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Bicester Village: A pleasant alternative to Oxford Street

Bicester Village makes for a luxurious experience to be treasured once every so often.

By Alastair James

Bicester Village
Bicester Village offers shoppers a discounted luxury experience (Image: Bicester Village)

A good way to describe how I usually shop would be to say I treat it like it’s a military-type extraction. I don’t actually think about it like that in the moment, but I do approach it in a similar way, I guess. I have objectives, I know what I want, where I can get it, or am likely to get it. Then I’m in and out.

It’s efficient, organised, and methodical. Quick and easy… most of the time.

Of course, as a Londoner, shopping in the capital, as with most city centres, comes with its obstacles and detractions. If you aren’t put off by the crowded and sweaty Underground, there are the throngs of Oxford and Regent Street and the Westfields of the world.

That’s why the forced turn to online shopping during the pandemic actually became a pleasing experience. No longer did I have to contend with busy shops, navigating, and in some cases picking up, strewn items of clothing from the floor. No longer did I have to weave around slow walkers. And no longer did I have to come home feeling like I’ve exercised and in need of rest.

But as someone who liked being able to go into a shop, to feel the material of something, and have the choice of everything in a store, I missed all that. Even after a number of necessary jabs and mask mandates disappearing shopping in person hasn’t been as pleasurable.

Shopping at Bicester Village, however, is a completely different experience as I discovered on a recent trip.

The experience starts off well. I’m picked up from Bicester Village train station by Tony, a buggy-driving chauffeur dressed to the nines complete with bowler hat. As we drive off at a gentle speed, I catch a few glances coming my way from other visitors probably wondering who I am and why I’m getting escorted. I do, admittedly, feel like a movie star on a film set.

Tony and I chat convivially; it’s my first time here I tell him despite having spent a lot of time growing up at my grandparents in not-so-far-away Buckinghamshire and hearing of Bicester Village.

The Apartment entrance
The Apartment entrance (Image: Alastair James)

Arriving at The Apartment, I’m greeted with warm smiles and a quick tour. The décor of this lavish property is smart, clean, and classic. There are hints of luxury everywhere from the gold accents, the plump velvety sofas, and the immaculate chessboard floor, so well-polished it reflects the ceiling lights, dazzlingly so. Bright colours stand out against the more neutral tones throughout the building. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. On a mild-to-cold February day such as this, it’s very welcome.

The invitation-only building acts as a place for visitors to get away from the mulling over of discounted fashion brands and recuperate over a cup of tea or dare I say it, Champagne.

A personal shopping suite in The Apartment
A personal shopping suite in The Apartment (Image: Bicester Village)

Consider the boundaries in the discounted sector pushed. The personal shopping suites, which opened in 2022, provide a rich experience at zero cost. These small boutiques are free to absolutely everyone. And they really are free, anyone can book an appointment. You indicate your sizes and preferred brands, there’s no minimum spend, and the team take over everything.

If I wasn’t keen to get out and explore the Village for myself, the idea of sitting here and enjoying having items brought to me sounds heavenly.

Bicester is looking to elevate everything it does. Part of that elevation will hopefully one day include more of a celebration of Pride and the LGBTQ community. Bicester is very aware of the conservative nature of much of its clientele and is therefore trying to find a way of doing something that works for as many people as possible.

The Apartment, Bicester Village
The Apartment, Bicester Village (Image: Bicester Village)

Heading out onto the street, I make my first stop Axel Arigato. The shop is probably more like a Tardis than I witnessed. The customer-facing side of the store favours a minimal design, opting for clean white and shelves populated by one shoe of each pair on sale. I imagine the storeroom to be a cavernous space filled with boxes upon boxes of shoes and clothes. Though probably just as tidy as the shop floor, I suspect.

I leave feeling content as well as realising another appeal of Bicester, beyond the discounted prices. As well as providing pleasant conversation Axel employee Robert saw what I was interested in and worked with me to find something that matched my style. His knowledge of Axel’s shoes was also of a level that he could advise me how the products tend to fit and therefore what size I would most likely be comfortable in. He was 100% on the money. It’s not quite the service I’d expect to get on most high streets and something Bicester rightly prides itself on.

Axel Arigato model with the Clean 180 sneaker - the very shoe the writer took home
Axel Arigato model with the Clean 180 sneaker – the very shoe the writer took home (Image: Axel Arigato)

It’s now the middle of the day and I’m feeling peckish. Thankfully, I have a reservation at Cecconi’s. Opening last December, the Bicester eatery is the brand’s first non-London-based location and brings the delectable delights of the Mayfair and Shoreditch hubs with it. It also utilises the brand’s design identity with striped tiled floors, luscious vegetation, and rich colour schemes. Customers can choose between the wide-ranging à la carte menu, featuring fresh seafood and seasonal dishes, or the pizzeria. Both are tempting but I opt for the former.

The inside of Cecconi's
The inside of Cecconi’s (Image: Cecconi’s/Bicester Village)

Nestled in a cosy corner spot I can observe the hustle and bustle outside, as well as the hubbub of the restaurant. For a starter, I choose the bresaola, rocket, and parmesan. It’s all very mature and full of intense flavour. A main of lamb shoulder, polenta, and creamed spinach follows, accompanied by a glass of Primitivo, Visconti della Rocca.

The lamb is tender and practically melts in the mouth. It’s bathed in a rich sauce and seated on top of a plush bed of polenta. Pudding sounds good but my eyes have been bigger than my stomach. With quite generous portions an extra course feels like a level of extravagance I can (and should) pass on. Not an easy decision after eyeing up my neighbour’s lemon meringue pie.

Suitably stuffed it’s a good time to head out and find some deals. At the very least, walk off lunch.

The lamb shoulder, polenta, side order of creamed spinach and a glass of red wine
The lamb shoulder, polenta, a side order of creamed spinach, and a glass of red wine (Image: Alastair James)

With over 160 boutiques to choose from there’s plenty of choice. As a newcomer, I decide to survey the rest of the village before choosing where to shop. Classic me.

Gucci and Dior are by the far the most in-demand boutiques. Every time I walk by there’s a small queue at both. Neither, however, are to my taste, which is one of the great things about Bicester Village: there’s something for everyone. There’s Balenciaga, Stellar McCartney, Gucci, and Prada as well as smaller brands such as Bamford, Rupert Sanderson, and Acne Studios.

Enjoying the luxury of space, I dip in and out of various boutiques, gauging a sense of the discounts on offer. All Saints offers a 20% discount if you buy two items and 30% for three. For All Mankind offers an extra 50% off across everything in store for a limited time. Again, the service is a standout across all boutiques. Members of staff enquire as to how I’m doing and whether they can assist me, as well as highlighting deals various. Again, it’s going above and beyond the typical retail experience.

Bicester Village
Bicester Village (Image: Bicester Village)

These deals also make Bicester Village more affordable for the everyday customer. I’m thankful I’m here just after payday, and a gift voucher from Bicester sweetens the deal, but I’m also aware of the Cost-of-Living Crisis we find ourselves in and how accessible this really is. Bicester is aware of this too, although having a strong international customer base helps.  

I stop by ski brand Fusalp’s boutique. The ultra-chic French brand, which combines practical skiwear with suave French style, is here temporarily (19 January – 21 April).

Apart from this pop-up, the brand’s UK presence is limited to one boutique in London’s Chelsea, Harrods, and Net-A-Porter. The brand is a natural fit for Bicester Village given the emphasis on premium luxury.

Fusalp blends practical skiwear with style
Fusalp blends practical skiwear with style (Image: Fusalp)

“Some customers prefer the minimalism of the brand and combination of performance and French savoir faire,” store manager Max tells me. “We’re all about quality and that’s why they come to us.”

Fusalp offers a 33% discount at Bicester Village and a couple of weeks into its brief spell here has seen good levels of footfall. There’s hope Fusalp will return on a more permanent basis soon.

Later on, having parted with some money in exchange for a burnt oxblood leather jacket that fits perfectly and a nice shirt I decide it’s time to depart. I’m not the only one. The families that I shared the train here with earlier wheel around suitcases that don’t sound as hollow as they once did. As the natural light begins to fade twinkling fairy lights connect the picturesque boutiques lighting the way home.

The lights of Bicester Village
The lights of Bicester Village (Image: Alastair James)

The next stop is the Randolph Hotel in nearby Oxford. Walking up and down one street has been surprisingly tiring and I look forward to the chance to freshen up.

There’s a time-gone-by-grandness to the Randolph from the high arches running throughout, to the wood paneled walls of The Morse Bar, which greets guests upon arrival.

The reception at The Randolph
The reception at The Randolph (Image: Graduate Hotels)

The rooms are cosy and classically decorated. A small portrait of Oscar Wilde hangs above my double bed. It’s in sharp contrast to the room key designed to look like an ID card for Margaret Thatcher… The bathrooms are more modern by comparison to the room with plain white tiles adorning the walls and simple features.

A bedroom with an Oscar Wilde portrait above it
A bedroom with an Oscar Wilde portrait above it (Image: Graduate Hotels)

The restaurant, The Alice, is a grand affair with art-deco influences. Enormous chandeliers hang above the dinner guests with pictures around the room depicting various characters and scenes from Alice in Wonderland.

The Cheshire Cat grins down at me as I sit in a booth for two. Of course, Alice in Wonderland is inherently connected with Oxford given Lewis Carroll’s time at the university.

Carroll took inspiration for his central character from the daughter of the dean of Christ Church college.

The Alice at The Randolph
The Alice at The Randolph (Image: Graduate Hotels)

It’s also, handily, located near most of the major gay bars of Oxford. While tempted to explore the local scene after a long day and another good meal – The Randolph burger, accompanying fries, and a gin and tonic – I’m ready for bed after stopping by The Morse. After another well-earned G&T.

The next morning starts bright and early. After a quick shower, I enjoy the standard continental breakfast before being driven to The Bamford Wellness Spa for a complimentary facial massage.

Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Oxford countryside this converted barn is a small oasis. Following a consultation with masseuse Natasha, an hour-long facial treatment cleanses my spirit and removes any negative energy. My skin feels radiant.

The Bamford Wellness Spa
The Bamford Wellness Spa (Image: Daylesford)

Relaxing in the Lavender Room afterward I enjoy Bamford’s own night-time organic infusion containing hemp, valerian root, lavender, passion flowers, and lemon balm. I soak up all the peace I can knowing busy London awaits. I could easily stay much longer.

The Lavender room of the Bamford Wellness Spa
The Lavender room of the Bamford Wellness Spa (Image: Daylesford)

Later, as I wait for my ride home, I take time to explore the Spa’s shop. It sells its own-brand cosmetics, clothing, and wellness paraphernalia. Beyond the spa is an organic food shop, barn, home, garden shop, and restaurant.

Plan it well and you could spend a full day here and leave with a completely revamped spirit, organic food cupboard, and garden.

The Daylesford Organic farm with the Bamford Wellness Spa in the background
The Daylesford Organic farm with the Bamford Wellness Spa in the background (Image: Daylesford)

All in all, the perfect way to cap off a luxurious start to my weekend.