Martin Fullard takes a tour around the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead to learn more about its MICE offering.
While Windsor is not part of Greater London it is just as easy to access as anywhere with a W1 postcode. By rail, road, and even air, the chosen preferred residence of our Monarch is as well connected as anywhere within the M25 – better, in a lot of cases.
That’s not the only merit, though. Windsor and the surrounding area are ripe with facilities that make it an ideal MICE destination.
Where to meet
The first stop on my tour was the Royal Holloway University, just over the county border. Originally built in 1879 at the behest of Jane Holloway, wife of Victorian entrepeneur Thomas Holloway, it opened as a pioneering Women’s College. Today, the building and campus are ideal venues for meetings, with a strong mix of both small and large conference and meeting spaces spread across the site.
The new Windsor Building has capacity for up to 400 delegates, and a further 6-8 flexible meeting rooms. The neighbouring Moore Building can accommodate up to 100 delegates, boasting nine smaller seminar rooms. The campus on-site also offers the opportunity of bed space, ideal for travelling delegates.
The impressive Grade I Founders Building can hold up to 180, and is packed with charming stately rooms. The Victorian banquet halls can cater up to 200. There are nearly 3,000 bedrooms on campus.
Not too far away is the De Vere Beaumont Estate. The original White House dates back to 1705. Since that time the building has been added to, notably in the Victorian era, when it was used as a school. There is a raft of different sized event spaces. Smaller gatherings may like to use the stately rooms in the White House, ideal for small receptions, while larger conferences would be more suited to the 180-capacity Hampton Suite. The Chapel is best suited for banquets and must be seen to be believed. The venue has recently invested heavily in refurbishing its bedrooms and restaurant, making it one of the most comprehensive venues around.
The venue is currently being upgraded, with a new bar and restaurant set to open in summer 2017.
Where to stay
Sir Christopher Wren, the legendary architect, was from Windsor and has lent his name to one of the finest hotels in the town. The 17th Century listed building – or buildings, more accurately – is located on the bank of the river Thames. There are 98 en suite bedrooms across the four buildings, as well as a business centre, spa, and a wide selection of meeting rooms, of which there are seven in the main house. The recently revamped restaurant and terrace looks out over the Thames. The hotel has its own entrance to Windsor & Eton Riverside station.
The gothic-style Oakley Court is a building rich in history and certainly one of the area’s best-kept secrets. While it sat abandoned much of the 20th Century it was used as the set of horror films such as Dracula and The Rocky Horror Show. Today the independently owned hotel and meeting venue mixes tradition with modern quirks. A marquee, in the 33 acres of stunning garden, can hold up to 500, while the Windsor Suite in the main building can take 200. The Boat House, on the riverbank, is ideal for smaller board meetings.
The River Thames runs through the grounds and boat tours to Bray or Windsor by Fringilla is an essential experience.
Where to eat
From the Oakley Court, take a boat ride aboard Fringilla or Sula to the village of Bray. The boat tour in itself offers a perspective not seen from land. Lunch can be added.
Michelin-starred celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal dominates the village of Bray, with his three restaurants and pubs drawing foodies from all over the world. The Hinds Head, the Crown, and the Fat Duck were all voted in the top 50 restaurants in the world.
Dotted around the village is a collection of high-end, well-appointed cottages owned by Bray Cottages: the perfect place for delegates to relax in the quintessential English village. Each of the cottages was designed and decorated by the owner to an exceptionally high standard. The fridges and cupboards are fully stocked, making self-catering even easier. Each cottage has its own small plot of outdoors space.
Where to play
The Motion Simulation Room, conveniently located in the Slough industrial area, is the only company that makes racing car simulators for F1 teams. They have six pods available for teambuilding. It is not just a computer game and is much harder than it looks and fantastically addictive. The space is ideal for smaller gatherings, and larger groups take it turns to compete in the racing pods.
Nearby is Jump In, a trampoline park which offers delegates an amusing work.
The main attraction in the area is obviously Windsor Castle, the southern residence of Queen Elizabeth II. A castle has stood on the site since the 11th Century, not long after the Norman conquest. Since that time the castle has been added to and rebuilt by various monarchs. Today it is one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations.
Just out of town is Legoland, a popular theme park which is also equipped with generous meetings and conference space, which is able to cater up to 200 delegates. Access to the park will certainly bring out the big kid in your attendees.
Windsor is home to two racecourses: Windsor Racecourse and the world famous Ascot. Both racecourses are located near the town and are easily accessible. On non-race days the conference and meetings facilities are available to hire.
There is no shortage of parks and greenspace in the area, with plenty of cycle routes through the town and along the river banks.
Windsor is a 20 minute drive from Heathrow airport, making it an ideal stop over and one that is closer to the airport than London itself.
The town is served by two railway terminus. Windsor & Eton Riverside is operated by SouthWest Trains and runs a direct stopping-service to London Waterloo, which takes about 45 minutes. Windsor & Eton Central station is operated by Great Western Railway, which runs a short direct service to Slough, which offers connecting services to London Paddington and the West Country, including Bristol and Bath.
Windsor is just off the M4, 10 minutes from Junction 15 of the M25. Parking is well catered for in the town, although it does get busy at the weekends.