Overseas travel may have resumed but it remains the pursuit of the mad or the masochistic. Tests upon masks upon quarantines upon tests, the risk that your trip may either be cancelled or curtailed a perpetual travelling companion, as inescapable as a Covid outbreak at your beachside resort.
Better to shun the airport and head for the train station. Take the opportunity to explore the many joys of this fair and pleasant land – and no joy comes more fair or pleasant than Oxford, a city so magical it’s basically Hogwarts, extrapolated.
Similar to Venice and Edinburgh, the centre of Oxford can feel more like a film set, or a living postcard, than an actual, real city populated by actual, real people. And like London and New York, Oxford is embedded enough in popular culture for most of us to feel like we know the place even if we’ve never visited. There’s a university, right? Spires that dream, ancient buildings that turn golden in the sun. Christ Church Cathedral, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Bodleian Library. That’s the one!
Indeed – but knowledge and lived experience are two very different things. Firstly, no film or photography could ever hope to capture the awesome beauty of the city, so steeped in history and poetry that you almost swoon to imagine all the people who have walked its cobbled streets, gazed in silent wonder upon architecture carved centuries before your birth. Secondly, there are some absolutely cracking pubs.
Take the Turf Tavern, a gorgeous pub that dates back to 1381 and has hosted many of history’s great and good in their student years. Here, the future Prime Minister of Australia Bob Hawke consumed a yard of ale in 11 seconds in 1963 (a world record); and, some years later, future American President Bill Clinton may or may not have inhaled marijuana. Misbehaving at the Turf does wonders for your political prospects so you better pay a visit if you hope to be PM.
You’ll need a weekend to have any hope of doing Oxford justice and you’ll want accommodation as splendid as your surroundings. May we suggest The Randolph by the aptly named Graduate Hotels? It’s located slap bang in the centre of town, directly opposite the Ashmolean – a world-renowned museum that dates back to 1683. A veritable baby in Oxford, especially as the current building was constructed in the 19th century.
Forget the Ashmolean for now. Enter the Randolph. Admire the large Union Jack adorning the facade of the hotel and the pedants of the 39 colleges that hang within the atrium. Graduate, you see, take care to furnish their 30-plus hotels around the world with decor and details specific to their location. The Morse Bar is decorated with photographs of the good Inspector himself, the late John Thaw. It’s a lovely room to while away an hour with the newspaper – or perhaps a detective novel.
For mealtimes, book a table at the hotel’s restaurant The Alice, beautifully decorated with cartoons depicting her adventures down the rabbit hole. (Lewis Carrol is an Oxford alumni.) The food is superb, seasonal British cuisine that even the Queen of Hearts would struggle to fault. Seared sea bass with roast gnocchi and tomato beurre blanc will have you grinning like a Cheshire cat, while the 36-day aged beef rump, braised cheek and beef fat potatoes transports you to, yes, wonderland. Enjoy an aperitif at the bar – but don’t opt for tea.
All bedrooms incorporate nods to Oxford and its notable alumni into their design. Sizes range from the classic single – perfect for the solo traveller – to the resplendent Royal Suite, if you really want to push the boat out. (Or should that be ‘punt’?) Needless to say, the views from your window tend to be fairly spectacular.
Lovely touches abound – such as the bicycles behind the desk that guests can use to explore the city. With a spa due to open in the coming months, The Randolph will only go from strength to strength. Graduating from Oxford is all well and good; Graduating in Oxford may be even better. Enroll now.
Beaumont St, Oxford OX1 2LN; The Randolph Hotel