Montag, 5. August 2013

ALPEN TRAVEL TIPS & PICKS: OXFORD, ENGLAND



Ready to go out dancing at Fat Lil's 
with best friend Katharine
 
 PART 1: ENGLAND-Oxford

This post is part of my Travel Picks and Tips from my recent visit to England, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria and Bavaria in April/May 2013. To simplify things, I have divided up my posts into areas in each of these countries. This post is about Oxford, England. Click on any of the following links to take you to other regions/countries of your interest. I hope to enlighten and share with those who wish to travel to these areas with some of the highlights of my adventures in these beautiful parts of the world.
Enjoy!

 This post: OXFORD
Also see  London & Chester, ENGLAND/ Dingle & Galway, IRELAND
Coming soon: SWITZERLAND / AUSTRIA & BAVARIA

As a preface, see my bio and full Itinerary  for this trip in the post:

WITNEY/OXFORD


Dreaming Spires of Oxford from South Park, St Clements
Once leaving London, I drove the short scenic drive through the green rolling hills of the English countryside. Up the M40 and less than an hours drive from the heart of London, I found myself in my old home stomping grounds of lovely Oxfordshire.

WITNEY
 
The Buttercross and Old Market Stalls in Witney
I was planning on spending a full week in Oxford, however decided to take up one of my best friend, Katharine's offer to stay at her 15th century flat in the neighboring Medieval Cotswold market town of Witney for the night. It was Saturday night, and she was anxious to show me "a night out on the town with the locals" of this a classic, non-touristy, working man's town.
 
 DINING & LATE NIGHT PICKS 
 
We decided to dine in one of the many Old World Pub's in Witney called The Horseshoes. We had a lovely meal, a great bottle of Italian wine and got caught-up on a year and a half of our lives since we had last seen each other. Note that the sister pub  of the Horseshoes is also a very popular pub to dine in. It is called The Hollybush and reservations are HIGHLY recommended!

Following dinner, we joined some of her friend's who happened to be having a drink at the Horseshoe Pub's bar and then followed them out to the LATE night scene of Fat Lil's - one of the town's dancing/music venues. We danced the night away, as if we were in our 20's again and I had forgotten how much I used to love the English dancing scene. The cool thing about Witney, is that it is a nice mix of 20-60 year olds...all of whom were having an equally wonderful time at 'Lil's that night. I was quite impressed with Fat Lil's venue and line-up of music and comedy events - so much that I came back the following weekend to Witney, just to go dancing again!
 
The Horseshoes 78 Corn St, Witney, Oxfordshire OX28 6BS  Tel. 01993-703086
Fat Lil's 64 Corn St, Witney, Oxfordshire OX28 6BS  Tel. 01993 703385
 
OXFORD
 
ACCOMMODATION PICK THE BELLES
 

No. 3 The Bells
The next day, Katharine and I drove into Oxford to find the cute little "hauschen" I had rented for the week. Instead of staying in an impersonal hotel or B&B full of tourists, I chose to "feel at home" and therefore booked a townhome called The Belles.

I was not sure what to expect however, the Belles proved to be everything I had hoped for. It was sparkling clean with a well appointed kitchen/living room area, washer & dryer, and upstairs bedroom/office and bathroom. It even had a small "Romeo and Juliette" balcony off of the bedroom, which I found a romantic added touch.

Situated in a quiet Cul de Sac, the location was FANTASTIC, being in St. Clements, which is a short walk from the City Centre of Oxford, and just steps away from the colourful Cowley Road with its many Bohemian cafe's and ethnic restaurants.

It is also  located around the corner from my favourite Irish Pub, the Half Moon, which I have been frequenting since I lived in Oxford in the late '80's.

Another added bonus: the OXFORD TUBE ( an every 10 minute 24 hour coach service to London) stops regularly just around the corner should one fancy a day or night out "in the City" OR getting from London to Oxford.

In summary, it fulfilled my desire to feel like I was "at home" again in Oxford - being able to cook and entertain as I pleased, and not feel like a "tourist" in my old home town.

I would highly recommend this beautiful cozy nest of a town home for a single or a couple travelling to Oxford and/or the Cotswolds.

The only downside of this beautiful property and its great location was the lack of parking - which is a problem anyways throughout Oxford. The Belles, however, can arrange parking for an additional fee, however I opted to lend my car back to Katherine, who took it back to the "free parking" village of Witney.
 
The Belles Caroline St., St. Clement's, Oxford,  OX4 1UA Tel. 01865- 245 800 
Pet Friendly
CAFE/RESTAURANT PICK KAZBAR
 
My good friend
Katharine
Giggling at the Kaz



After depositing my bags at the Belles, we decided to meander over to the Cowley Road and find ourselves a café for a Sunday afternoon "cuppa". On such a lovely day, we could not resist the outdoor seating area of the Kazbar.


Check out the "wanted"
sign at the Kazbar
 The Kazbar is touted not just a cool Spanish/Morrocan style café, but one of the best Tapas Bars in Britain. We had struck a gem. We giggled and chatted over our coffees that afternoon, however came back for the dining experience later on that week. We had one of the best Spanish/MorrocanTapas meals I have had, not to mention the amazing unexpected enternainment of a REAL Flamingo act, including a real Gypsy singer, captivating guitarist and dancer who whirled through out the restaurant in fine and proud Flaminco style.



Flamenco at the Kazbar

 Kazbar 25-27 Cowley Rd, Pxford, OX4 1HP Tel. 01865-202920
Pet Friendly Seating Outdoors

 
HAIRDRESSER PICK ANNE VECK


Emmanuel Esteban - amazing hair stylist
The next day I took my chances in getting an appointment with probably the most acclaimed hairdresser I have ever had work on my hair: Emmanuel Esteban of the acclaimed Anne Veck Salon. As a background, I truly prefer European hairdressers, especially the French ones and when I travel back to Europe, always look forward to getting an amazing cut by the classically trained experts.

On this occasion, I booked in at the Anne Veck Salon, just a block away from the Belles. Anne Veck is a popular French hairdresser who set up two salons in Britain about 20 years ago. She has put together a team of top creative hair genius' to work for her and whom she encourages to expand their talent and creativity.

An Emmanuel Esteban Creation
As Emmanuel worked on my hair, he told me in his lovely, thick French accent, that following 6 years of serious Hairdresser school in Toulouse, France, he had sought out Anne Veck to work with, as she is best known in Europe for her team of avant-garde, creative hairdressers who are winning awards at many of the major events world-wide. He continues to work on his own reputation in creative hairdressing for innovative and commercial work through his involvement in the National Hairdressers Federation Inspire Artistic Team and the International Visionary Awards respectively.

So, if you are in Oxford, be sure to book an appointment with Emmanuel or another of Anne Veck's amazing creative team. I was delighted with the results...albeit, my hair was nothing in the shadow of his "professional" work with the experimental doos he is known for on models in the big time fashion world.

Anne Veck 33 St Clements Oxford OX4 1AB Tel. 01865 727077

BRUNCH PICK GRAND CAFE
 
Feeling like a "new woman" with my professionally sculpted "doo", I walked up to the Oxford high street where I entered into a grandiose cafe, quite appropriately named The Grand Café. It was Brunch time...and as I had not yet had breakfast, treated myself to a mouth watering Smoked Salmon plate complete with chives, rye toast and scrambled eggs. It was delicious as was the fine cup of Earl Grey Tea I sipped on whilst admiring the Parisian style décor and the lively crowd. The Grand Café is an Oxford café institution, being touted as the site of Oxford's first coffee house, dating back to 1650! A great place to meet friends, or just relax and read the paper.
Grand Café 84 The High Street, Oxford OX1 4BG Tel. 01865 - 204463
 
BOOK SHOP PICK BLACKWELLS
 

I actually began this post sitting in the lovely coffee shop of Blackwells bookshop. Blackwells is an academic haven, doubling as Oxford's finest book shop and serving both students and scholars for over a century. What  finer an establishment to inspire and nurture my creative writing whilst posting my adventures, tips and recommendations on the first leg (England) of my European Spring Trip 2013?

Blackwells can be found on Broadstreet in the Oxford City Centre, across the street from Christopher Wren's 17th century work of art, the Sheldonian Theatre and up the road from my favourite downtown, pub, The Turf Tavern. If you like book stores, Blackwells is a must to visit on your trip.

Sheldonian Theatre
 DOWNTOWN PUB PICK
THE TURF TAVERN

 

 Hidden down a narrow passage, the 13th Century Turf Tavern sprang up in the area just outside of the Old City Wall due to the illegal activities of its original patrons to escape the jurisdiction of the governing bodies of the local colleges. It has seen many famous faces over the centuries, including William Shakespeare who frequently drank at the pub and once  (reputedly) shared a pint of Royal Ale with King Henry VIII (the 8th)!

They serve good Pub grub, including vegetarian, and of course, a good Pint. If anything, the atmosphere of sitting in an area which has been a traditional drinking establishment from students to kings, for over 800 years, is well worth the visit.


Turf Tavern 4-5 Bath Place, Oxford OX1 3SU Tel. 01865 243 235 
 

Pet Friendly Seating Outdoors
OLD WORLD HOTEL PICK
THE BATH PLACE HOTEL
 
 Whilst winding your way down the narrow passage to the Turf Tavern, you will pass a very old and historic hotel hidden down the same passage.


The Bath Place Hotel, in which I have also stayed "for the experience" a number of times, is VERY Old World, with sloping floors, low ceilings, winding stairs, charming antiques, etc. The Hotel  was originally a row of early 17th Century Flemish weaver cottages built on the remains of the original Medieval  defenses situated just outside the old city wall - the remains, some of which, can still be seen!

From the 1960's-'80's it was run as a B&B by the former Turf Tavern owner and its most famous guests were Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor who used Bath Place on more than one occasion as a secret rendezvous during Burton’s appearances at the Oxford Playhouse.

AFTERNOON OUTING PICK  
PUNTING ON THE CHERWELL

Punting on the Cherwell, under Magdalen Bridge
There can be nothing more romantic, fun or quintessentially Oxford, than punting up the Cherwell on a sunny afternoon. One of the most well known spots for setting off on a punting adventure is the Magdalen College Boat House next to Magdalen Bridge, a mere few minute walk from the Belles, where I was staying.
 
Whether expert or novice, one can spend a splendid hour or full day on the dreamy Cherwell river.
Blue Skies above Magdalen College
 
One option is to take a picnic and dock up somewhere in the Oxfordshire countryside or the Christchurch Meadows...OR to punt north along the river to the Victoria Arms Pub, which is where my friend Jim and I had lunch one day. So, if you have the time and the weather was like it was when I was in Oxford, do not hesitate to go on your own punting adventure!



COUNTRY PUB PICK  
THE VICTORIA ARMS
 


Situated only a few miles up the road from Oxford in a classic English countryside setting on the River Cherwell, the Victoria Arms makes for a great afternoon outing or dinner excursion. Whether punting or driving to the quint village of Old Marsden, the pub offers GREAT food, with a VERY creative menu, including amazing vegetarian dishes which both Jim and I decided to sample.

Dogs get to dine, too!
Upon entry, I was intrigued to see that the Pub was completely Pet Friendly, as there was a rather large hound stationed quite happily with his people on a neighboring table.

My friend Jim and I about to feast
 
 
 
 
And feast we did, on Sweet Chillie Falafal on a bed of Tabouli and an amazing Polenta Veggie Tower that was to die for. Of course, we had to order the traditional side of chips (large cut English fries) with malt vinegar to boot.








Victoria Arms Pub Mill Lane, Old Marston, Oxfordshire, OX3 0QA Tel. 01865 241382

Pet Friendly Inside and Out


MARKET PICK   OXFORD COVERED MARKET
 

Oxford Covered Market
No trip to Oxford would be complete without a stroll around the 200 year old Covered Market in the City Centre. Here one can find the finest of cheeses through to freshly hung braces of Pheasants, complete with feathers and all. When I lived in Oxford, we would go shopping on a Saturday for gourmet olives for that dinner party we were hosting that night through to delicious but sinful lardy cakes for Sunday breakfast.

My savoury pie at PIEMINISTER
On my visit to the Market on this trip, I decided to grab lunch at one of the amazing old world English pie shops. This pie shop, cleverly named the Pieminister- take on the Prime Minister :), offers award winning "wholesome" savoury pies.
 
They have many mouthwatering meaty versions, however on this occasion, I chose one of their top award winning Vegetarian pies appropriately named the HEIDI Pie. I had them put a dollop of mushy peas on the top which made it even more delicious. MMM it was good! Notice my view of the butcher across the way chopping up meat...possibly for the next meaty pie to be baked at this amazing pie shop!

ENTERTAINMENT PICK   OPEN MIKE AT THE HALF MOON
The Half Moon -
Englands finest Irish Pub

So, in all of the years that I have both lived in and visited Oxford, the Half Moon pub has always been a place I love to go and to bring visiting friends. My dear friend Timothy, swears that it is the only  pub in England with Guiness just like in Ireland. It is a basic, true Irish pub, down to what used to be sawdust on the floor and barrels to sit on. It has now lost the sawdust and the barrels, however still gives that feeling of being in Ireland.
 
Gypsy playing at Open Mic
at the Half Moon Pub
I happened into the pub one Thursday night and  found to my great surprise that it was their Open Mic night. I attend Open Mic regularly in Telluride, and love the talent these evenings bring.

 
 
 
This one is MC'd by a fervent poet called "Sparky - the Dangerous Poet" who is quite the character himself. See a couple of his poems that he also performed on that night on YouTube here and here.

There was much talent  that night, from Oxford students through to business men. One of my favourites was a true to form gypsy looking chap who played a mean accordion.
 
The Half Moon is in St. Clements - well worth a visit, however do check to see what their entertainment program is, as the dates might change from time to time.
 
Sláinte! Enjoy your Guiness!
 
Half Moon 17 St Clement's St  Oxford OX4 1AB Tel. 01865 247808 


 
Blenheim Palace
DAY OUT PICK   BLENHEIM PALACE

Gate into the courtyard
Oxford is situated in Oxfordshire which is part of the gentle rolling hills and stunning villages of the Cotswolds. There are many things to do a short drive away from Oxford, such as visit some of the beautiful Medieval villages of Burford, Stowe-on-the-Wold, and Woodstock. There are romantic ruins tucked into pockets of stunning scenery such as Minster Lovell and grand palaces overlooking sweeping gardens such as Blenheim Palace. On this occasion, I chose pay a visit to Blenheim Palace, where my dear friend Katharine works and which I had never visited in all the years I had lived in and visited Oxford.

Lucky
As I drove my car through the stately entrance gates, past the guard house and down the perfectly manicured lane towards the car park, I felt I was entering Versailles, France, the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria,  or the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, Germany.  I strolled through yet another magnificent gate into the inner courtyard where Blenheim Palace and its breathtaking gardens are located,  I was greeted by a most friendly pup called Lucky.
Lucky's was a very special pup in deed. He had been rescued the South of France from horrible conditions, and he now gets to live with his loving owners in the beautiful Cotswolds! They went on to tell me how often they drive over an hour from their home to enjoy a day out in the extensive gardens of Blenheim Palace where Lucky loves to romp and play.

After getting my "doggie fix" and envisioning the day when my own two Bernese would get to travel with me to Britain and get to romp on these same beautiful lawns, I thought it time to explore what treasures the Imperial walls of Blenheim had to disclose.

Dinner anyone?



One of the many
clocks


Upon entry, my breath was taken away at the grandeur of the place.  I found out that there was a complimentary tour that would start in just a few minutes, which I gratefully joined. There is SO MUCH history housed in this magnificent property! I could write novels on it,  but to put it in a brief summary:

Blenheim Palace was a gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough following his famous victory at the Battle of Blindheim against the French 1704 - which took place in Bavaria, Germany! The English could not pronounce or did not care for the proper German name of "Blindheim", so changed the name to Blenheim - after which the palace was named. The gilded State Rooms, house one of the finest collections in Europe, including Europe's largest organ, Coronation Garments, a collection of old Clocks, statues, fine paintings, tapestries, and valuable antiques from Florence to Paris, collected by the Churchills since 1705.

Coronation robes and crowns


Blenheim is where Churchill was born in 1874 and where he later proposed to his wife in the gardens. ‘Blenheim Palace: The Untold Story’ is a great extra exhibit telling 300 years of "Tales" and there is a special Churchill Exhibit well worth a walk through.

After my journey into 300 years of captivating history, I joined Katharine after she got off of work for a stroll around their extensive gardens to a romantic weir where Katharine admitted she and her boyfriend would often frequent on a Sunday afternoon.

1920's designed gardens - by French designer Achille Duchene commissioned
by the 9th Duke of Marlborough



Highly recommended for a day or afternoon out!

Blenheim Palace Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England




Pet Friendly Gardens


Check out pictures of my trip on

 
Also see London / Chester
Part of ENGLAND PART I
Spring Euro Trip 2013


Sitting on Romantic Ruin
Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Enjoy your visit to the Oxford area and please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions when planning your own trip to England, Ireland or Europe! I love to help and recommend when I can!

 Mary Dawn DeBriae

 European Tips and Picks
Alpen Schatz Style
 

  

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