A few years ago, we reviewed the historic Bear Hotel at Woodstock near Oxford; a characterful, pretty, ivy-clad historic coaching inn with a super-abundance of beams, open fireplaces, squeaky floorboards and a rich helping of atmosphere… Just perfect to explore the Cotswolds for both the active and the just downright lazy! You don't even have to go very far because there's much to see in and around Woodstock itself, so we were very much looking forward to revisiting such a delightful place.
This coaching inn is the four-star Macdonald Bear Hotel, sitting right on the market square where a hostelry has existed for over a thousand years. The main building is largely sixteenth century whilst the latest addition is the integration of the former glove factory next door. A very appropriate touch is the display of a collection of elegant gloves and some of the machinery. The village is tight knit and parking on the streets is sometimes a challenge but happily the Bear has parking to the rear of the property.
It is sometimes unusual to come across such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. A facility surprisingly not missed was a gym as the more than expansive Capability Brown park of Blenheim Palace is literally around the corner where you can run, walk or just indulge in absorbing the unique atmosphere of an important piece of English heritage and, you never know, you might just meet the neighbours.
We were given a delightful suite conveniently located in a pretty little Cotswold stone building in the glove factory extension at the back of the hotel; there is more space there to create larger rooms and suites. The sitting room was double height with a bedroom on the mezzanine floor, the commodious bathroom was beneath. It had oodles of character and was very comfortable throughout together with a beautiful tartan throw on the bed. The only things we would have changed were the rather dull tapestries either side of the stone fireplace, a couple of colourful pictures would have complemented the furnishing very well.
When we lasted visited a new general manager had just been installed a month earlier and whilst he had time to get a good team spirit in his staff with the hotel spick and span, sorting out kitchens takes a little time.
Evidently a very good job was achieved by the then general manager who moved on to another, bigger McDonald Hotel. With a new regime, things must have changed so we arranged to carry out a new review. As mentioned, the Bear is a typical coaching inn; we would reasonably expect good hospitality with casual but not fine dining. We were pleasantly surprised that the standards are now out of that general category and the experience exceeded our expectations by a good margin.
Our dinner was full of beautiful and interesting flavours such as green tea smoked duck with lemon puree and jumbo couscous; crab salad with elderflower and cucumber puree, crisp bread and apple. Bonnie will be trying to emulate the crab dish at home but might have to ask for the recipe.
The main courses were just as imaginative and the highland lamb with ras el honout spiced quinoa, pepper, green and almonds was amazing. There was plenty of variety in the menu and the attentive service from the staff just completed the great experience. We both thoroughly enjoyed everything about the meal.
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in the area, and there is so much on offer close by, either a short visit mid-week or at the weekend, it would be hard to better The Bear. You will come away revitalised and content or shall we say replete.