Editor Sophie Ritchie heads to Oxford for a whirlwind 24 hours with Bicester Village and its very own branded MINI Electric
9.00am on a Monday morning. The calm before the shopping storm – Bicester Village’s neat parking bays are almost entirely vacant, the area quiet, its manicured paths empty other than the odd well-dressed staff member striding purposefully with piping hot coffee in hand.
There are a few fellow early shoppers here, but for the most part, I feel like I’m seeing Oxford’s most popular designer shopping destination without its makeup – although that’s all soon about to change of course.
I make my way past the household names and head to The Apartment, the building reserved for the Village’s most esteemed customers. Flanked by a team of friendly staff, the space comes lavishly suited and booted with a members club-like feel, curated especially for visitors seeking a more exclusive shopping experience (and currently the only location within the Bicester Village global portfolio to do so).
Smaller rooms are sectioned off for those who would prefer a complimentary Personal Shopping experience, choosing from pre-selected items rather than encountering the stores themselves, whilst upstairs, an area that feels more like a living room is designed to offer a home from home respite for guests fed up with the swarms of shoppers outside The Apartment’s couture walls.
The boutique experience also comes complete with Hands-Free Shopping, where purchased items can be sent back to this hub via a simple QR code system to await their new owner – because carrying your own bags is so 2020, darling. There’s even the option of booking a virtual appointment from the comfort of your own home, with your items posted direct to your doorstep. thebicestercollection.com
Time to get on with the fun – of which there is plenty to be had at this designer-dripping destination. Known for its brands, Bicester’s shops include everything from Dior, Mulberry, Gucci, Prada to North Face, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and All Saints – to name just a mere handful of the incredible 160 boutiques flogging their wares here – plus recent pop-ups such as Trinny London setting up shop.
Like any outlet, shopping with something specific in mind is best avoided, as stock can vary widely – but arrive with an open mind and you shall not be disappointed (nor leave empty handed). We stroll from store to store, searching for items that beckon to be brought home – and with everything from luxury fashion and homeware to appliances and accessories here, the morning soon evaporates as we slowly browse through the store directory.
As well as the stores and eateries, you can also find look out for statement yellow Smiley carts and pop-up boutiques filled with Smiley X DO GOOD limited edition products. With 100% of all proceeds pledged towards furthering ten charities’ work, DO GOOD by The Bicester Collection and The Smiley Company have recently teamed up to help support vulnerable women and children this summer through an exciting collaboration.
EAT HERE: Farmshop
Of course, with all of that shopping you’re going to require some sustenance. Part of the sleek Soho House group, pitstop for lunch at the 240-cover Farmshop (a rather swish eatery furnished with rustically chic cobblestone floors, barn doors and exposed beams) for an al fresco feast on the outside veranda.
There’s plenty for the carnivores on the menu but being plant-based isn’t a problem in the slightest – we order the Farmshop dips, crudites, flat bread for a shareable starter and move onto the woodoven cauliflower, avocado and sweet potatoes crisps for a crunchily moreish plate of heaven.
If you’ve driven down for the day, fear not – the menu also boasts a wide array of non-alcoholic cocktails and tipples, including trendy CBD-infused TRIP CBD cans and clever mocktails that don’t sound better suited for a child. If you’re lucky enough to be a passenger, make the most of a wide array of classic cocktails, bottled beer and wines aplenty. farmshopbicester.com
DRIVE THIS: MINI Electric
Having made an impressive dent in the directory, we finally head back to The Apartment for the next stage of our adventure – picking up the keys to a gleaming electric black MINI Electric, complete with a subtle branded Bicester Village wrap.
Whizzing off on the A41 leads to manoeuvring through the many different roundabouts, with only the occasional bout of road rage as I steer the automatic MINI (with help from its on-screen navigation) through Oxford’s busy one-way centre – until we arrive at Old Bank Hotel – an incredibly central-based stay that combines comfort with culture.
Of course, electric vehicles and Oxford go hand in hand – this is a city that itches to be green, having recently been declared the UK’s second most sustainable city, with further research finding that Oxford also ranked fourth in terms of most electric vehicle chargers per 100,000 people.
STAY HERE: Old Bank Hotel, Oxford
Conquer the narrow carpark entrance and you shall be rewarded – this independent 43-room hotel is a stylish haven of both artistic touches and gourmet opportunities. With the city’s most famous landmarks a mere stroll away, book a night (or several) here to enjoy a covetable location. Sights such as the colleges of Merton, All Souls, Christ Church and University are all nearby, with the iconic Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian library found just across the road (where all that stands between you and Oxford’s famous buildings is a steady stream of double-decker buses).
After a hard day’s shopping, Old Bank’s boutique abodes are a slice of classic paradise. The five-star rooms are invitingly luxe, but it’s the bathrooms that’ll leave you longing for more – think marble surfaces, Noble Isle toiletries and rain showers so powerful it feels like you’re having a back massage. Keen to showcase its fascinating heritage and local talent, thoughtful touches include stacks of Oxford-related books, poetry booklets and even clever corridors that play soothing sounds of the ocean as you wander past nautical artwork.
Don’t forget the fork-friendly perks too – on-site Quod restaurant specialises in a broad menu of European classics with an emphasis on British produce. On sunnier days, opt for a table on the heated Italian garden terrace and dive into dishes such as Baked Polenta, Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli, lighter salads and for those feeling peckish, cheese-laden pizza boards that provoke the envy of every nearby table. oldbankhotel.co.uk
3 Things To Try
1 SIP THIS: Pop by nearby Jericho Coffee Traders for a laidback speciality coffee in quirky surroundings – and don’t forget to pair your espresso with one of the locally-made pastries and cakes. jerichocoffeetraders.com
2 RUN THIS: Old Bank hotel is a gym-free site, so power up your Strava and head off an old-fashioned run around the picturesque Christ Church meadow instead.
3 SEE THIS: Squeeze in a quick visit to the Radcliffe Camera, one of the city’s most famed pieces of architecture sitting pretty in the city of dreaming spires. Part of the Bodleian Library, you won’t be allowed over the threshold unless you pre-book a designated tour – so plan ahead to make the most of this 18th century must-see.
Make it happen
Where: 50 Pingle Dr, Bicester OX26 6WD
How: Find out more and start the adventure by visiting thebicestercollection.com
Words by Sophie Ritchie, editor