Weekend escapes: Oxford

In the current financial climate, it’s not always possible to jet off to America or Australia to discover new cities, bars, restaurants, night life and cultures. However, this last weekend I realised that you don’t always have to travel thousands of miles, put up with grumpy passport control, security checks, stand in the 3 mile Stansted queue or learn a new language to discover a fantastic new city. There’s nothing wrong with exploring your own country, or even your own city, a little more. It was this thought on Saturday that sent me out into Oxford, determined to re-discover (or in many cases, simply discover) the city I have lived in for most of my life.

Why is it that I’ve spent 20 years in Oxford and never taken a tour around the university? Why is it that, although I’ve walked past it many, many times, I have never climbed to the top of Carfax tower to look out at the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford? Sure, I’ve stopped for coffee on a long day’s shopping trip, but why is it I’ve always picked a certain and very generic coffee brand over the hundreds of little cafes nestled in amongst the ancient buildings? After reading Tony’s New York blog post, I realised how lucky I was to live in a famous old city, so I decided to head off and check it out.

I headed into Oxford on Saturday and parked in a little back alley after navigating the one way system through the colleges. I headed out to my starting point for the day, Carfax Tower. I’m not going to bore you with the history of all the old buildings (tour guides do that for you,) but I have to say that the view from the top of Carfax Tower was great. Pictures don’t do it justive, so if you get the chance you should make that climb. The ticket is £2 and I think it’s worth it.

Dreaming Spires from Carfax tower
Once we climbed down, I hopped on to the Oxford tour bus (I even began covering for myself by explaining to the driver that I do indeed live in Oxford. I’ve never enjoyed looking like a tourist…) and headed off towards Magdalen Bridge and the Botanical Gardens. Now, if you ever want the contempt of the locals, be sure to ask very noisily how to find the Magdalen bridge (pronouncing the G) when in a crowd. It’s pronounced with a silent ‘G’, and it is the one way to spot a newbie in Oxford.

Magdalen Bridge
After a walk around the Botanical Gardens (OK, it’s not anywhere near as good as the other botanical gardens dotted around the country, but you can go punting on the river that runs through the gardens), we headed out to find a place to grab a coffee and perhaps some food. However, the best coffee places are in Cornmarket Street (right next to Carfax Tower) so we decided to continue on with the tour and have a break at the end. As we wound our way around the colleges, (seeing the college where the Harry Potter films were shot was the highlight for a certain member of the group), we suddenly realised that we were driving past the Malmaison, an old prison made into a swanky hotel and restaurant. If you ever stay in Oxford, the Malmaison is perfect, a funky and quirky Gekko Spot. The food in the restaurant is also fantastic. They have a wide range of drinks and a very busy bar in the evening, and superb hotel rooms to crash after a long night. Definitely a worthy stay.


Gekko’s favourite Oxford hotels

The hip hotel: Malmaison Oxford
An old prison you wouldn’t mind being locked up in. The hottest hotel in Oxford.

The luxury hotel: Le Manoir
Home to Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Manoir is the country retreat of your dreams just a couple of miles outside Oxford.

The no frills city centre hotel: Old Bank Hotel
The first new hotel in Oxford city centre for 135 years. Unfussy but classy.


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