Shop till you drop at Bicester Village in Oxfordshire

Morag Bootland enjoys some retail therapy on a trip to Oxfordshire.

HAS the panic set in yet, or are you holding off for the start of December? Shopping. Love it or loathe it, the run up to Christmas means that you have little chance of avoiding it.

This year I decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, then you might as well join ‘em and headed for the shopper’s paradise that is Bicester Village in beautiful Oxfordshire. My daughter, who has been know to frequent a retail establishment or three eagerly joined me for this trip south. We decided that we’d make a trip of it and stay in Oxford, so that we could enjoy all that this famous city has to offer.

We flew to London and then caught the train direct from Marylebone Station to Bicester Village. The train takes around an hour and snakes through some lovely countryside as it leaves the big smoke behind.

Bicester Village is a revelation. It’s an open-air shopping destination that’s heaven for designer-brand lovers, and as lots of shops offer special deals it’s perfect for bargain-hunters too. We started off our shopping extravaganza at The Apartment in Bicester Village. Here we were warmly welcomed and enjoyed refreshments and a tour of the personal shopping rooms. These are perfect for families who might want to wander around the shops and then take some time to try things on, or enjoy a glass of fizz in their own private space. Shoppers can also ask for garments to be sourced in advance and have them waiting for their arrival. The spaces here are opulent and beautifully furnished.

We learn about the awesome ‘hands-free’ shopping service which means that any purchases you make can be whisked back to The Apartment ready for you to collect at the end of the day. This makes shopping a breeze and means when you stop for refreshments or a meal you’re not encumbered by bags. We only had time for a quick snack on the hoof, because we were on a shopping mission, but there are lots of places to eat and drink at Bicester, including the wonderful Cecconi’s Italian restaurant, the first outside London.

For anyone who really can’t take the trip in person, Bicester offer a virtual shopping experience. You can choose which of the 150 boutiques you’d like to check out and book a virtual personal shopping experience.

There are too many shops that we loved to list them individually, but let’s just say that we left Bicester in style. Effie was carrying bags from Vans, Pandora and Benefit. While I had blown my budget in Vivienne Westwood. We’d enjoyed a browse around Charlotte Tilbury, fallen in love with a gown at Alexander McQueen and pressed our noses up against the window of Prada.

Bicester kindly allowed us to use their very cool electric Mini Cooper to zip around the Oxfordshire countryside. But after our shopping frenzy we were ready for some serious R&R. Heading into Oxford for the evening we checked into The Old Parsonage Hotel. An outdoor terrace adorned with fairy lights gave access to a heavy wooden and iron door, leading into reception and a gigantic open fire providing a warm welcome to all. This gorgeous old building dates back to the 17th century, but has the benefit of lovely, spacious, modern rooms.

A quick shower and we were heading downstairs for dinner. The walls of the restaurant and bar are lined with portraits of all shapes and sizes, some modern and some ancient, reflecting the mix of old and new at The Old Parsonage. I ordered the venison loin with harlequin squash puree, cavalo nero and girolles. The venison was perfectly pink and the rich jus, veggies and mushrooms made this the perfect winter warmer. Like a big hug on a plate. Choosing from the kids menu, which caters to any youngsters who might be less ambitious in their tastes, Effie enjoyed her fish and chips followed by ice cream. Basking in the post meal glow we decided to call it a night so that we could wake early and explore Oxford city centre, which is just a five-minute walk from The Old Parsonage. Neither of us had been to Oxford before and while I was keen to check out some of the history, Effie had her heart set on yet more shopping.

After a good night’s sleep, I insisted upon a rejuvenating brekky before I could even consider more retail therapy. I’d heartily recommend The Old Parsonage’s granola and yogurt pot, choc-full of nuts and utterly delicious, it set me up for the day ahead.

Oxford itself has everything you would expect and more in the way of shops. We browsed around as many as we could and still had time to wander past the universities and the Bodleian Library, sadly we didn’t have time to take a tour. But every cloud has a silver-lining, and ours came in the form of a glorious afternoon tea in the rather splendid surroundings of The Orangery at Blenheim Palace.

Hopping back in the sprightly little mini we sped off, reaching the extensive grounds of the palace and dodging flocks of geese to make our way to The Orangery. The palace was the ancestral home and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, but sadly we didn’t have time to explore this grand old building. A return visit is certainly on the cards, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take the afternoon tea again. Delicate sandwiches and a cheesy tart, fluffy scones with lashings of jam and cream and perfect patisserie ticked all of our culinary boxes, and the luxurious surroundings and friendly staff made this a real treat.

Hopping back in the mini we had run out of time and the return journey to Scotland awaited. But we left Bicester Village and Oxfordshire with a few more bags than we arrived with and delighted to have started our Christmas shopping. The fact that we hadn’t actually bought any gifts for anyone else certainly didn’t dampen our spirits and plans to make this an annual trip were hatching before our train had pulled away from Bicester Village station. Next time we’ll make sure to spend some more time in London to break up the journey and explore all that the city has to offer too.

Discover more at www.TheBicesterCollection.com