Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire, in the UK is one of my favourite places in the world. Why? Because it is where Mr. O has always lived and the place I knew I would live in if we ever tied the knot and I moved from Portugal to England. I have always been a city girl and never, for a moment, thought I would adapt well to living in the ‘countryside’.
But, a weekend a month during four years and fabulous events such as the Henley Royal Regatta made me fall in love with this delightful little town, located under an hour from London. All our friends who come to London, are forced to get on the train and spend at least a night with us as there are so many things to do – we have received no complaints so far, and have had many repeat visitors… I wonder why?
So if you want to spend the perfect day in Mrs. O’s adopted hometown and you’re wondering what to do, here’s how I would do it…
You know I am not one to wake up very early on weekends, so I really don’t know what goes on at 8am in the morning. Being a double-digit girl myself, I can tell you that the town comes to life at around 10am and it is great to go out and about. There are plenty of places for breakfast – you are seriously spoilt for choice. Our favourite? Good old “Cafe Rouge”, which does the best croque-monsieurs.
Henley is not very large, and it basically has 2 or 3 streets which quite decent shops – lots of independently-owned boutiques and also a few nice chains. It is quite a preppy place, so that is reflected in the retail offering, of course.
If you’re looking for things to do, there’s one place you have to visit; the River Rowing museum, without a doubt. If you read my blog regularly, you will see there aren’t any museums I recommend visiting in weekend trips. BUT… there are some exceptions and the RRM is, without a doubt, one of them. Why? Well, you may (or may not know), that Henley-on-Thames is the home of rowing in the UK (did you watch the Social Network and that bit when the brothers went to England to row at the Henley Royal Regatta?)
Situated alongside the river in Henley-on-Thames, the building was designed by the acclaimed architect David Chipperfield and you get not only the rowing museum, but also the Henley museum. And can I say that if you buy a ticket, you can visit as many times as you want during 12 months? I actually do go back quite a lot and I use the cafe as a place to meet friends and work.
After a lazy morning, you must probably be hungry. A great place to enjoy a quintessentially British meal (with a touch of modernity, which is always nice), would be Orwells, a place I have been to many many times. Located between Shiplake and Binfield Heath (a couple of miles out of Henley), it has been part of our lives since it opened in 2010 and is a great place to relax whilst deciding what to do with the rest of your day.
Orwells’ menu is seasonal and changes frequently (the restaurant is big on seasonal and local ingredients), but my absolute favourites are the chicken liver parfait and the crab starter. I usually can’t decide between the two, so that became ‘my menu’. One thing worth noting, an Orwells meal lasts way over two hours – do not go if you are in a rush. But I must say, it is worth the visit.
After a hearty meal, it is probably time to relax a little bit… and a stroll by the river seems perfect. But when considering things to do, why not consider making a special boat trip? It is, without a doubt, the best way to explore of one Oxfordshire’s prettiest towns, especially on a sunny day.
If a boat trip sounds like a good idea, Hobbs of Henley is the place to go – part of Henley history for over 140 years, Jonathan and his team literally have a boat for every occasion – be that a small little boat for 4 that anyone can drive, to a river cruise or a luxury charter, like the Linssen yacht we tried on a recent day out.
And in true Henley style, if you ask nicely, it may even come with a bottle of champagne. Is there a better way? I think not! Just pray that it doesn’t rain.
If boat trips aren’t really your thing, a great way to spend the afternoon (I cannot believe I am writing this, but I promise, I do ‘do’ this every now and then), is to cross the river and go for a walk. I am not one to ‘go for a walk in the countryside’ (I am honest, it is a very British pastime), but I love this particular walk and actually do this with Mr. O even when we don’t have friends visiting (I promise). You can walk as much or as little as you fancy – we know that 30 minutes takes us to Henley Business School (my MBA alma mater) and back, and probably 45-50 minutes will take you to the Hambleden lock and back to the center of town. There is a path and the whole walk is just by the river.
After this, it is time to get in the mood for dinner. And how about a pimms with a view? The best place (and the only place I can think of) which offers ‘pimms with a view’ is the Angel on the Bridge… well.. located just by the bridge. And don’t worry, you don’t have to have pimms if you don’t want to.
And with this, it is time for dinner – and who fancies something quite special? Gentlemen will need to wear a jacket, but I promise, it will be absolutely worth it…
We have recently visited and loved Danesfield House, located between Henley-on-Thames and Marlow (a good 5 miles drive out-of-town or a £10 taxi ride). The setting, with amazing views of the Chilterns is absolutely amazing. I have enjoyed an incredible meal at the Michelin-starred Adam Simmonds Restaurant, which I can’t recommend enough. This time around, we tried the fabulous 8-course tasting menu, which is really well priced at £68 (excluding wine). Local, fresh and seasonal fare is what you can expect from the menu and the one thing I need to tell you: please make room for the incredible cheese course, which is certainly not your traditional choice of a couple of cheeses.
In Henley-on-Thames, you have quite a few choices in terms of after dinner entertainment – it could be the Champagne Bar at the Hotel du Vin (which used to be way busier than it is now, so do not be disappointed) or just go to one of the pubs – I really like the Anchor.
So here you go, if you’re planning what to do during your trip, here is how I would spend a perfect day visiting Henley-on-Thames, a place I love so much, I wouldn’t even think of trading it for a bigger city.
It is the place I now call home.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of the River Rowing Museum, Hobbs of Henley, Orwells and Danesfield House, whose hospitality I really appreciated. These places are part of our day-to-day lives and we go often. You can trust me on this!