The quirky design did not run to bed side tables and there was only one small window in the shower room for ventilation, unless you were prepared to sleep with the patio doors open. The design was more style than substance with ropes hanging from the ceiling to suggest they were supporting the bed, but in fact all they did was obscure the view of the television when you are lying in bed. Whilst a nice idea that sounded good on paper, and was a good retreat for Grand Parents, the tree house is not as good as the rest of the lodge and if the weather were to be wet, you could get very wet crossing to and from the main lodge. I was rather disappointed with the standard of cleanliness, especially in the tree house. At times, it was difficult to establish the line between rustic and grubby, but cobwebs and badly stained floor tiles cross the line for me.
It is nice that some of the lodges are pet friendly and the hot tub was enjoyed a great deal and it was well maintained. Parking for three cars by the lodge provides easy access, but be aware that if you have extra cars you are charged £5 a night to park in the central parking area.
One point to be careful about is that the showers and baths are very slippery and in need of shower mats to reduce risk of accidents, the tree house shower needs 2. We visited a supermarket to get these on our first day. We also purchased wood and kindling for the wood burning stove at the supermarket as the price charged on site, for the one bag I ordered, was silly.
Another point to note is that there is little, if any, mobile reception in the forest and if you want Wi-Fi you need to purchase the entertainment and communications package which is another £70 or so for a week. I did not expect this to be extra in a luxury top of the range lodge. Even with this, there was no DVD player for the children’s films and the TV was rather small and dated.
I found the kitchen to be lacking in several ways, especially for those that, like us, enjoy self-catering. There is not much space to store food for 10 people and there is very inadequate fridge and freezer space for 10. There are only two small under counter fridges and only one small Freezer compartment. The single oven was also a real challenge when cooking for 10.
On a brighter note, there was a very good stock of glasses, cutlery and table ware but there was no coffee machine, something that I would have expected to see in a top range lodge. Note that you are also charged £5 a day if you require a high chair, something that I would also expect in a family style accommodation. I never did find a hoover, something I would have expected in a lodge where there is no cleaning service for 7 days and you are in the middle of the forest with leaves etc. being carried in.
I felt that there was a general lack of attention to detail, especially at the hand over. We found towels missing, two of the TV’s did not work and as previously mentioned there were aspects of maintenance that had not been addressed.
I used the Retreat only once during the stay and this was on arrival whilst we were waiting for the rest of the family. This was also disappointing in terms of quality of food and service. The small shop does have some of the basics but do not count on this for anything but emergency rations. I understand that some of the supermarkets will deliver to the Retreat, but I used ‘click and collect’ from Sainsbury’s which is about 15 minutes away, on the outskirts of Basingstoke. There is also a Tesco on the outskirts of Winchester.
The location of Blackwood is convenient for some of the attractions in this area of Hampshire including Marwell Zoo, The Watercress Line steam railway, the wonderful Hillier Gardens, the Army Air Corps Museum at Middle Wallop and Mottisfont house and gardens. We also used the excellent park and ride system to visit Winchester and had a very enjoyable stroll through Stockbridge.
Overall we had a good week’s break with the family all together but the accommodation did not live up to expectations and fell well short of the Executive accommodation at Centre Parc, the nearest comparable style of accommodation. I felt the price was very high for what was offered given the lack of facilities and activities on site and the number of additional charges that I had to pay for things like additional parking, high chair, communications package, wood for the stove, breakage insurance etc.