At the end of June Dan and I decided to go off on a little city break in search of some new adventures, and we picked Oxford as the city we wanted to explore. I’ve never been to Oxford before (a quick stop at Bicester outlets doesn’t really count!), and did a little research online looking at some blogs, pinterest and a few youtube videos to suss out what we wanted to see and do while we were there.
We weren’t blessed with the best possible weather considering it was late June, but it only rained on and off on our second day and it was generally nice, pleasant weather for wandering and exploring.
We arrived in Oxford at around lunchtime and had originally intended to have lunch along the river and to try our hand at punting. I’d booked a table at a restaurant called The Folly which looked gorgeous online on its website, but in reality it was a bit of a let down. The decking area along the river where I’d imagined we’d sit looked a little bit weather and dilapidated, and there was a floating dining boat parked right alongside which blocked most of the views! The restaurant was on quite a quiet stretch of river leading to what looked like a bit of a dead end, so it wasn’t right for the bustling riverside interest I’d imagined anyway. We decided to give that one a miss, as well as the punting as it wasn't all that sunny, and went off into the town centre. We popped into a few shops and ate Mr Whippies while listening to an amazing University band belting out a few Michael Bublé numbers.
We found a lovely area of town called Castle Quarter around the ruins of Oxford castle and alongside the Malmaison hotel, which I was suprised to find out used to be a prison. That must be an interesting place to stay! As Dan fancied some pasta, we ended up eating in Prezzo. Not my first choice as we have a Prezzo round the corner from where we live, but the food’s always lovely there and we picked out a nice outdoor table as the sun had started to shine.
Dan ate meatball spaghetti and I had one of the lower calorie flat bread pizzas (Bianca) with salad as I'm trying to do a bit of a low calorie diet at the moment - it didn't taste low calorie considering I went for the goat cheese topping, and it was more than enough food as I can never finish a big, doughy pizza anyway.
After our lunch we jumped back into the car and headed for Woodstock and Blenheim Palace. Visiting historical buildings isn’t something Dan and I usually do together, and maybe it’s a sign I’m becoming a grown up, but I was really excited to see Blenheim Palace. I didn’t really know anything about it until I started researching Oxford, and was really interested in seeing such a huge and ornate building which still operates as a home today for the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. The amount of land around the palace is just insane and there are so many different garden areas and a giant maze! When we drove in, this is the breathtaking sight we were met with - I literally leapt out of the car to get a photo.
It felt like being on the set of Pride and Prejudice or Downton Abbey or something - I'd had no idea just how huge and beautiful the palace grounds were going to be. I've since found that it's been the backdrop for many films and tv shows including a scene from one of the Harry Potter films (Snape's flashback by the Black Lake in Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix).
We took a long walk around the grounds near to the actual palace before getting closer for a proper look at the beautiful building. The palace was built in 1705 and it's hard to believe that a family actually still lives here. You can go inside the palace and see selected areas which are open to the public, but we didn't have loads of time so we just went for the ticket which allows you around all of the grounds.
We bought some drinks, apples and yogurt covered raisins from one of the Palace eateries and picked out a spot in front of the lake to laze around and enjoy the beautiful scenery. It was pleasant enough to sit out, but not the gorgeous summer's day I'd hoped for - the good thing about that though was that there was hardly anybody around and we just enjoyed the peace and quiet and watched the ducks going about their business in the lake.
Although we could have happily sat by the lake all day, there was so much more to see, and as the grounds are so huge we drove over to the other side of the estate to see what else the Palace gardens had to offer.
We popped into the butterfly habitat, which I found slightly scary as I don't really like bugs getting near me, but I made an exception for butterflies, which of course I love! It was really hot in the enclosure, so we took a few photos and then moved on to have a little run around in the huge maze.
The hedges were much taller than I thought they'd be, so you couldn't see over the top to cheat and find your way out. It was actually a very tricky maze and we spent about half an hour getting lost and confused!
After the fun of the maze we decided to have a game of giant chess which apparently I lost despite coming up with what I thought were some very common sense new rules. Twice Dan didn't notice he was in check, so one of my pieces ate his king, so technically I won, but he said it didn't count :(
As the evening drew in and the sun disappeared we set off to check in to our hotel which was the Oxford Thames Four Pillars hotel. As soon as we pulled in I knew I'd made a good choice as even the parking area was set amongst immaculately kept gardens.
The centre of the hotel where the lobby and reception area is, is housed in an original medieval building with stone walls and high ceilings with huge wooden beams. The rest of the hotel is more modern and built around the original structure but partly keeping in with the style.
We had a ground floor room with its own little patio and chairs which opened straight out onto even more lush and beautifully kept gardens.
After we'd settled in to our room we ventured back out into central Oxford for dinner - I'd chosen a restaurant called Cleaver which mainly serves burgers, chicken and ribs.
We had nachos with salsa and guacamole to share, and a thick and creamy strawberry milkshake, which was probably a mistake by the time our huge main courses arrived! I decided to be a bit different and instead of ordering a steak which I'd usually do, I went for a chicken and ribs combo. Dan however was not feeling like diverting from his usual culinary path at all, and ordered a huge burger.
We shared regular and sweet potato fries, but of course couldn't finish them all. Everything was really tasty and we left full to bursting. Cleaver's own brand of barbecue sauce was particularly yummy and I consumed much more of it than I should have with my ribs.
Cleaver appears to be a chain which has just a few locations so far. I hope it expands as we really enjoyed our meal and I'd happily eat there again if there was a location nearer to where we live. The interior looked really quirky and I discovered later on in the evening that so many of the materials used in the restaurant are reclaimed - some of the lights in the photo above have come from old Victorian hospitals and Navy vessels!
The next day we woke up early and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the hotel in their huge and sunny conservatory. I didn't take any photos because breakfast was a very civilised affair and I think I'd have got a few funny looks from some of the other guests. We checked out and set off into the centre of Oxford again - this time we headed for Christ Church college which is one of Oxford university's largest colleges. The college has really beautiful gardens and a meadow as well as being a really intricate collection of ornate buildings. The structures date back to 1524, and although I don't claim to be much of a historian, I was interested to find out that the college was founded by Cardinal Wolsey who was in power during the reign of Henry VIII (we all know that one!). More recently Christ Church college is famous for being the setting for some scenes from Harry Potter, and the Grand Dining Hall at Christ Church inspired the design of the Hogwarts Great Hall.
Before leaving the town centre we stopped off for what seems to be Oxford's favourite ice cream at G&D's ice cream cafe. We shared this monster three scoop portion which was a combination of daim bar, after eight and vanilla ice cream with brownie pieces - so so good but we just couldn't finish it all!
The rest of the day was spent having a little browse around Bicester Village - it was on the way home (sort of) so it would have been rude not to! I wasn't shopping for anything particular, but ended up getting this really bright and summery bag and purse combo in mint green and hot pink from Kate Spade.
I love visiting outlet shopping centres because you never know what bargains you might find. I really like Bicester Village, but it's too far away to go there too often - I usually visit maybe once or twice a year. There's a new outlet shopping centre in Wembley which I've not tried yet. It's called London Designer Outlet and I think I might need to pay a little visit to see what it's all about - it has a Ping Pong dim sum restaurant there, so I'm pretty much sold already!
So before setting off home in rain resembling a sharknado, (I've still not got around to watching that film on netflix yet but I hear it's so bad it's hilarious), we tucked in to some really great Thai food at Busaba Ethai. I've eaten there a couple of times in London, but it was Dan's first time. Luckily he loved the food, so I'm guaranteed a trip back.
We shared a prawn pad thai, crab rice, squid and butterfly prawns washed down with my favourite fruity drink there - a guava collins.
Aside from the ridiculous four hours it took us to drive home due to me picking the wrong route on the sat nav (don't drive through South West to South East London on a weekday evening), we had a lovely little break.
This is sort of my first time blogging about my travels of any sort - I always intend to blog about where I've been but never usually get around to sorting through the photos. What do you think, do you like seeing photo diary posts like this?