“Live the English country idyll at this gorgeous riverside cottage for 2-4, on the edge of Blenheim Palace Estate near Oxford”
Step through the welly-lined porch and you find yourself in a fun and fanciful sitting room, with peacock-patterned Cole & Son wallpaper, floor-length silk curtains, a deep Chesterfield sofa and a quirky chandelier-in-a-birdcage. The effect is sumptuous and sexy - dark perhaps, but we loved it, especially with the sleek black-framed eco-fire flickering in its burnished silver surround. Everything is of the finest provenance - Ben Whistler chairs, Andrew Martin fabrics - but you don't need to know the names to feel the quality. Even the flatscreen TV manages not to look out of place, and there's an appetising range of DVDs to sink back and enjoy (you can also stream them to the second bedroom upstairs).
Next door, the cosy dining room continues the silvery-gold theme, with studded banquettes for lazy breakfasts with the papers, and a deer's head staring somewhat disarmingly at you from above the gold framed fireplace. There are more carefully chosen books and games on the shelves, and some huge balloon glasses in case you're cracking open a long awaited Chateauneuf du Pape.
Steps climb from the kitchen (see Eating) to the first-floor bedrooms - both double bedded - and the bathroom, with its glorious rolltop bath, separate walk-in shower, and underfloor heating. Both bedrooms are compact but extremely comfy. There's space in the master for a queensize bed (superb mattress, warm down duvet) as well as a gleaming rosewood campaign dresser (whose pull-out chair conceals a hairdryer in its flanks) and a huge matching wardrobe. Heaven knows how they got it up the stairs. The second bedroom (normal double bed) is simpler, with leafy views from the window seat, fresh flowers on the bedside tables, and perfectly chosen books and toys on the shelves (how did they know our son loved Roald Dahl?). He, by the way, slept like a log until 9am, thanks to the total silence and the blackout of the drapes.
At the bottom of the garden path is a lovely timber summer house, filled with light from 4 French windows and a skylight, and wrapped around by a sun deck. This is where we spent much of our time, shifting our gaze between books (no shortage of reading matter here) and the darkening greens of the lawns, chestnut trees and river pools outside. It's also a great space for a massage - just say the word, and they'll fix someone to come.
The kitchen - like the rest of the cottage - is small but perfectly equipped. For example: a Siemens dishwasher, Dualit toaster and Nespresso machine; a pro knife block set and masses of crockery; Welsh slate surfaces with 3 bar stools to perch at. But if you come in summer, as we did, you'll sit outside on the dining terrace - especially as it has a barbecue round the corner, and a powerful radiant heater to help you extend the al fresco feeling into the night.
Best of all, the honesty larder is stocked with some of loveliest goodies we've seen on our research trips, and at the most reasonable prices: pure Chegworth Valley apple juice (3 varieties), 'scrumshus' granola (they aren't lying), and rice from the Real Basmati Rice Company, just to give you a flavour. You'll find complimentary wine chilling in the fridge, as well as some breakfast staples (eggs, butter, milk, that sort of thing). If you're feeling lazy, or trying to impress, or both, book their private chef - he'll give you a range of seasonal gourmet dishes to choose from in advance - or pre-order a food hamper, so you can picnic in style and without effort.
When it comes to eating out, their info pack contains meticulously researched suggestions in Woodstock (5 mins' drive), Oxford (15 mins) and further afield - from gastropubs to organic cafés to the multi-Michelin-starred Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. All are spot on. I'm not sure how they compiled them so fast (I lived in Oxford for 10 years, and my knowledge barely matches theirs); but I sure would love to have been part of their research team.
This is a great place to come with a younger children: we think 5-10 is the ideal age range, so they can enjoy the riverside garden and the surrounding woods, as well as the children's activities on offer at Blenheim Palace. Parents of toddlers should be aware that the garden slopes down to a small river - though there is a safe enclosed garden opposite the dining terrace, so you can keep an eye while relaxing with a drink or meal. Teenagers might find the location a bit too quiet.
Children (4-12 years)
CRB-checked babysitters can be booked for you
Available on request:
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
The house has some kids' DVDs, books and toys (our son loved playing with the 'Zoob' kit)
There are lots of family-friendly activities at Blenheim Palace, including a maze and a butterfly house in the Pleasure Gardens, craft workshops with the lovely Marcella (ceramic dog-painting was a real hit with our 5 year old), and a miniature train which shuttles you there from the main palace. The almost-car-free lanes are great for scootering or cycling. See the Blenheim Palace website for more
Apart from the proximity of the river, you should be aware that the house has not been child-proofed with socket protectors, drawer locks etc. Also, mobile coverage on some networks is patchy - though there is a landline which you can use