I came to Oxford with images of Lewis and Morse running through my head, set to Barrington Pheloung’s haunting theme song. It is indeed the City of Dreaming Spires as penned by Matthew Arnold and my one regret is that I didn’t stay for a longer period: I definitely need to return to enjoy the city with a more relaxed attitude. So what we have here is the product of my pre-visit research and hitting the pavement hard!
First rule of business – where to stay: The Mercure Oxford Eastgate Hotel – this historic hotel, located opposite part of Magdalen College, has just finished a major refurbishment and is tucked away in the High Street, possibly the most ancient of all Oxford’s thoroughfares dating back to the 10th century. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner called it “one of the world’s great streets” due to its mix of college buildings & medieval to 18th century houses. Friendly and efficient staff swiftly make you feel at home (no daunting threshold fear here) and amazingly, in this old city, there’s the bonus of a large car park should you need it. Guest room designs are cleverly decorated with different Oxford imagery – I stayed in one of the Punts on the River but there’s also the Bridge of Sighs, the Bodleian Library and Rowing on the Thames – the themes a lovely touch, presented in a glamorous contemporary style (clever). The privilege room (with a number of extras included) starts from £225 room & VAT and is subject to availability. Call the hotel direct on +44 (0) 1865 248 332.
Adjacent to the hotel is Marco’s New York Italian Restaurant offering great food and stylish service with a smile. They also offer hotel and walk-ins breakfast too.
Where to eat – Well to be honest, as we stayed just over night, my choices are limited by what I’ve personally tried due to time constraints. Dining at Marco’s was a real treat and I would heartily recommend it. I also popped into the oldest coffee house in the UK according to diarist Samuel Pepys in 1650 – The Grand Cafe – literally a few steps from the hotel. Again, friendly service as I watched the world cycle past my window (cycling is BIG in Oxford). In fact not having a bike kind of marks you out as a visitor! We also tried out the cafe of St Mary the Virgin Church near the Radcliffe Camera – very popular, a great place to reconnoitre your next location.
Climb a tower – There are four towers to climb – the Carfax, Oxford Castle, St Michael at the North Gate Church and the one which I climbed, puffing away – St Mary the Virgin Church.
There are wonderful views from this church – one drawback, the top of the tower is very narrow and access is blocked at one end so great courtesy, queuing and patience is required to enjoy the views.
Take a punt, do a walking or cycle tour – Slowly enjoying a punt in Oxford must be the closest thing to a Venetian gondola we have here in the UK. Make your way along the River Cherwell and take the mellow route. We wandered around Oxford so didn’t have the time to take a tour but I think a cycle tour would make you feel a little more like a local and less like a tourist. There are also guided walking tours that point out the various colleges, many of which allow tourist visits. Go to Visit Oxford and Oxfordshire’s site for more.
The most iconic of Oxford’s buildings has to be the circular Radcliffe Camera housing the Bodleian Library and you can take a guided tour if you have the time. The Ashmolean Museum is another gem I didn’t have time to visit sadly but … next time.
Don’t forget the Covered Market – loved seeing patissiers, butchers, greengrocers, jewellers and so forth at work – a real mixed market place which dates back to 1774.
General Manager’s local secrets: Our genial host, Peter Watt, gave me two suggestions – go the The Bear Inn. It’s the oldest pub in Oxford and is a hidden gem, just off the hustle and bustle of the High Street. It’s known for its quirky collection of ties dating back to the early 1900’s. I didn’t have time to visit sadly but that’s definitely one on the bucket list for the return visit. The other I did do. Go past the Ashmolean along to DemiJohn – the world’s first liquid deli – to obtain perhaps the most personalised gift you can find. Select a bottle shape and size, then do the same with various vodkas, gins, wines or oils – and the kind folks will fill your bottle(s) to your preference. Then – doubling as talented calligraphers too, they’ll hand write your choice on the bottle along with a dedication for the gift recipient. A genius idea that I would never have discovered without Peter. DemiJohn is expanding so perhaps the people of Bath will find one on their doorstep soon.
By the way, you are in good company at the Eastgate Hotel – it’s alumni includes J R R Tolkien who lived next door but ate at the hotel daily and C S Lewis who met his future wife, Joy Gresham, for lunch in the hotel restaurant; prints from Narnia adorn the lobby lounge walls. It’s rumoured that Tolkien and Lewis use to drink beer together in the bar.
Contributor & Photographer: Sue Lowry.
The Mercure Oxford Eastgate Hotel is not a client of Magellan PR but provided complimentary overnight with dinner and breakfast on this occasion.
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