North-west of London and around 90 minutes by car, Oxford is a quintessentially British city that all visitors to the UK should attempt to see. Don’t arrive thinking that Oxford is similar to Brighton; unlike ‘London-by-the-Sea’, as Brighton’s fondly known, Oxford is not a party town – despite the many students that live there. You’ll be in bed by 11pm if you’ve made a proper day of it, but don’t let that put you off – the cosy pubs and much-loved bookshops alone will make up for the lack of thumping house music and offers on shots. But where to stay?
If you do find the time to visit Oxford, you’ll need somewhere to wind down that’s as elegant and steeped in history as your surroundings. Here are five of the best places to retire to when you’ve had your fill of home-brewed cider and genteel walks.
Old Parsonage Hotel
Ranked as one of the best hotels in Oxford, the 17th century Old Parsonage is situated near to the city centre, and is at the end of the beautiful boulevard St Giles. It’s about 15 minutes’ walk into the centre of town, but well worth the extra distance from the city’s offerings to stay here.
With bedrooms designed by Sally Conran and marble bathrooms and terraces to enjoy the tranquillity of its leafy surroundings, Old Parsonage is a favourite with wedding parties and tourists seeking a slice of something special. There are complimentary bikes you can borrow (much like Cambridge, Oxford is a city for cyclists), and free tours of the city, so you can make the most of your stay. Paying homage to the city’s love of literacy, there’s even a library where you can browse a selection of books while you sip on something fancy from their wine list.
Our advice? Don’t miss their Sunday lunch – expect English asparagus with melted butter to start, and roast sirloin of Hereford beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and spring greens as a main. Naturally, there should be a crumble on offer for dessert.
Macdonald Randolph Hotel
This five-star hotel offers luxurious accommodation, award-winning food and a spa haven in the heart of the city.
Don’t believe us? Presidents and prime ministers have resided at the Macdonald Randolph, and it’s worth staying here just to soak up the atmosphere in the Morse Bar. Unsurprisingly, the clue to its popularity is in its name; the bar was a frequent setting for many scenes where Morse and Lewis deliberated on complex cases, and is still featured in many episodes of Lewis.
The hotel’s stunning architecture and historic setting has proven very popular with couples seeking a fairytale start to their marriage, and the hotel’s Afternoon tea is something of an institution. You’ll start with a glass of Moutard Champagne, and then move on to scones with jam and clotted cream, a selection of sandwiches, afternoon pastries, fruit cake and tea.
Located in a converted prison in a medieval castle, this boutique hotel doesn’t sound that inviting initially, but it’s very easy to become a ‘repeat offender’ once you witness the unbelievable level of service this hotel offers. Located in one of the oldest, busiest and trendiest spots in the city, the hotel boasts 95 cells (sorry, rooms) which have been lavishly decorated – and there’s not a chain or manacle in sight. Plus, you’re just a stone’s throw away from the city’s best pubs and bars – what more could you want?
The hotel is probably best known for its brasserie, which serves ‘iconic dishes with a twist’. Fresh, local and classic dishes are cooked to perfection; popular dishes include Thai BBQ chicken lollipops, Goan tiger prawn curry, moules frites and le French burger, which comes with a generous portion of Brie de Meaux. Please note: asking for ‘porridge’ with a wry smile on your face at breakfast is probably a joke the staff have heard before.
If you’re after a hotel that’s a little way out of the city centre, Burlington House will suit your needs nicely. Hidden away in leafy outer Oxford, it’s a secluded, private place that is especially popular with people who’d like to lock themselves away for a weekend with someone special. Essentially, blissfully loved-up honeymooners.
Recommended by both the Which? Guide to Good Hotels and the Which? Guide to Good Bed & Breakfasts, this five-star retreat consistently impresses. There are only 12 bedrooms, and each room comes with fruit teas and (gasp) homemade biscuits. All the mod-cons are here – triple-glazed windows, Wifi, power showers and HD TVs will ensure that nothing ruins your Sunday morning.
When you finally haul yourselves out of bed, you’ll need breakfast. Head downstairs for homemade bread, Gruyere cheese omelettes, marmalade omelettes and special field mushrooms on toast; you’re guaranteed an excellent start to the day.
Old Bank Hotel
They say that money makes the world go round, but if you’re after a break from its hectic spinning, head to the Old Bank Hotel. This 42-bedroom Georgian hotel has light, airy bedrooms and is centrally-located, so if you’re after a base that’s close to the sales, head here. The bedrooms (and their marble bathrooms) are all adorned with a private art collection, and the views of the city from the top floors of this hotel are breathtaking.
Although a stay here will be one of the highlights of your year, most people visit for the Quod brasserie. This elegant eatery, with its light-flooded terrace and bar, forms the hub of the Old Bank Hotel. Formerly a banking hall, it’s been transformed, and has become Oxford’s most successful restaurant.
The menu is always changing to accommodate seasonal produce, but dishes you’ll be enjoying could include steak Béarnaise with fries and a green salad, butternut squash, chickpea and pepper tagine or smoked haddock chowder with a poached egg.
Vicky Anscombe is Editor-in-Chief at Columbus Direct.
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