Hotel Insider: Grand countryside adventures await at Blenheim Palace Lodge Retreat

Glorious gateway to Oxford's history awaits at World Heritage Site where wizarding magic abounds

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England may be awash with stately homes and castles dot the land, but palaces are rarer and Blenheim Palace is a class apart.

The World Heritage Site recently opened a new set of lodges on the estate grounds of the Dukes of Marlborough, offering family adventures in the shadow of what is often dubbed England's finest palace.

The National set off on a Darwin's Escapes Blenheim Palace Lodge Retreat with the stately palace as the stunning backdrop of a weekend of exploration.

The welcome

We are welcomed into a natural stone cottage that serves as the check-in point for lodge guests. A warm and welcoming ambience with break-out space and comfortable sofas allows for a relaxing entry point to the experience.

The neighbourhood

The palace itself was gifted to John Churchill, victorious commander of the allied forces in Europe in 1706, who became the first duke. It still serves on the diplomatic circuit, and most recently hosted a state dinner for then President Donald Trump on a visit to the UK in 2018.

Staying in the lodges offers us access to what has been one of Europe's foremost private pleasure grounds since the reign of Queen Ann, with a secure pathway leading up to the palace where there are cafes and restaurants. For all else, village amenities, including boutiques and craft outlets, are located in Woodstock just a few minutes away.

The room

With three bedrooms, well-appointed living rooms, fast Wi-Fi and parking bays with individual charging points for electric cars, Darwin's Lodge Stays are built for family comfort. A spa-level luxury pitch of finishings and furnishings, including Aran Island toiletries and a sandstone villa reception area, rounds out the offer.

The service

Service is focused on guest needs around independent living. When we had a weekend query about the lodge heating system, the site manager was at our door within minutes. Tips on where to eat in neighbouring Woodstock proved very useful.

The scene

With Gulf Cooperation Council visitors to the UK now part of the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) system, travelling to Britain on a multiple entry basis has never been easier. While London is most people's port of call, Oxford – Blenheim is less than 10 miles north of the capital – is just as accessible and less than an hour's drive from Heathrow. It's well worth a visit.

Regularly ranked best in the world, Oxford University is well worth the trip in itself. The colleges are open to visitor inspections, where you can soak in the history and vibe of student life. Pass through the arches of the Bodelian Library, where a sign informs you that it is obligatory to mime the word shhhh!

The Bodelian was a Harry Potter location, and the boy wizard is something of a celebrity in Oxford, where hundreds join dedicated tours every day to see sights from the films. Owl, a guide on the Oxford Harry Potter Tour, is a masters student at the university and tells me that the pursuit of the Harry Potter landscape has taken over the city.

At the gateway to Oxford from the north is another gem. The Ashmolean museum boasts a collection of universal artefacts and art that would be the pride of a much bigger city. Statues from the Assyrian city of Nimrud's Northwest Palace stand vast and basilisk. An inscription from the same area dated to 870 BCE is on display to be read more than 3,000 years later and the heads of Greeks like Homer, Thucydides and Demosthenes glare from spotlighted pedestals.

Back at Blenheim, fashionistas can check out the palace's biggest exhibition to date. All about the history of UK fashion, it runs until June. Each room in the palace has been taken over by a designer or label from the British fashion scene.

The food

The palace's refurbished Orangery Restaurant provides an elegant pit stop for meals, not least for its range of signature afternoon teas (from £34) that are symbolic of any English countryside break.

Part of the palace is dedicated to Winston Churchill, who was born in the building and one afternoon tea option nods to this and includes a very moreish 'Winston Churchill salted caramel cigar biscuit'.

Highs and lows

For a certain category of visitor, the highlight of a trip to Blenheim will be time spent in the roots of a vast cedar from Lebanon that dates from the time of England's most famous gardener Capability Brown. In the 2007 film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a scene was shot at this tree and it has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.

The insider tip

Oxford has its own airport, just across the road from the palace if you prefer to arrive by air. There's also a dedicated helicopter service to London's Battersea heliport, minutes from Chelsea and the attractions of Sloane Square.

The verdict

A perfect family break that combines fun activities, magnificent history, relaxing side trips and luxury country accommodation.

The bottom line

Three nights in a three bedroom Marlborough Lodge costs £625. The Blenheim Palace Lodge retreats also includes one-bed Winston and two-bed Hawksmoor offerings;

This review was conducted at the invitation of Blenheim Estates and Darwin Escapes

Updated: March 29, 2024, 6:02 PM