Spirits soared after this Oxfordshire stay.
Located conveniently just off the M40 and 10 miles from the historic city whose name it bears, The Oxford Belfry is easy to find for even the most navigationally-challenged travellers like myself and my husband. Even though the hotel was busy at the time of our overnight stay, there is a large car park with an abundance of spaces, so parking on our arrival was a stress-free experience.
Check-in was equally without hassle, with the friendly receptionist seamlessly booking us in and informing us of all the necessary details of our stay as well as warning us that the place is a bit of a maze – but, if we got lost, just to ask a member of staff. It is and we did – and, as we were to find during our stay, the staff are always eager to help, so asking along the way eventually steered us towards our room for the night.
The general feel of the place is modern and spotlessly clean throughout, and we found our accommodation for the night, the St John’s Suite, had exactly the same ambience. All the comforts you need for a relaxing stay were present and correct: the bathroom/shower room had a luxurious air, with marble-topped his-and-hers sinks and modern fitments, and a separate second toilet and tea/coffee point all accessed from the airy entrance hall. Moving into the spacious living room/bedroom, we felt instantly comfortable, with plenty of seating, a large flat-screen TV, a very plush-looking bed. Our quarters had the fresh, modern feel that pervades the hotel without veering into the kind of clinical feel from which some chain hotels suffer (the Oxford Belfry is part of the Double Tree by Hilton group).
At the time of our visit, some Covid-19 restrictions were still in place, so it was heartening to see that all staff wore masks. As we walked around the labyrinth of corridors, it also became clear that all rooms were sealed with stickers after being cleaned in between occupants to guarantee cleanliness. In line with the measures to ensure the health and safety of guests, we had booked a session in the pool before dinner at 4 o’clock – as well as booking dinner at 7pm and breakfast at 9pm the next morning – so the staff could ensure the correct levels of social distancing and minimise queuing.
Due to the pandemic, neither of us had been anywhere near a pool for over 18 months, and it must count as one of the most refreshing dips ever! The 1.2-metre-deep pool was just the right temperature and just large enough for a dozen languid lengths in our one-hour slot, interspersed with sessions in the steam room and sauna, along with a lovely bit of lazing on poolside loungers while watching the clouds go by through the glass roof. After a quick post-swim shower in the well-appointed changing rooms, all the cares and anxieties of a year and a half of pandemic panic had been well and truly washed away. For those seeking other paths to wellness, there’s also a gym equipped with modern equipment and a selection of spa treatments to relax, soothe and get your body and mind in the right place – everything from hot stone and deep tissue massages through to facials, manicures and pedicures.
Now positively glowing and with all the cares of the world a distant memory, we did a bit of exploration. This place seems set up for just about any social occasion, from simple overnight stays in accommodation varying from standard rooms to luxurious suites, to meetings and conferences (there are 18 separate state-of-the-art meeting rooms and conference spaces, apparently) and full-blown family weddings.
The central courtyard at the hotel and its extensive grounds offer ample locations for photo opportunities to couples on their big day, as well as places to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do the full 17 acres of green space around the Belfry, but the tennis courts at the back of the hotel looked particularly tempting, on the edge of rolling Oxfordshire countryside and with the bleating of sheep relegating the hum of the M40 to barely noticeable background noise.
By now it was time for dinner. The restaurant can’t boast any panoramic views or flashy food, but it’s all well cooked, tasty fare – and the staff are very friendly and attentive. We enjoyed a great rapport with our waitress, Anita, who was good company and great fun. Deciding to skip a starter with an eye on the dessert menu instead, I ordered the Classic Burger in a brioche bun with Monterey Jack cheese, green tomato relish and bacon, which comes with skinny fries – it went down a treat. My husband opted for the 6oz dry-aged bistro rump steak with a peppercorn sauce, beer-battered onion rings and fries, which hit the spot for him. We plumped for a bottle of French red wine – La Cour des Dames syrah – which washed our main courses down in style and didn’t seem overpriced. On to dessert: my husband went the full comfort route by ordering sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel ice cream, after which he had an ‘I’m very pleasantly full’ look on his face. I was in the mood for cheese and had a platter of Blacksticks blue and Black Bomber mature cheddar with crackers, delicious apple and plum chutney and sweet, crisp grapes. And no – it didn’t give me nightmares, it was dreamy! We finished off by pushing the boat out and treating ourselves to a top-notch Remy Martin cognac each – just to aid digestion, you understand…
Time to meander back to our room, where we enjoyed the simple pleasures of just chilling out and watching TV before calling it a day, fully at peace with the world. The bed fulfilled all its early promise, with the dream combination of sumptuous cotton sheets, a mattress just on the right side of firmness and a pair of super-plump pillows each. Bliss!
And what can be better than a good night’s sleep than one of the most pleasurable things in the world – a hotel breakfast. This certainly didn’t disappoint, with both of us tucking into our own interpretation of the full English – buffet-style, but served by a member of staff due to Covid restrictions, plus proper orange juice with bits in it, and lashings of tea and coffee served to the table. Just the job to start the day. To cap it all off, as we had a last stroll through the grounds before checking out, a pair of red kites put on a swooping display for us just above the treeline at the rear of the hotel, the aerial antics of these beautiful birds of prey echoing our soaring spirits.
Then it was back down to earth with a half-hour drive to Bicester Outlet Village for a bit of retail therapy in the discount designer shops. We could just as easily enjoyed any of the other local delights, such as Oxford, the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’ with its world-famous university, Harry Potter film locations, stunning architecture and the opportunity to try punting on the river, or the Cotswolds with its chocolate-box villages and idyllic countryside, but treating myself to a new designer dress seemed to me the ideal finale to a real feelgood experience.
Written by Susan Holmes