Last week we stayed at the beautiful Bix Manor for a family celebration – my 40th birthday to be precise. Situated in the Thames Valley, and just 2 miles from Henley-on-Thames, this 17th Century manor house proved to be the ideal getaway for a large family get-together and can sleep up to 12 people.
With 6 generously-proportioned bedrooms, some that can be configured as twins or doubles to offer a little more flexibility for your requirements, and 5 bathrooms, the house also comes with two living areas, a kitchen and dining room. Here’s a selection of photographs to give you an idea of the tasteful décor and style of the interiors.
Bix Manor is a mere 30 minutes from Heathrow Airport and an hour from London, making it accessible to many. The grounds of the house are extensive (7 acres to be precise) and include a knot garden, rose patio, large lawned areas, a herbeaceous walk-through, arched yew topiary and Italian water garden, all within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The house itself is also extremely well equipped with everything from every kitchen utensil you could imagine, to bathrobes and Molton Brown toiletries. We were also provided with a generous supply of provisions for our stay. On arrival, there was even a delicious chicken pie awaiting us, which simply needed to be put in the Aga at our convenience, making our first night’s stay as hassle-free as could be.
The fridge was also very kindly stocked with bottles of Champagne to help the celebrations along, as well as breakfast items – eggs freshly collected from the chickens in the garden, bread, milk, bacon and much, much more. We had the option for breakfast to be cooked for us each morning (not something you’d normally expect from self-catering), but instead preferred to opt to do our own so that we weren’t pressured to be up and about for a particular time, and could also stagger breakfast times to suit everyone in the party. Of course, a catered breakfast would probably be very much welcomed by a wedding party, making their lives much simpler on a special weekend when so much is going on.
We tended to have our breakfast at the less formal dining area just off from the kitchen and our evening meals in the 30-foot main dining room (and oldest part of the house).
Talking of food, Bix Manor is in a great location if you enjoy good food, with no less than 9 Michelin starred restaurants within a half hour drive. As an anniversary treat, we dined at the nearest of these – Luscombes at The Golden Ball – which is just a mile and a half away.
I chose the tender Cornish squid with a honey and mustard dressing and fresh coriander and my wife went for the light cheese soufflé with an apple and celery salad and walnut dressing. For my main course I had the seared aged fillet steak, cooked to my liking (rare), with Girolle mushrooms, smoked potato purée, wilted spinach and Madeira jus.
After such a lovely dinner, it would have been rude not to try a dessert so we shared a dark chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream.
The chef, Stephen Luscombe, came to our table towards the end of our meal, and we chatted with him briefly. Originally from Devon, Stephen has an impressive track record, having worked under Marco Pierre White in London as well as two spells at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.
In addition to there being an abundance of good restaurants locally, there’s also plenty to see and do. There are lots of walks from the doorstep at Bix Manor – indeed, I nearly got lost jogging through extensive National Trust woodland opposite the house one morning!
During our stay, we also ambled along the River Thames in Henley, let the children have fun and explore the park and adventure playground at Mill Meadow, and hired a motorboat from Hobbs of Henley who seemed to have something of a monopoly on boat trips on the river.
We also visited the River & Rowing Museum where the children were treated to a Wind in the Willows exhibition. Kenneth Graeme was no doubt inspired by the River Thames as he spent much of his childhood – and indeed his later life – on its banks, doing what the characters in his book do – namely, “simply messing about in boats” as one of his famous phrases puts it.
On our last day, we also visited Warburg Nature Reserve which, since its reputedly the premier nature reserve of the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, you would have thought might be easier to find! We got there in the end but it was down a road without any signage and one that wasn’t even marked on either our satnav systems (we had to go in two cars). If you’re ever planning to visit, the secret is to take the road to Bix Bottom and turn off from there. Once there, we had a picnic and took a short stroll through open grassland and mixed woodland, before returning to the house.
Bix Manor had proved to be the ideal house for a birthday celebration, but would be equally suited to a wedding party or any other similar gathering. The friendly and charming owners Gary and Louise Hall are only too keen to make you feel welcome and at home. They can be found on site should you need anything and are happy to arrange all sorts of interesting activities, should you wish, ranging from fitness and beauty packages to floristry demonstrations through to wine tastings and photography days. Special events can be catered for in the Great Tithe Barn which is also on site.