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Christmas in Winchester - things to see and do

PUBLISHED: 15:00 05 December 2014

High Street - photo by Joe Low

High Street - photo by Joe Low

Archant

Treat yourself this yuletide with a trip to the Christmas capital of the south. With secrets and magic at every turn, you won’t be disappointed on a day out in Winchester

Skaters streaking across an ice rink against the towering backdrop of the cathedral and medieval architecture make this city look like a scene from a Christmas card.

This year Winchester is being marketed as ‘The Perfect Christmas’. Katy McCaffrey, Marketing and Communications Officer with Winchester BID bubbled with enthusiasm as she told me: “The festive season kicks off with the big Christmas Lights switch on, lantern parade and opening of the Christmas Market.”

Asking about what’s new for 2014 Katy continued: “Well, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall opened River Cottage and Rick Stein has just opened his first restaurant outside of Padstow. We’re very excited. This is an affluent city and attracts top end, national chain stores that sit snugly among the independents. You can come here for the whole day, shop in the morning, have lunch by the river, then in the evening, catch a comedy, enjoy Sleeping Beauty, this year’s Pantomime at the theatre and indulge in some fantastic fine dining.”

Winchester to me seems like a magnet for gourmets and foodies alike as Katy agrees: “Yes definitely, The Chesil Rectory was listed as one of the most romantic restaurants in the UK, and of course we have The Black Rat with a Michelin Star. I personally really love The Black Bottle. It has a cool concept where you can buy wine by the glass from a sophisticated vending machine. It’s ideal for an evening of wine and charcuterie. The Black Boy pub is a bit more laid back, has a curious menagerie of stuffed animals and is popular with locals, especially on Christmas Eve.”

There’s no shortage of places to eat and drink in town and Christmas brings seasonal favourites to the fore. I’m a lover of traditional yummy delights such as mince pies and mulled wine but always eager to try something new, especially when it involves chocolate. Local chocolatiers Chococo and the city’s Twisted Nose Gin have teamed up to create truffles that can only be described as sinfully satisfying. Watch out also for Savage Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant featuring seasonal specials that can be found at Toscanaccio’s Wine shop on Parchment Street.

The Farmer’s Market is held on the second and last Sunday of every month and is the perfect place to fill your larder to bursting with an array of artisan Hampshire goodies such as game, goat meat, veal and buffalo meat, cheese, honey, pickles, jams, chutneys, breads, cakes, fresh and smoked fish, as well as a variety of fruit and veg for a magnificent Christmas spread.

Or if it’s gifts that you’re looking for, then you are sure to find something amongst the 100 wooden chalets selling creative crafts, glorious gifts, unique stocking fillers and festive food at the International Christmas Market in the grounds of the cathedral. Charlotte Barnaville, Head of Marketing and Communications at Winchester Cathedral guided me around the site to paint the picture.

“Roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and the ice rink against this,” she said, her arm sweeping the expanse of the cathedral’s stone arches. “It’s a magical space that comes into its own at twilight. It’s worth taking a day off work to come midweek, when it’s not so busy. Come with friends. Treat it like a spa day – shop, eat, and visit the museum then listen to a carol service at the cathedral.”

Strolling under the Kingsgate arch towards Kingsgate village, past the Cornflower gift shop with its quirky gifts, we came across P & G Wells Booksellers and bindery – a book lover’s paradise that has been in business for over 250 years. It is thought to be the oldest bookshop and bindery still in existence in the country! A couple of doors along, a blue plaque denotes the house where Jane Austen died. Charlie, as she prefers to be called, giggled as she pointed towards Winchester College, “It’s like Hogwarts from Harry Potter!” I agreed, half expecting to see the scholars flying over the flint and brick walls engaged in a game of Quidditch! Founded in 1382, Winchester College is believed to be the oldest continuously running school in the country. The final scene from Les Miserables was filmed there, as was Goodbye Mr Chips starring Martin Clunes.

We popped into Kingsgate Wines and Provisions for a sandwich, where a sign reads ‘Multum in Parvo’. Directly translated from Latin, means ‘Much in little’ or more quaintly put by the manager as, ‘A quart in a pint pot’. KPO, as the shop is affectionately known by the locals is a convenience store with the charm of a bygone era.

I was told not to miss a visit to the historic Wykeham Arms, dating from 1755 and dripping with bric-a-brac. A favourite with celebs, once inside it was difficult to resist the urge to have an alcoholic beverage whilst sitting at an old school desk in the hope that one-time visitor David Bowie would come back for another visit.

Despite being a small city, there’s something about Winchester that feels…well, quite decadent. Walk into any of the independents and immediately experience traditional, old fashioned and discrete attention. The Square was listed as one of Britain’s coolest streets in The Telegraph earlier this year and it’s easy to see why. With its buzzing café culture, chic boutiques and emporiums you’ll find yourself transported to another world. Even the once black bollards have been transformed with art work in the style of Klimt, Kandinsky and da Vinci.

Dinghams is where you’ll find the perfect gift for a budding baker, with everything from retro bowls to wood-burning stoves.

If there’s a man in your life that’s impossible to buy for I’ve found the golden nugget! Cadogan, with its understated luxury, is definitely the place to find the gift for the man who has everything. Choose from the softest cashmere coat, jaunty silk pochette or antique snuff box (perfect for storing camera memory cards).Alex, the owner, offers expert guidance. His shop is synonymous with luxury and is a favourite of Tara Palmer-Tomkinsons, Colin Firth and Rupert Penry-Jones.

The Hambledon, also on The Square, has made it onto Vogue’s list of Best Shops outside London and their range of Christmas tree decorations is divine. Alexa Cheung, Richard E Grant and Juliette Binoche have all been spotted there.

Also in The Square, The Pavillion, a town, city and country outfitter stocks an eclectic range of well known and up and coming designer fashion.

Parchment Street is marked by an arched sculpture of a kite flyer. Ellie from Boudoir Blush will have the measure of you before you can say balconette bra. Whether you’re a pert B or a voluptuous K, her expert fitting service will make you feel like a supermodel. Treat yourself to luxurious lingerie, pure silk pyjamas or something from the naughty corner.

Justice, a jeweller’s showcasing British designers, offers a bespoke commissioning service if you fancy modernising an old heirloom, and if you think the question is about to be popped, this is the place to turn the design of your dreams into a reality.

There are department stores, toy shops, musical instrument showrooms, florists, cycle shops, galleries, arts, crafts and antiques. In fact Winchester is a gift in itself; an olde worlde, higgledy piggledy place with secrets and magic at every turn. So if you want to put some joie de vivre into Christmas, this is where it’s at.

Getting there

The train takes less than an hour from London Waterloo to Winchester and the city is well served from all over the UK. National Express provides regular coach access from London, Heathrow, Oxford and Southampton. Southampton Airport is 15 minutes away. Winchester is conveniently located just off Junctions 9, 10 and 11 of the M3. Also accessible via the A34 from Newbury and Oxford. If you drive, be aware that the city has a network of one-way streets, which can be tricky to navigate and on street parking is difficult to find. There are several car parks plus a Park and Ride scheme available at St Catherines, Barfield and South Winchester. Visit winchesterparkandride.co.uk for more information.

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