Picture Postcard Oxfordforshire

by James Nolan
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Set on the banks of the River Windrush, in a picture-postcard English village seemingly untouched for hundreds of years, is this sublime hotel.

Comprising two buildings – the Old Swan, a 600-year-old inn, and the Minster Mill, a slightly younger millhouse, as well as some beautifully converted barns – the Old Swan & Minster Mill (a de Savary property) promises a bucolic country hideaway.

We arrived after a short taxi ride from Charlbury station (trains from London take just over an hour), along winding country roads and through some of the most beautiful countryside in the Cotswolds, complete with green rolling hills, honey-coloured villages and majestic stately homes.

Heading up a winding staircase and along a creaking corridor to our room was an adventure in itself. The door opened onto a seating area, with comfortable chairs and oak chests. Our bedroom was spacious, with an antique four-poster bed laid with fine linens, facing leaded windows looking out on the village below.

The hotel is set in 60 acres of lawns and wildflower meadows, dotted with pretty striped deckchairs and love seats. Children will love the petting farm, and the games, including croquet, giant chess, badminton and tennis. There are spa treatments and activities galore – guided walks, horseriding, cycling and canoeing, as well as one of the main attractions – a mile of superb fly-fishing on the River Windrush. There is much to do in the area around Minster Lovell.

First, explore the village – either on foot, or on the hotel’s bikes, as we did. Minster Lovell Hall is an Elizabethan ruin with a number of tragic legends attached to it. Pick up the guide to local walks, and explore some of the nearby villages, including Swinbrook, where the Mitford sisters grew up. Cycle to Burford for a cream tea and some antiques shopping. Oxford is nearby, as are the discount designer shops of Bicester Village. Fly-fishing is a major draw, along the banks of the River Windrush.

Back at the hotel there is plenty to keep you occupied – croquet, badminton, tennis and giant chess – and there is a petting farm for the kids. During winter you can snuggle down in one of the cosy sitting rooms in front of a crackling fireplace and play boardgames.

Breakfast was a hearty selection of cooked favourites with some healthy options. We found a couple of deckchairs by the river and read our books, ordering tea and cake when we got peckish. Later we borrowed a couple of bicycles from reception and explored the village.

That evening we enjoyed a delicious meal on the terrace listening to the Sunday night jazz band, before retiring to the snug for a game of Scrabble.

The big dining room serves a range of gastropub fare – traditional British dishes and some delicious steaks, as well as puddings that will take you back to childhood – the Eton Mess was sublime. There are some good local ales on tap, and an impressive wine list. You can dine on the terrace during the summer, as we did, or in the beautiful wood panelled dining room, complete with huge fireplace.

The hotel is fully licensed for weddings, and unique ceremonies can be held throughout the grounds, including in the Palladian temple on the banks of the River Windrush – perfect!

  • Fishing
  • Walking
  • Horseriding
  • Cycling
  • Bicester Village
  • Oxford
  • Gardens
  • Dining room, terrace serving British gastropub favourites
  • Traditional inn offering a selection of drinks including local ales
  • Tennis, badminton, croquet, fly-fishing
  • Massage treatments and beauty therapies in the spa
  • Wireless internet
  • Bike rental, guided walks and much more

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