London may be the top hotspot when it comes to days out, but the city of Oxford rivals the capital with its magnificent history, amazing architectural masterpieces and the presence of its university, which is renowned around the world. Luxurious Magazine’s Sabi Phagura went along to the city to eat, shop, sleep and play away from London.
I’m fortunate to live close to Oxford and have taken advantage of embarking on numerous day trips to the city. But on this occasion, I didn’t want to rush my visit, instead wanting to enjoy it like a tourist. So, I packed an overnight bag, loaded up the car and set off.
My abode for the night was The Randolph Hotel in the city centre which has recently undergone a major refurbishment by the Graduate Hotels group. It is an imposing building close to the colleges, a Gothic wonder that can be clearly seen from a distance. Within minutes, attentive and friendly staff swiftly helped me check-in, and the valet parked my car—a lovely and unexpected touch.
City of Oxford
More about this extraordinary hotel later, but first let me tell you about Oxford. The city, as mentioned, is home to some of the country’s finest historic architecture that span centuries, and almost every building has a history and story behind it. Seeing so many people looking at the skyline instead of their gadgets for a change was encouraging.
A number of these buildings are now museums showcasing some of the best art pieces from a long-gone era. The Pitt Rivers, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of the history of Science and the Ashmolean Museum (across the road from The Randolph Hotel) are just some of the wonders to marvel at.
But if books are your thing (like me), then you will be intrigued to learn Oxford University has an astonishing 120 miles of bookshelves in its libraries. The reading culture is well and truly embedded in the city, with the Blackwell Bookshop also having three miles of bookshelves in its famed Norrington room.
And, of course, Oxford has some of the oldest universities and colleges in the world whose hallways were once stomping ground to thousands of influential personalities that shaped the world in one way or another. My guest Nita and I had fun guessing which colleges famous people had attended.
Oxford city can be enjoyed on foot and bike, but wanting to cover more ground during our stay Nita and I hopped on the City Sightseeing bus tour to explore this vibrant place.
With 20 bus stops, passengers can hop on and off at leisure. With the complimentary headphones and an Oxford Walking tour included, we were able to learn a tremendous amount more about the city.
The Randolph Hotel
Having gotten our city fix (and feeling shattered), we returned to The Randolph, stopping first at the famous Morse bar for a much-needed beverage. The bar is an ode to Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter who garnered inspiration within this setting to pen his books.
Today the bar has a cosy feel to it with its wood panelling and ample charm from where classic and bespoke cocktails alongside whisky, wines, and speciality beers can be enjoyed.
Constructed in 1864 across Balliol College to match the surrounding Gothic architecture, the rest of the communal areas are just a grandeur to be marvelled at. It’s a nod to many other storied innovators and alumni, including Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll and famed playwright and poet Oscar Wilde.
While American chain Graduate Hotels may have taken over the property, they’ve retained its unique historic charm breathing life into it once again. Think stained-glass windows, pointed archways, glittering chandeliers and handcrafted antique odes to collegiate shields hanging above the front desk.
With a self-guided tour of the private dining room, cosy snugs and places to just relax, we finally made it to the bedroom to take the weight off our feet. One of 151 rooms, and we were greeted with even more Victorian-esque elements. Draped curtains, wallpaper inspired by the city’s native flowers and birds, ornate wardrobes and velvety furniture enveloped us. It was good to just lie on the bed for a few moments just to admire the regal room, not to mention the rabbit holding the bedside lamp in place.
Lewis Carroll is further honoured in the hotel at the contemporary restaurant The Alice. It’s a ‘wonderland’ indeed with its bubble-gum-pink banquettes, glitzy chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling decorated walls and cosy booth seating areas. As an all-day dining brasserie, it serves seriously comforting seasonal British dishes with a twist. It’s a meat, and fish lovers delight with plenty of options to choose from. And if you’ve room for dessert, I would heartily recommend the dark chocolate fondant with caramel ice cream.
A basement spa with Made for Life Organics treatments and a series of saunas and steam rooms is also situated on site, and while I would have loved to have had a treatment, with Christmas just weeks away, I decided to take my leave and head to nearby Bicester Village.
Just over 12 miles away, the open-air shopping centre is a shopper’s dream, particularly for those who love a bargain.
Even if you regularly visit the Village, there’s always something new to discover, from pop-up shops to events. Talking of new, Cecconi and Watchfinder & Co are the latest boutiques to call the Village their home. The former, which replaced The Wolsely just weeks ago, is the first restaurant outside London to offer diners a taste of northern Italy.
Cecconi focuses as much on service and ambience as it does on using the finest ingredients. Handmade pasta, oven-baked pizzas, fresh seafood and Cicchetti and wholesome, seasonal mains are what you can expect on the menu. A carb-overload menu it might be, but when you need the energy to shop, it’s welcomed. The moreish zucchini fritti and lemon aioli made us feel a tad less guilty.
The Watchfinder & Co is a watch lover’s dream. With its range of certified timepieces, shoppers can buy, sell and exchange pre-loved watches at a bargain. Despite being out of our price range, we were able to appreciate them – that is, until we realised the time and disgruntledly departed and headed homeward bound. But at least we had spent a couple of precious days appreciating how special Oxfordshire is.
You can learn more about The Randolph and its facilities at www.graduatehotels.com/oxford/. Information on City Sightseeing Oxford can be found at www.citysightseeingoxford.com/the-tour/ticket/bus-tour/, and to learn more about Bicester Village, visit www.thebicestercollection.com/.
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