Understated elegance seems a far cry from the monumental flamboyance that is Blenheim Palace. But this charming, calming boutique B&B is scarcely a victory column's length from the grounds of the fabulously opulent stately home. The Glove House is a mid-terrace property on the main road to Oxford in handsome Woodstock. With its gracious streets of Cotswold stone and with the Duke of Marlborough's showpiece home on the doorstep, the historic market town is hugely popular for short breaks.
Yet the owners of this suave establishment took a risk in devising a B&B at this location – it sits smack between two well-established places to stay: chic and eye-poppingly expensive Hope House and the moderate-costing, 10-room Marlborough Arms. Priced between them, the two-bedroom Glove House has been almost consistently booked since it opened in June, which vindicates the good judgement of balancing levels of luxury and cost.
By calling it The Glove House, the new owners have added character, too. Dating back to the 1500s, the house was simply 24 Oxford Road when they acquired it, but having found records from the 1870s showing that it had been a glove workshop (a major industry in Woodstock then) they opted for this more intriguing name.
Step into The Glove House and you're in the wood-panelled guest sitting room complete with stone fireplace . A creaking staircase leads to the Bladon Suite on the third floor and the larger Woodstock Suite, with adjoining day room or extra bedroom, on the second. A further suite will be completed next year. Both suites are on the garden side of the house. They are generously spacious, decked in soothing creams and soft browns or greens, and furnished with antiques.
The beds have pocket sprung mattresses, the linen is finest percale and the bathrooms are stocked with Antica Farmacista toiletries. Fittings include a Nespresso machine and an iPod docking station. The Glove House gets top marks for Wi-Fi accessibility (free), with your name pre-programmed into the system.
Breakfast is served around a long table in the dining room. A buffet choice runs from fruit juices (raspberry, apple, orange) to bircher muesli, yoghurts and, on my visit, spiced plums and pears. The cooked options are many and plentiful, with meat from Trev Beadle in nearby Chipping Norton and eggs from an organic outlet in Stonesfield, a few miles away. The house speciality is strapazzato – Italian-style scrambled eggs made with parmesan.
Caroline and Francesco Totta are a professional couple – she's a banker, he's an engineer – who have analysed the market carefully. Caroline was brought up near Woodstock and returned here from London – where she still works a few days a week. Francesco is at the property full time and has a newcomer's zeal for the area, having moved from Milan. They add a hospitable Italian twist, serving guests a glass of prosecco in the evening, accompanied by Parma ham and mozzarella.
Blenheim Palace (01993 810 530; blenheimpalace.com) is the obvious first port of call – the £22 entry to house and park might seem stonkingly expensive but the ticket can be converted into a pass for a year.
Woodstock has many other pleasures: the Oxfordshire Museum (01993 811 456; oxfordshire.gov.uk) will fill you in on the town's remarkable past from royal hunting base to glove manufacturing. There's a great café and garden here, with a (contentiously built) new museum of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire due to be launched next spring.
There's good browsing too, with lots of antique shops – especially the extensive Antiques of Woodstock (01993 811 818; antiqueoakfurniture.co.uk), and the wonderful textiles at Maybury (01993 810 014; mayburyhome.com) and One Village (01993 812 866; onevillage.org).
The pit stop
The Kings Arms (01993 813 636; kings-hotel-woodstock.co.uk) is where the locals gather. Not just for drinks but food too – the likes of Cornish lamb with squash at £16.75. The Star (01993 811 373; thestarinnwoodstock.co.uk) is a lovely old hostelry with open fires, exposed beams and a mellow atmosphere. It serves hearty food such as wild boar and pigeon sausages with mash at £12.95. The Feathers (01993 812 291; feathers.co.uk) is a chic hotel with fine dining in the evening and a well-priced Sunday lunch – £19.95 for two courses.
The Glove House, 24 Oxford Street, Woodstock OX20 1TS (01993 813 475; theglovehouse.co.uk). The Woodstock suite costs £175; The Bladon suite £160, B&B.
There is a free car park behind the house. The nearest station is Hanborough, 10 minutes' drive away. Francesco and Caroline will pick guests up or arrange a taxi.