weekend away - Windsor
Written by Gillian Thornton
Home to the largest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor is internationally famous for its heritage attractions and royal connections. But leave time to enjoy the town’s cultural and retail diversions, its gastronomic restaurants, and sporting scene.
Less than one hour by train from London’s Waterloo station and only 15 minutes by car from Heathrow, Windsor pulls in heritage-hungry visitors from across the globe. But far from living in the past, Windsor offers a vibrant contemporary scene that seamlessly blends urban chic with 900 years of British history.
Few shopping centres ooze quite so much atmosphere as Windsor’s Royal Station, opened in 1849 to bring the train to Queen Victoria’s front door. Today, the covered forecourt building has been sympathetically transformed to showcase some of Britain’s top retail brands, whilst adjacent streets are home to high street retailers and specialist shops.
Take the footbridge over the Thames to explore the antique dealers and galleries of Eton High Street. The twin towns include more than 60 shops that hold a coveted Royal Warrant – suppliers to the British monarchy.
Drop in to the Royal Windsor Information Centre in the former ticket office of the Royal Station to find out about cultural and sporting venues, including the Theatre Royal, Guards Polo Club, and Wentworth and Sunningdale golf clubs (www.windsor.gov.uk; +44 (0)1753 743900). The 2010 Windsor Festival from Sept 18 to Oct 3 features a diverse programme of literary, musical, and theatre events. But be sure to step back in time too. Dominating the modern town centre, the original castle was founded by William the Conqueror around 1070 – allow two hours to visit. Highlights include Queen Mary’s Dolls House, a miniature masterpiece created by Sir Edwin Lutyens; the magnificent State Apartments; and treasures including fine woodwork, Gobelin tapestries, and Flemish paintings.
St George’s Chapel in the castle grounds is one of Britain’s most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings, dating from 1475 and last resting place of ten monarchs including Henry VIII – with his favourite wife Jane Seymour – and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
As well as being the largest inhabited castle, Windsor Castle is also the oldest residence in continuous use by British royalty. But not everything in Windsor is big. Nearby Queen Charlotte Street is Britain’s smallest street – look for it behind the Guildhall where Prince Charles married Camilla Parker-Bowles.
For a different perspective, take a tour of Eton College, one of the world’s most exclusive boys’ schools; stroll through the beautiful Savill Garden; or relax with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Windsor Great Park. British tradition at its very best.
Choose from a variety of fine dining packages at Ascot Racecourse, which hosts flat meetings throughout the summer, and jump races from November until April. Or visit Royal Windsor Racecourse between April and October to experience Britain’s only racecourse in a figure of eight.