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From Blenheim Palace to Bicester Village, plan the perfect festive weekend in Oxfordshire

Whether you're following the Winter Light Trail at Waddesdon Manor or dining at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, here’s how best to enjoy the county at Christmas…

Christmas has come to Oxford; and the city’s spires are looking even dreamier than usual. In fact, the entire county has pulled out the seasonal stops — and towns from Banbury to Burford have decked their halls, trimmed their trees and whipped up more festive feeling than you could shake a sprig of mistletoe at.

And, at the heart of the fairy-lit, festive action sits Bicester Village. With more than 160 glittering boutiques all primed for Christmas shopping sprees, the luxury destination is the perfect base for a weekend of Oxfordshire merrymaking during December. Because, whether you’re heading to Blenheim Palace for some seasonal crafts or to Waddesdon Manor for the annual Winter Light Trail, Christmas begins and ends at Bicester.

And there’s more than just unmissable savings on offer this Christmas. Bicester Village may be a luxury shopping destination but, up and down the cobbles, the stretch of boutiques has been transformed into a festive paradise — with strings of lights, a sleigh to sit in and decorations all adding to the atmosphere.

There are also delicious dining options and delectable seasonal specials from a whole host of restaurants. At Café Wolseley, you can enjoy a glass of mulled wine or decadent ‘Bailey’s Fondant’. London Grade Coffee has warming cups of Mörk Hot Chocolate on offer, for when the evenings turn even frostier. And Crêperie Angélie’s ‘Rudolf The Chocolate-Nosed Reindeer’ Christmas crêpe is the most charming seasonal snack on Bicester Village’s central street.

There are even some newly-opened boutiques to help whip your Christmas gifting into shape. Eleventy, Lacoste, Soho Home and Jo Malone London have all recently thrown open their doors — just in time for Christmas. And, once you’ve sorted out your gifts, you’re in the perfect county for Christmas — with all the joys and festive cheer of Oxfordshire on Bicester Village’s doorstep…

If you’re looking to stay in Oxfordshire for the whole weekend, there are few hotels better than Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, just outside Great Milton. The vision of chef Raymond Blanc, this sublime bucolic bolthole comes alive around Christmastime — with its 15th-century flair, lavender-lined footpaths and haute cuisine created using outstanding local organic produce.

For the festive season, the establishment’s esteemed maître de maison has cooked up a six-course tasting menu — kicked off with a suitably sparkling fluteful of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Expect wild risottos with winter truffles, braised short rib with toasted chestnuts and river trout with clementine curd among the seasonally-seasoned treats.

And the grounds are almost as enchanting as the offerings inside. Festooned with festive warm lights, the honey-hued gardens make for a truly magical evening stroll — and will only look more captivating when dusted with snow. But that’s Oxfordshire; always one decent snowfall away from looking like a Christmas card, whether you’re pulling up outside Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons or walking the grounds of Blenheim Palace.

Because, just a 20-minute drive from Bicester Village, Blenheim Palace is a bastion of Britishness — and a perfectly grand place to kick off your Christmas celebrations proper. New for 2021, the Palace has exquisitely transformed each and every one of its accessible rooms into wonderlands; filling them with hidden surprises and fairytale treats that reference the classic German story of ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’.

And, aside from the Sugar Plum Fairies, there’s also a wealth of winter activities on offer at the World Heritage Site. The Christmas Market, especially, has taken over the Great Court splendidly and is free to enter with a pre-booked ticket. Expect scores of boutique chalets, each filled with an assortment of hand-picked, hand-made gifts for those searching from a home-spun, artisanal Christmas.

There’s even an after-dark light trail at Blenheim Palace — although we’d suggested travelling the other way out of Bicester Village if it’s illuminations you’re after. For, at the similarly opulent Waddesdon Manor, on the outskirts of Aylesbury, you’ll find one of the best festive outdoor displays in Britain.

Created in partnership with light art pioneers Luminism, the Waddesdon Manor Winter Light Trail sees the country house’s gardens sparkle with spectacular light, and brings the extraordinary Oxfordshire landscape to life. The handsome château-style façade is illuminated nightly, with dancing lights set to sequenced music. But there’s also a winding, wandering trail through the trees — washed with colour, lit from dusk and transporting you from the Aviary, under the canopies and around the Manor grounds.

Light artist Leo Villareal has even lent his transcendent, fluorescent talents to proceedings; with an exhibition at Waddesdon’s Coach House Gallery celebrating the recent completion of ‘Illuminated River’, a project that lit the nine central London bridges across the Thames, and became the longest public art commission in the world.

It’s an impressive example of how well Oxfordshire does winter. And, with Bicester Village at the centre of the Christmas proceedings, there are untold opportunities to visit (and revisit) during the month of December.

Perhaps the best festive touch at Bicester Village is the extended opening hours. From Monday to Saturday throughout December, most boutiques will be open until 8pm — with the Village even opening until 5pm on Christmas Eve itself (for anyone who hasn’t yet found just the right present). And, while government guidelines require shoppers to wear face masks inside boutiques from Tuesday November 30th — and Bicester Village recommends they are worn at all times during visits — the shops remains open and primed to fulfil your every Christmas shopping need.

And you’ll likely strike every name off your list within hours. Whether it’s some choice knitwear from Eleventy, a signature seasonal aftershave from Penhaligon’s or a backgammon board from Smythson, there’s something for everyone at Bicester Village. You could even swing by the Le Creuset boutique to fulfil your every Christmas dinner need.

Plus, with 36 trains per day from London on weekdays, you can escape the city on a festive Friday — and be Christmas shopping within the hour. Then, you must just relax with a seasonal coffee, before heading out across Oxfordshire for a serene, seasonal weekend. Can you think of a better Christmas present?

Looking for more gifting ideas? Here’s what should you buy the man who has everything this Christmas…

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