Make time for these 5 must-visit destinations in (and around) Bicester

From Bicester Village to Blenheim Palace, these are the best places to visit when you take a trip to Oxfordshire...

Have you made any plans for summer? We certainly have — and ours begin and end with Bicester. Forget your continental city breaks and far-flung gastro-getaways; because this small, charming corner of Oxfordshire offers everything you could ever want from a trip away.

There’s tranquil countryside, fine food and the full-throated roar of full-throttle cars. And, sitting at the heart of Bicester — among the country retreats and five-star hotels — there’s Bicester Village, an open-air luxury shopping destination like no other. And the best part? All of this is less than an hour away from London. So, if you’re looking for somewhere to escape to this year, here are 5 must-visit destinations in (and around) Bicester…

Start your engines at Bicester Heritage...

On the outskirts of Bicester, just before your shift gears and tear into Caversfield, you’ll come across a true bastion of British motoring; Bicester Heritage. By an airfield, Bicester Heritage is a thriving business campus — where start-ups and enterprising entrepreneurs have established a triumph of historic motoring at the preserved World War II bomber station.

And, from an experimental hub for the Morgan Motor Company to a bucolic outpost of iconic auction house Bonham’s, it’s a treat to visit. What’s more, several times a year, Bicester Heritage invites those with a penchant for vintage motors to head across to the tree-lined, red-brick bolthole for one of the campus’ much-anticipated ‘Scrambles’.

Described by Octane magazine as “one of the best events on the calendar”, the ‘Bicester Heritage Sunday Scrambles’ offer members of the public a chance to come down and get in on the antique action; with behind-the-scenes access to the showrooms of all 45 industry-leading specialists, and the chance to immerse yourself in the nuts-and-bolts worlds of workshops including Golden Age Cycles, Singer Vehicle Design and Pendine Historic Cars Limited.

But the best part? You’re also invited to roll up to the ‘Scramble’ (this summer, events will be held in late April and mid-June) in your own retro motor. The only requirement given is that your car must be a pre-1990 model. But, whether you’re running a plucky Sunbeam-Talbot 90 or cruising around in an ‘80s Ferrari Mondial, you’ll be welcomed with both open arms and honked horns at this most high-octane of Oxfordshire hideaways.

Bicester Heritage

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Get back to nature at Blenheim Palace...

Of course, if you’re looking for something a little quieter, the Bicester area can also deliver. On the serene shores of the River Glyme (and just a quick, vintage-tinged trip down the A4095 from Bicester Heritage) sits the majestic Blenheim Palace. Completed in 1722, it’s a corker of a country house — and one designed in the short-lived and exceedingly rare ‘English Baroque’ style. It’s also where Winston Churchill was born.

But those fascinating facts pale in comparison to the majesty of the sprawling grounds. These lawns, lake, follies and novelties are the real reason to visit Blenheim Palace during a trip to Bicester, whether for a sun-soaked walk, a picnic or to enjoy one of the property’s relaxing audio tours — which allow you to wander the gardens at your own pace.

There’s a walled garden, a butterfly house and even the ‘Marlborough Maze’ to discover on the grounds of Blenheim Palace. And, even if a tranquil tour of the surrounding woodlands doesn’t appeal to you, there are also plenty of varied and vibrant events springing up all across the historic property this summer.

From fun runs to a live jousting tournament, Blenheim Palace makes for the perfect family day out — and there’s also a food festival and a flower show on offer for more adult-oriented days. But our most anticipated event? August’s Salon Privé. Celebrating automotive style and elegance against the palace’s sensational backdrop, the country’s ‘most exclusive garden party’ revs up during the late bank holiday weekend. 

Blenheim Palace

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Shop 'til you drop at Bicester Village...

It’s the destination that put Bicester on the map; Bicester Village. Britain’s best open-air, luxury shopping destination, this stretch of continental cobbles has long brought a taste of European sophistication to Oxfordshire. But, this summer, that taste becomes even more palpable and palatable — with the opening of the new La Tua Pasta restaurant; a a multi-award-winning artisan ‘pastificio’ that uses brilliantly fresh ingredients including durum flour from Italy, and wild boar from France.

Alternatively, Café Wolseley offers all-day dining in the European grand café tradition, and the menu at Soho House & Co’s Farmshop focuses on rustic British fare. There’s also Shan Shui, a Chinese restaurant inspired by the culture of 1920s Shanghai, to try — as well as a handful of new style and homeware boutiques. So, whether you’re looking to put a summery spin on your decor with Soho Home or freshen up your grooming routine with Elemis, there’s much new to enjoy at Bicester Village this year.

And Bicester Village also acts as an excellent gateway to this whole area of Oxfordshire. With its own train station — just 46 minutes from London Marylebone — and ample free parking, it’s the perfect place to base your visit to the area. And, even if you can’t make it in person, virtual shopping is available.

But we’d always advise making the trip in person — especially since late 2021, when Bicester Village’s brand new personal shopping suites launched. These dedicated private spaces allow for a discreet, bespoke and personalised shopping experience, and are available as a service offered free of charge to all guests. They’ll give you a chance to explore and experiment with styles from Bicester Village’s boutiques, including dunhill, Orlebar Brown and Ermenegildo Zegna. And, in addition to their extraordinary everyday Village prices, you can enjoy up to 20% off in participating boutiques during the Private Sale, now on until Monday 2nd May.

Bicester Village

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Eat up at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons...

But Bicester Village isn’t the only Oxfordshire destination bringing European flair to the British countryside — or fine food, for that matter. Mere miles down the road, in the quaint village of Great Milton, Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is the perfect destination for any roving gourmets visiting the area.

The on-site gardens are almost as impressive as those at Blenheim Palace above — but these paddocks and allotments are used to grow fresh food for the hallowed on-site restaurant (which was recently awarded two Michelin stars in the 2022 Guide). 

There are delightfully-appointed rooms at Le Manoir available to book, but the highlight of the destination’s summer season is the ‘Le Manoir Summer Garden Party’. Held on the 14th July, Raymond Blanc will herald the best summertime produce with an al fresco feast. Think live music, chilled natural wines and aromatic cocktails being blended with the institution’s own gin.

It’ll be an event to remember. But, if you can’t make the Bastille Day bash, don’t despair. There’s plenty to get your tastebuds tingling on Le Manoir’s everyday menu. If it’s a special occasion, there’s no better option than the seven-course tasting menu — including such gastronomic gems as Cornish turbot, blood orange carpaccio and suckling pig with prune ketchup.

Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

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Rest your head at The Old Parsonage...

Finally, the perfect place to recharge your batteries. During your days of motoring excitement, retail therapy and fine food, you’ll need somewhere to stash all your new purchases and sleep off those sumptuous seven-course meals. Thankfully, the 17th century Old Parsonage combines historic charm and character with all the luxury you’d expect from a plush five-star hotel.

Like the other Oxfordshire destinations on this list, the Old Parsonage strikes that delicate balance between old and new. Like Bicester Heritage and Blenheim Palace, it blends country house charm with 20th century touches — such as a striking art collection. And, like Bicester Village, its interiors shine with chic modern touches.

Also following in the fashionable footsteps of Bicester Village, there are only 35 boutique bedrooms, each individually-designed and incredibly-appointed. There are luxurious handmade beds, rich natural fabrics, unique Oxford sketches and magnificent marble bathrooms. There’s even a walled courtyard — if you’re still hankering for stunning surrounds after your visit to Blenheim Palace.

And, if Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons teased your tastebuds, there’s always the chance to visit the Parsonage Grill — an intimate, bohemian eatery with an almost clubby atmosphere, where classic British dishes are reinvented with a modern, light touch. So settle in, order a plate of braised ox shin, and raise a glass of Parsonage house red to discovering the best destinations Oxfordshire has to offer…

The Old Parsonage

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Want more from Bicester Village? Here’s what to expect from the luxury destination’s personal shopping service…

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