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A guide to a romantic staycation in Bicester Village and Oxfordshire

Attitude's Markus Bidaux visits Oxford and nearby Bicester Village for a staycation with retail therapy

By Markus Bidaux

Words: Markus Bidaux; Images: Supplied

Like so many of us, I haven’t holidayed abroad for nearly two years, but although I miss jetting off to warmer climes, keeping my feet firmly planted on UK soil has had an unplanned benefit: it’s boosted my bank balance.

As that cash is now burning a hole in my proverbial pocket, my boyfriend and I drive to Bicester Village, just outside Oxford, for some retail therapy.

Bicester Village, Oxford

The ‘village’ is essentially one pedestrianised street lined with bargain-filled outlet shops ranging from luxe powerhouses Prada and Gucci to newcomers Off White and Jil Sander, as well as homeware and sports retailers.

It has all the convenience of a shopping centre, but fresh air and shops with cute, pitched roofs and manicured potted plants outside give it the charm of an idyllic English village.

Bicester Village, Oxford

And the bargains are unbeatable. My heart flutters with excitement when I spot Paul Smith shirts reduced from £195 to just £30 (even if my partner thinks some of my choices are on the loud side). He is equally chuffed to find the winter jacket of his dreams reduced by 60 per cent at The Kooples. If we’re going to spend our modest savings on fashion fineries, it’s gratifying to get as much bang for our buck as possible.

When you need a break, there are a handful of restaurants on-site, as well as street vendors Créperie Angélie, Maître Choux and Rococo Chocolates, each sounding more temptingly sweet than the last, but we are already booked into Café Wolseley, the village’s all-day café-restaurant inspired by the iconic London flagship, for lunch. The place is packed with bargain hunters and after our meal, we visit Bicester Village’s swish new private shopping suites.

One of the personal shopping suite at Bicester Village, Oxford

During lockdown, Bicester began offering a virtual shopping experience in which you connect to its boutiques over the phone, video call or WhatsApp. They even offer a virtual pop-up, the Creative Spot, exclusively for cutting-edge collections by the likes of menswear designers Patrick McDowell and Carlota Barrera.

The success of the virtual experience led to the opening of four personal shopping suites in December with complimentary services. Book ahead and a personal shopper will have a rack of suitable clothes for you to try on in a big, plush suite with drinks at the ready.

Entrance to the personal shopping suites at Bicester Village, Oxford

We leave Bicester – laden with bags but with substantially lighter wallets – and drive to Oxford’s Old Parsonage Hotel. It occupies a charming 17th-century building covered in vines and is surrounded by a large, walled courtyard.

Inside, we are welcomed by a roaring fire and are immediately impressed by all the original features — stone window frames and wood carvings on the walls. Our room, though, one of 35 in the independently owned property, is both modern and cosy, complete with underfloor heating in the marble bathroom.

The Old Parsonage Hotel, Oxford

Having dropped off our shopping haul, we head back downstairs, first to the bar for a cocktail, and then into the Parsonage Grill. With dark walls covered in dozens of framed painted portraits, it has the feel of a gentlemen’s club. Its menu of steak and chips, fish dripping in butter, and cheese soufflés offers hearty wintery goodness on a plate. It’s a Friday night and by the time we are halfway through our meal the place has come alive and every seat is filled.

The Old Parsonage Hotel, Oxford

In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, we head into Oxford on foot, exploring the glorious university buildings, including the iconic circular Radcliffe Camera, which houses the Science Library, and the stunning Bridge of Sighs, a covered skyway connecting parts of Hertford College.

Blenheim Palace

Afterwards, we drive to nearby Blenheim Palace, where Sir Winston Churchill was born. His mother went into premature labour during a party and retreated to deliver the future Prime Minister away from the other guests. It’s just one of the intriguing tidbits of knowledge we pick up from our private guide Matt, who also divulges how the Duke of Marlborough was gifted the land to build the palace in the 18th century by Queen Anne.

The palace is magnificent, but without someone explaining who the paintings feature, what the ceiling frescos and silk tapestries represent and why there is so much china on display, it is near impossible to fully appreciate the grandeur of it all.

Blenheim Palace

After our hour-long tour, we stroll through the grounds, which are so immense that just walking the path that encircles the palace takes two hours. As it is a bitterly cold January day, we forego the hike and head instead to The Orangery for a spot of afternoon tea.

We may not have got a holiday tan, but we head home refreshed and feeling like new men – with smart wardrobes to match.

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