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A real festive forest; PAUL COLE wishes it could be Christmas every day - in the depths of Sherwood Forest.

IT'S snowing in the forest - and that's odd, given that it's not snowing anywhere else. In fact, the run-up to Christmas looks gloomy and grey across Britain. Winters ain't what they used to be.

Apart, that is, from Sherwood Forest, once home to Robin Hood and his band of merry men. Now it's home to another unlikely group who wear rich red rather than Lincoln green.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Santa is in the house. And he's brought his elves with him.

Rubbing shoulders with the woodland wildlife of Britain's most famous forest are reindeer, one of which has a suspiciously red nose.

And surely someone's been in a snowball battle. You can see the snow sticking to the trees.

The Center Parcs holiday complex between Rufford and Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire, you see, has had a festive facelift, turning it into a self-styled Winter Wonderland.

As you drive down the winding road through the trees, in the fast fading light of a late Friday afternoon, you catch glimpses of light in the forest. On closer examination they turn out to be crystalline creatures of dazzling diamond bright: reindeer, geese, even the odd, presumably lost, polar bear.

The pathways through the forest are lit with reds, greens, whites and blues, Magical... just one of you could see too. And, at the end of one of the trails, real reindeer graze outside a woodland workshop run by a familiar, bearded bloke.

Center Parcs, always a family favourite at this time of year, does Christmas well. There's a host of activities for the kids, young at heart mums and dads, and doting grandparents.

What's more, with traffic banned - apart from arrival and departure on midweek and weekend breaks - it's a safe environment where up to 4,000 hire bikes rule the roads and kids have a whale of a time.

We've told you about Center Parcs before, about the bewildering range of sports activities, experiences, restaurants and woodland lodges.

But as we count down to the big day, you don't have to wish it could be Christmas every day... every day is Christmas here.

There's Santa's Woodland Workshop where, for a tenner, you can have your photo taken with the man himself, meet the elves, get a British-made plush furry toy as a gift and pick up a print as a souvenir.

There are festive pony rides through the forest, Elf Academy lessons - with craft-making classes and a graduation ceremony - a Christmas treasure trail, carriage rides and even a traditional panto.

reindeer is animals Fancy breakfast with Santa? It can be arranged. Want to design your own bauble for the tree, your own Christmas stocking, festive wreath, ceramics and much more? It's all on offer to the kids.

And did I mention the spectacular fireworks over the lake, set to music, which light up the night sky on Sundays and Wednesdays? But back to that unseasonal snow. An army of workers has been at work adding the finishing touches to the forest, painstakingly attaching fake snow with eco-friendly care. And there's a snow blower on a walkway offering animatronic Christmas character cabins.

Speaking of cabins, they've come a long way over the years. We're staying in a four-bedroomed villa with all mod cons, TVs and DVD player, our own sauna, and a games room with a pool table, Playstation 3 and board games.

Each day the cleaners call in to spruce the place up, refresh the towels and chalk a new festive drawing on the wall-mounted blackboard. We get a snowman, an elf and - they must have spotted the DVD - Thomas the Tank Engine.

The kitchen includes a gas cooker, fridge, dishwasher, microwave, temperaturecontrolled wine cooler, Senseo coffee maker and blender.

During a long weekend, we eat out at American diner Huck's - ask for the neon surfboard platter full of starters for the full effect - at Italian eaterie Strada, and enjoy a takeway curry delivered to our villa.

And after all the exertions of chasing our two-year-old grandchild about the forest, we chill out in the Aqua Sana spa complex, where a three- hour session will set you back from PS30, although treatments are extra.

You'll be calling at Freewheelers Cycle Centre, too. Here you can hire bikes for the duration of your stay. With the size of the site, you'll be needing them.

All this comes at extra cost but you don't have to break the bank. Unlimited use of the comprehensive swimming facilities is free, and the rabbits, squirrels, birds and deer who live in the forest are a constant delight.

And, if you've been good all year, it might start to snow for real.

TRAVEL FILE ? PAUL COLE and family took a Winter Wonderland break courtesy of Center Parcs Sherwood Forest.

Winter Wonderland breaks are still available for this year, and start from PS379. Christmas breaks - over the festive period - currently start from PS699 and run from December 23 to 27. Visit or call 08448 267723.


Magical... A reindeer is just one of the animals you could see

Dazzling... Center Parcs at Sherwood Forest

All is bright... Some of the festive lights in Sherwood Forest

Ho ho ho... Catch Santa at one of his workshops ? Your carriage awaits... Try going for a ride through Sherwood
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 15, 2013
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