Gin Heaven at The Feathers, Woodstock
Take one 17th century hotel, add a 400-strong gin bar, mix in one of the prettiest towns in neighbouring Oxfordshire, and you're ready to be intoxicated by The Feathers Hotel.
Planning a jaunt to Woodstock to see Blenheim Palace or just hang out in this prettiest of Oxfordshire Cotswold towns? Then read on.
An attractive 17th-century boutique hotel with 21 bedrooms and 5 suites, a few minutes’ stroll from the gates of Blenheim Palace in Woodstock. The Feathers was once a network of adjoining cottages and shops but was given its accommodation wings in the Sixties. It’s bang in the centre of Woodstock, though in truth the whole of the market town is very walkable and compact. You’re roughly 8 miles north of Oxford here. Aside from weekends away, it’s worth knowing that you can exclusively hire The Feathers for weddings and events – up to 42 guests can be catered for here. PARTY!
Grown up. The Feathers hotel is a refuge just off a busy street in Woodstock – it has something of the exclusive feel and haven-like quality of a private members club. It’s very peaceful, elegant and quiet, I’d definitely label it primarily as one for couples though families and kids are welcome. Think wood panelling, cornicing, high ceilings, stripped floors and large fireplaces in the lounge and bar areas. There’s a small, cool, cobbled courtyard area off the bar for drinking too.
You’ll be impressed with the bedrooms – the suites in particular are huge, and several share a separate staircase to the rest of the hotel, and arranged far enough away from each other that I could have kept our door open and still been absolutely private. The styling, like the rest of the hotel, hits the stylish heritage button, though its on the safe and slightly more ‘trad’ side. There are flourishes like the lime green flock chaise longue but mostly I think you’ll be impressed by the facilities – our large open plan sleeping area and living room was separated by a half wall, leading to a stunning free-standing bath and a then a separate shower and bathroom. We also had a huge walk in wardrobe area next to our bedroom that meant the room could stay free of our battered suitcases.
SCOFF & QUAFF
If you don’t drink gin, you will once you have stayed at The Feathers. Its bar features an ever-growing collection which is currently over 400 gins, the bar hosting bottles of every shape and colour imaginable – this small hotel was the first into the Guinness Book of World Records for offering the greatest number of gins on the planet!
Knowing nothing about gin seemed like an advantage. The maître d’, Octavian manages to be the Jeeves of gin, matching each guest to a gin that they surely hadn’t even imagined. We started with gins as aperitifs, and then the waiter handed Octavian copies of our choices from the supper menu so that he could go on to choreograph gins to suit each course. My absolute favourite (I’m quite the expert now) was an citrusy French Gin called ‘No Mistake Old Tom Gin’ which was served just with plenty of ice and a twist of orange – no tonic. Amazing!
Gin with food. Yes, this was new to us too, and we did rather let ourselves be carried along by it (the dessert photos perhaps bear testament to this – half eaten before remembering to take the all-important snaps!). The bar is a cosy space that leads to the open dining area at the back of the hotel – ideal in the summer. We let our various gins choose us, and then moved to the dining area, a little later than planned (it was all but empty by 10pm, though the hotel was full).
Food at The Feathers is really rather good. As you’d expect these days food is locally sourced where possible and seasonal. A mushroom tagliatelle starter had a delicious surprise of garlic breadcrumbs to give a little crunch to an otherwise well known dish. And my rabbit and mushroom lasagne was an absolute highlight, the cheese and mushroom flavours complimenting perfectly meat that had a texture more usually associated with steak. A chocolate fondant with pistachio and honeycomb ice-cream ended the night on a sugary high. I’m not sure in retrospect I’d pair my food and gin again though it was a fun experiment. Each gin offers a difference in flavour much greater then with wine, the flavourings of distilled spirits often being stronger than that of the underlying drink. While my dinner date took another gin for desert, (it could have been his fourth, but we might have lost count), I reverted to a glass of champagne.
You can of course sample the gins without staying at the hotel – there are afternoon teas with champagne or gin. Also worth noting that there’s a small specialist kids menu for under 12s with crowd-pleaser mini fish and chips and cheeseburgers so if you are bringing the little people with you they won’t starve.
OUT & ABOUT
Blenheim Palace must be your first stop – an absolute stunner of a heritage site, with plenty to entice adults and children all day. If you’re staying in Woodstock, lucky you – the day tourists to the Palace often don’t bother to stop off in Woodstock itself but I think it’s one of the loveliest towns in Oxfordshire, with a strong independent retail spirit. Woodstock did really well in the Muddy Stilettos Awards 2018 – you’ll find Best Art Gallery Dantzig across the road from Best Jewellery Store, Libby Rak. The Barefoot Bakery and Love Wine are other Muddy favourites. If you’re looking for a great pub lunch or alternative dinner option, The Crown and The Woodstock Arms (both within 2 minutes walk) are excellent. Further afield, you’re close to Oxford – check out my definitive Oxford insider’s travel guide – and you’re also within easy reach of the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Bicester Village.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Couples looking to ‘reaquaint’ or those who love gin (and those who don’t yet realise that they love it – trust me, you will). This is a perfect location for exploring Oxford and also the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. Pooches – your four legged friend is welcome to stay in one of the dog-friendly rooms.
Not for: A wild, girls’ night out. I can’t imagine much dancing on the tables here! And though families are welcome, the intimate, quiet surroundings might make parents of more ‘exuberant’ children anxious. Anyone who gets uptight about parking – there’s a public car park in Woodstock that’s first come first served.
The damage: Mains £20 – 29. Kids menu of 2 courses and a juice £9. Rooms vary with midweek costs for Standard Doubles from around £169. Suites start at £255.
The Feathers Hotel, Market St, Woodstock OX20 1SX. Tel: 01993 812 291, feathers.co.uk
Words: Sarah O’Hanlon