A break in the country with Buyagift.
Christmas is coming with all the stress that entails. So when we asked to review Buyagift, a website that sells vouchers that can be exchanged for a huge range of gifts, days out, driving and flying experiences, spa treatments, meals out and short breaks, it seemed like a great way to fix those seasonal gift-buying anxieties.
So how does it work? After a peruse of the Buyagift website you choose your gift – in our case it was a Luxury One Night Stay with Dinner and Fizz for Two – pay for it and then an E-Voucher is sent to your recipient. There are sometimes special offers so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those deals which can be great value. The voucher is valid for 10 months and can be exchanged or credited against other experiences, which makes it a super-flexible gift.
Once the voucher has been received the recipient goes to the link which houses the gift, chooses an option (we had 25 to choose from) and then books directly with the supplier. The booking experience is fun, easy to navigate and with so many options there is something for everyone.
We fancied a trip out of town, not too far and with a variety of things to do that weren’t weather dependent and so we settled on an ‘Overnight Stay with Dinner and Fizz at Mercure Banbury Whately Hall Hotel’, I knew very little about Banbury apart from the nursery rhyme ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’, but was keen to explore the area which is an ideal base for touring the Cotswolds, visiting Oxford, Bicester Village shopping outlet, Blenheim Palace and a variety of National Trust properties.
On our way up the M40 we popped into the National Trust’s splendid Upton House and Gardens, an immaculately maintained 1930s era property with stunning gardens, art deco bathrooms and some great art. Our other stop-off was to Bicester Village shopping outlet, a retail mecca for label junkies – I settled for a new pair of jeans!
And then on to Banbury which is a handsome market town with some attractive sandstone buildings. The hotel has free parking and sits in the centre adjacent to the current Banbury Cross, erected in 1850, and the statue of the aforementioned fine lady with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes.
The Banbury Mercure Whately Hall Hotel is Grade 2 listed and has a real sense of history, dating back to 1677 when it was known as The Three Tuns Inn. Author Jonathan Swift stayed there when writing ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and there is an alleged ghost of a Catholic priest, who got trapped and died in a secret priest hole, haunting the hotel. With an attractive oak-panelled lounge, a rather grand dining room with a modern extension on the side and the quirky Hornton bar where we went for a pre-dinner G&T.
The bedroom and bathroom were a good size with a large comfy bed and a kettle and a TV being the other amenities. The hotel had a higgeldy-piggeldy historic charm but was in need of the refurbishment that is apparently upcoming.
After a straightforward check-in process we sauntered out into the town. As well as the cross and the statue of the ‘fine lady’ we soaked in the atmosphere of the charming pubs and collonades of Parsons Street and enjoyed the mediaeval buildings and stalls of the Market Place with the newly renovated Castle Quay Shopping Centre being another attraction.
Coming into the dining room for dinner there was some uncertainty as the waiter offered us a two-course dinner from Table d’Hôte menu (retail £18) and no drinks. The Buyagift website offers three courses and a glass of Prosecco each so it’s worth taking your details with you as staff may not always be aware of the fine print of the offer.
We decided not to choose the more expensive à la carte option as we were reviewing the Buyagift offer and stuck to the offered 2 courses. So we skipped starters and for mains had a tasty dish of grilled salmon with rosemary crushed potatoes, artichoke caponata along with a ‘Whately Burger’ that came in a brioche bun with skin-on fries, mustard mayo, gherkin, cheddar cheese and baby gem lettuce.
A dessert of glazed lemon tart served with clotted cream and the sweet crunch of honeycomb fragments was a good end to the meal.
For breakfast, there was a reasonable spread of pastries, Cereals, fruit cheese and cold cuts, with all the components of a full English available buffet-style, with teas, coffees and juices.
The Buyagift offer makes buying presents fun again. If your great aunt Maud has always had a secret desire to be a racing driver or your friend deserves a spa break, the Buyagift range of options means that everyone can be catered for and the flexibility puts the final choice in the hands of the recipient.
I’m starting my Xmas shopping now…so what about that hot-air balloon trip…?
There really are some great ideas so do take a look for yourself.