It’s Spring again; that time of year when we’re expected to shed our sleeping bag-esque outerwear to reveal bright new plumage. Problem is, as per every year, I have nothing to wear; time for the annual shop.
Again, as with every year, I start to ponder bulk-buying in TopShop and Zara vs a couple of key pieces from Zadig et Voltaire. Then one bright, crocusy morning a timely email arrives: would I like to test Firmdale Hotels’ new Bicester Village shopping package? I know Firmdale, Kit Kemp's super-stylish hotel group, but I’ve never been to Bicester, the designer outlet in Oxfordshire, despite having actually written advertorials on the place in my Conde Nast Traveller days.
To date, my outlet shopping experiences have involved badly-lit malls, a jumble of boring brands and unappetizing dining options. Not to worry, my fashion-forward friends reassure me; Bicester is WAY better. Plus, the package includes a trip to my beloved London and a stay at the delightful Dorset Square Hotel in Marylebone (click here for my afternoon tea experience in the same hotel). Sold.
A short hour-and-a-quarter flight later I land in London, before heading directly to Dorset Square (NB although I flew on this occasion I would generally recommend anyone travelling between Edinburgh and London takes the train - much more relaxing/easier to get some work done). A sumptuous night’s sleep in my room with its lovely garden view and embroidered headboard, followed by an excellent breakfast (berries, yoghurt, pastries) and I jump on the train from Marylebone Station to Bicester Village, a direct, peaceful journey lasting around 45 minutes. Just long enough to trawl Grazia for fashion tips.
On arrival at Bicester Village station I'm ushered to a glamorous lounge, greeted warmly and handed my 10% discount card, which works on top of most existing discounts (all items at Bicester must be at least 30% off full price, but they’re often way cheaper).
After a pleasant three-minute walk I arrive at the pretty village itself, complete with flower display by florist-to-the-stars Nikki Tibbles. Not a crusty shopping mall in sight.
The knowledgeable stylist in the VIP room (again, VIP access comes as part of the package) shows me a photo she'd snapped on her phone of a remaining pair of pink fluffy pom-pom shoes at Furla which she thinks might just be in my size. Not only does she get my taste spot-on, the half-price shoes fit perfectly. I buy them immediately, along with a pink silk scarf so cheap it's practically free.
A few more ridiculously underpriced items from Stella McCartney and Anya Hindmarch later (I give myself a budget of £500 and end up with a high-street-sized designer haul) and I'm hungry for lunch – chilli prawns and tenderstem broccoli, avocado and edamame salad at Farmshop, a Soho House-run restaurant every bit as good as you’d expect.
I pick up my shopping at Bicester Village’s station lounge (hands-free shopping is another perk of the package), where a lovely lady makes me a cup of tea while I wait for my train on a comfy sofa. I'm soon 'home' at Dorset Square (the staff are so welcoming I nearly forget I don't actually live there - though the lack of screams of: "Mummeeee! He hit me in the face with his light saberrrrr" should have been a clue) where I proudly show my purchases off to anyone I can find (I even persuade one receptionist to stroke the pom-poms). I then change into my new purchases and head to the bar for a glass of champagne (yep; that’s included too), swiftly followed by a number of delicious cocktails. Doesn't get much better, really.
So if you fancy a bit of Spring style indulgence, you can’t do much better than this super-swish shopping package. No sleeping bag required.
The Dorset Square Hotel Bicester Village Shopping Experience includes an overnight stay and breakfast at the five-star Dorset Square Hotel, London, and a return trip to Bicester Village. Rates start from £306.