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Christmas at Blenhiem Palace: The Most Festive Place in the Cotswolds

 

 

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to the VIP press launch of Christmas at Blenheim, an exclusive event being held at beautiful Blenheim Palace in the heart of Oxfordshire. Located in Woodstock, just 10 miles from the city of Oxford, Blenheim Palace is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, and is open all year round. As the Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, tourists gather in their thousands every year to explore the house and it’s stunning grounds. As a local Oxfordshire girl I’ve been going to Blenheim since I was around 5 or 6 years old, and have been an annual pass holder many times. Blenheim is the perfect place for a family day out, a dog walk or just for a lazy stroll around the lake on a Sunday morning. The market town of Woodstock is worth a visit too, and I always pop in to some of the little shops, pubs and café’s when I’m stopping by – The Black Prince is a firm favourite of mine! The festive Christmas at Blenheim event was first launched back in 2016 and I can’t believe I haven’t visited until now! I’ve been wanting an excuse to attend so, when I was invited to the VIP press launch, I just couldn’t resist bringing my mum along for the ride and getting us both into the Christmas spirit. Here’s what we got up to, and what you can expect from your visit to Blenheim this Christmas…

 

 

The Great Court

 

 

Upon arrival we were taken into the Orangery for a welcome drink and a speech by the CEO of Blenheim before mingling and enjoying some festive nibbles. The Orangery is part of the estate I have never been to before, but it is decorated beautifully and is host to regular events at Blenheim, as well as being used as a restaurant serving evening meals, lunches and afternoon tea. Between the Orangery and the gift shop, with the small café inside, lies the Great Court. This is the starting point for the festivities of Christmas at Blenheim and is home to food stalls serving Bratwurst sausages and gourmet burgers as well as yummy churros and delicious donuts too. Opposite the food stalls you’ll find a helter-skelter, a carousel and a couple of other fairground favourites; tokens for which can be purchased at an additional cost. The Great Court looked super pretty all decorated in sparking lights, and got us feeling festive the moment we walked through the entrance archway.

 

The New Christmas Markets

 

 

A new attraction for 2018, the New Christmas Markets are located right in the middle of the main courtyard, just in front of the palace itself. Lined with lights and Christmas decorations, the markets sell every kind of gift you can think of, from cheese, chocolate and wine to portraits, bath products and pets toys. My mum and I spent some time wandering around the markets before we did the Cinderella exhibition and it was really lovely to see so many stalls set up all selling lots of fab gifts. We then sat down in the outdoor seating area (which was actually pretty small given that there were so many stands!) and indulged in a traditional German Bratwurst. The smells of the meat cooking, mixed with the smells of the sweet treats on sale, made our mouths water and I can see how people really get into the Christmas spirit whilst visiting this section!

 

The Fairytale Cinderella Experience

 

 

Another new attraction for this year, the Fairytale Cinderella Experience was something I was really looking forward to seeing as I am a TOTAL Disney Princess 😉 Upon entrance into the main palace you are greeted by Christmas tree after Christmas tree, glittering with lights, bows, flowers, stars, anything you can think of that is slightly sparkly is waiting for you in the entrance hall! We said hello to one of the staff members before heading off on the Experience. I’ve been to the palace many times so know what all the rooms are like, but the sheer amount of twinkling lights and decorations made it so much more magical and they have really done a fantastic job of making the palace look extra special. Each room is decorated with props and clothing from a certain character from Cinderella, so you have Prince Charming, the Wicked Stepmother, the Ugly Sisters and then lovely Cinderella herself right at the end, with a gorgeous display of her dresses illuminated against a back drop, and the stunning glass slipper encased in a glass box! There are of course some of Cinderella’s friends dotted throughout the trail and I think you are supposed to count the mice in each room along the way, but I was totally distracted by the sheer beauty of every room that I totally forgot to count! I was really impressed by the Cinderella Experience and I do think it is worth the money to pay extra and see this exhibition whilst you’re at Blenheim for the evening… it was truly magical!

 

The Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail

 

 

This was what we had been waiting for, the main reason I wanted to attend and the focal point of the entire event, the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail was the last stop on our itinerary for the evening and it certainly didn’t disappoint! I had seen so many photos online which looked amazing but, if I’m honest, totally didn’t do the place any justice, and it doesn’t really look as good until you see it in person. But let me tell you, it is well worth being surprised and seeing everything up close and personal as every single section is just incredible! You’ll be taken on a winter wonderland and lead through a variety of different areas including a tunnel of lights, a majestic waterfall, a sea of flowers hanging from the trees and a singing statue in the middle of the lake. The lights, the animation, the music, everything is seriously spectacular and I could have done that trail over and over again. It takes around an hour to complete the trail, maybe a little longer if you have small kids who want to run around and take everything in, and there are some muddy paths and steep hills in places, so be careful if you’re bringing the buggy. The trail was the best part of our entire evening and I would recommend that everyone does this part of Christmas at Blenheim as it’ll leave even the Scrooges amongst us feeling full of festive cheer!

 

 

As I’m sure you can tell from the insane amount of twinkly lights and Christmas trees, I had such a fantastic time at Blenheim for this event and it really got me feeling festive!  Everything from the Great Court to the Christmas Markets looked absolutely stunning, and the attention to detail on some of the décor was second to none. The brand new Cinderella Experience was better than I thought it was going to be, and I can see this being a real hit with kids and adults alike – especially if they’re visiting the Palace for the first time. The real crowning glory though was of course the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail which totally blew me away. Every single section was expertly decorated, with the music, lights, silhouettes and props looking incredible from every angle. I honestly had the most magical time at Blenheim and I really can’t wait to go back again next year! Have you been to Blenheim Palace before? And have you been at Christmas time? Let me know what you thought of it, and I would love to see all your festive photos!

Don’t forget to head to the Blenheim Palace website to purchase your tickets for this event, but be patient as it is hugely popular. I spoke to the CEO of the Estate when I was at the press launch and he told me that a whopping 82,000 tickets had already been sold before the launch night had even started, so get yours here if you want to book your preferred dates! Tickets cost £36pp for combined entrance to the Cinderella Experience and the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail, whilst tickets to just the Lights Trail cost £26pp.

Love Jess x

NB. Big thanks to the fab teams at Flamingo PR and Blenheim Palace for hosting me on this wonderful event! My tickets to Christmas at Blenheim were provided to me complimentary for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts, words and photos are of course my own.

 

 

 

 

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A Day in Oxford with Marco Polo Guides

Last weekend I spent a sunny Saturday wandering around my home city of Oxford, playing tourist and exploring it through different eyes as I joined a group of fellow travel bloggers and travel industry professionals for a fantastic event. Well known travel guide book company Marco Polo Guides, named after the famous Venetian merchant and explorer, were our hosts for the day and we were in Oxford to celebrate the launch of a brand new guide book for the city. This event was rather historic for Marco Polo, with it being their first ever blogger event, and with this book being the first ever UK guidebook (outside of London) to be published. The weather was super kind to us and we had a wonderful time checking out the landmarks, finding little hidden gems and talking all things travel with some wonderful bloggers and professionals. Here are my highlights from this wonderful day…

 

 

Brunch at Handle Bar Café

 

 

We kickstarted our day with late brunch at quirky café The Handle Bar, right in the heart of the city centre but tucked down the quiet St Michael’s Street, away from the hustle and bustle. This place was super cool and doubled up as a bicycle repair garage a well as a café. Specialising in dietary requirements, there were plenty of healthy, vegan and vegetarian options to choose from. Most of the fellow attendees went for a healthy poached eggs and avo combo, whereas I went for a big full English and made sure I enjoyed every mouthful! Although super busy, the vibe was really laid back, the staff were so friendly and lovely and it was a great place to meet everyone for the first time.

 

Bar & pub stops at The Varsity Club and The Turf Tavern

 

 

After brunch we walked up the high street towards the famous Covered Market, which is home to tonnes of little shops, cafes and boutique stores. We wandered around the market and then had some free time to explore. As a local girl, I have walked round the Covered Market approx. 5000 times and although it is lovely, there isn’t loads to see. However, when I suggested heading to rooftop bar The Varsity Club for views of the dreaming spires, a large proportion of the group wanted to follow suit and I gladly lead the way up the steep staircase to this hidden gem located on Oxford’s High Street. Sunshine? Check. Aperol spritz? Check. Rooftop views? Check. What more could you want on a sunny Saturday afternoon?! After we re-grouped and went on a bit more walking, we then decided to head to famous pub The Turf Tavern, just off Holywell Street, and parked ourselves in their rather small but very cutesy beer garden. A regular haunt of the likes of CS Lewis, Thomas Hardy and, more recently a whole host of political figures including Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton, this historic Grade II listed building is super popular with locals and tourists alike and is a must-visit when in Oxford.

 

Walking tour of the city

 

 

As it’s so small, Oxford is best explored on foot and you can definitely see it all in a day. Obviously I’ve lived here all my life so I know pretty much everything there is to know about Oxford, but I know walking is always the best method of discovery – trust me when I say that parking/driving is a nightmare! Our walking tour took us from the Covered Market, down the High Street and towards the Head of the River where we stopped to watch the boats going punting up and down the Thames. We then made our way past both the Queens and Oriel colleges before stopping to take lots of photos down pastel coloured Holywell Street which is an Instagrammers DREAM! After that we headed towards the Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre and the Bridge of Sighs before making our way towards the most famous landmark in the city, the beautiful RadCam.

 

Free time at the Radcliffe Camera

 

 

Probably my most favourite building in oxford, and definitely the most popular, the Radcliffe Camera is a sight to behold at any time of year, but even more so when the skies are blue and the sun is shining! Belonging to Oxford University, and built in the 1730s in a Neo-Classical style, the Camera is used to house the Radcliffe Science Library and is situated just behind the High Street, between Brasenose and All Souls Colleges. The square it sits in is always busy with tourists, but it’s location opposite the pretty St Mary’s Church is enviable and I would definitely recommend climbing the steps of the church tower for breath-taking panoramic views of the Camera and the rest of the city’s spires below.

 

Champagne afternoon tea at The Vaults & Garden

 

 

We ended our day the way we started it – with lots of food and drink! Perfectly positioned directly opposite the Radcliffe Camera, the Vaults and Garden Café is within the crypt of St Mary’s Church and its outdoor garden offers unspoilt views of the Camera itself. We sat inside as there were so many of us, and the interior was beautiful, with original stone walls from the church and a lovely décor too. We were treated to the most amazing afternoon tea, with sandwiches, cakes and scones as well as hot and soft drinks and some bubbles too. Sitting down for afternoon tea in such a beautiful setting was the perfect way to end a fantastic day filled with travel, blog talk and lots of fun! The staff couldn’t do enough for us, they were all so friendly and super welcoming so I will definitely be coming back to the Vaults and Garden for more sweet treats and I already can’t wait to tell my friends all about it!

 

As you can see, our day consisted of lots of walking and lots of food and drink stops which was a great way of seeing the city and spending quality time with my new blogger friends. The team at Marco Polo were fantastic, super friendly and really welcoming. It was so nice to attend a local event as I am always travelling to and from London to attend blogging courses/conferences and work-shops etc, so it was so nice to stay so close to home! I was born in Oxford and have grown up there so obviously know the city like the back of my hand, but it was amazing to experience it in a different light and share some of my insider tips with the rest of the gang too. Have you ever been to Oxford before? What do you like most about it? I know I’m biased but I think it’s one of the prettiest cities in the UK, and there really is no place like home!

Love Jess x

N.B. A huge thankyou must go to Hayley, Senja, Diane and Petra from Marco Polo for putting on such a fantastic event, and to the Handle Bar and The Vaults for a wonderful brunch and afternoon tea to start and end the day! I was invited to this event as a guest of Marco Polo Guides, but as always all thoughts, comments, and words are of course my own.

 

 

 

Hotel Review: The Fat Fox Inn, Watlington (Oxfordshire) -The perfect base for exploring the Cotswolds and the Chiltern Hills

 

Just another hotel review 🏨🏨🍾🍾 #standardmonday #luxlife #ionlygetoutofbedforchampagne

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Last Monday I was invited to stay overnight at The Fat Fox Inn, a wonderful pub with 9 cosy rooms nestled in the medieval market town of Watlington in South Oxfordshire. Conveniently located just three miles off the M4o, with easy access to London and the Midlands, and a short drive from both the dreaming spires of Oxford and the delightful Henley on Thames, The Fat Fox Inn boasts the perfect location from which to enjoy some of the Cotswolds’ and the Chilterns’ finest tourist attractions. I invited my best friend Emily to be my travel companion for the night (she gets all the good jobs!) and so, without further ado, here’s my full review of this cosy property…

The Location

 

 

The Fat Fox is right at the heart of the Cotswolds and the Chilterns; close enough to explore everything this area has to offer, but far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, so that you can get a good night’s sleep and a true taste of market town life in Watlington. As mentioned above, both Thame and Henley on Thames are approx. a 20 minute drive away, whilst other places of interest, including Reading and Oxford, are both a 30-40 minute drive away .

 

The Room

 

How cute does this cosy little room look?! Can't wait to get a good nights sleep here tonight 😴😴

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The Inn boasts 9 cosy rooms made up of standard and economy double and twins, premier doubles and a larger family room. The rooms are separate to the main building and are located to the rear of the car park, just opposite the pub. Each room boasts an en-suite bathroom, with large shower and bath tub, central heating, freeview TV, tea and coffee making facilities and there is free WIFI throughout. Our twin room was located at the top of the stairs on the right and was so cosy and warm. The bed (and the pillows!) were super comfy and the hot shower was amazing the next morning. We both had a great night’s sleep and really loved the homely, comfortable feel to our room.

 

The Bar

 

 

The Fat Fox is cleverly split into a few different areas, with the bar, pub seating areas and separate dining room all split up, but all next to each other, it felt like we were able to enjoy a restaurant and a pub atmosphere at the same time, giving us the best of both worlds. The atmosphere in the dining room was still as relaxed as the pub/bar area, but the food was exceedingly good and felt much more than just ‘pub grub’, with imaginative dishes and creative presentation, I’d liken it to a bistro or proper restaurant menu.

 

The Dinner and Breakfast

 

 

We were both so looking forward to dinner after a busy day at work and a long journey down to the hotel so couldn’t wait to tuck in to our food for the night! The menu was really interesting and offered a range of dishes to suit every palette.  We opted to skip starters (although I’ve heard the speciality scotched egg is a MUST!) and went straight for the main courses, choosing the braised shoulder of lamb (£16) and the bavette steak (£20) respectively. My steak came medium rare and was cooked to perfection, with mouth-wateringly good straight cut chips and gremolata as an accompaniment. Emily chose the lamb, which came with gratin potatoes and sprouting broccoli, and she loved the tenderness of the meat which was cooked perfectly.

For dessert we chose to share the chocolate cookie dough torte (£6 I think) because we were both soooo stuffed but felt we should at least make an attempt to taste it for you lovely lot, nothing to do with the fact that we wanted to be in cookie HEAVEN. The torte was amazing but super rich and I was so glad we shared as I couldn’t possibly have managed one on my own!

 

 

Breakfast the next morning was really lovely; a choice of fruit and cereals were served first, before we were shown the menu.We both opted for the Full English and enjoyed freshly cooked sausages, bacon, eggs, tomato, black pudding and mushrooms with toast and a handmade hash brown – my particular favourite! The breakfasts set us up for the day ahead and we left feeling content and with our tummies full, although I could have managed another hash brown or three before leaving! 😉

 

The Verdict

 

 

Overall we had a really wonderful stay at The Fat Fox and I would highly recommend staying here on a mid-week or weekend visit for a cosy and comfortable stay in Oxfordshire. Every aspect from the warm and welcoming staff to the brilliant dinner and gorgeous room made our stay such a pleasant one; the staff made us feel so welcome throughout the whole of our stay, from the minute we arrived at check in, to the second we checked out the next day

So there we have it, my full review of the wonderful Fat Fox Inn. I cannot recommend this place highly enough for those looking for a comfortable stay in the heart of the Cotswolds and the Chilterns– thank you to the lovely staff for making our stay such a pleasant one! For more information or to book a room please visit their website directly.

NB. I was a guest of The Fat Fox Inn for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are of course my own.

 

Another day, another hotel review! Here's my home for the night 🏨🏨

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