Now, I will have lived in Oxford six years this September and one of the things I have wanted to do since moving here is stay at Malmaison Oxford. For those that may be unfamiliar with Malmaison, it’s a chain of unique UK-based city centre boutique hotels. There’s 12 different locations and as Mal’s website likes to quote, they each dare to be different. Different is definitely how I would describe them – you can stay in a converted railway station in Reading, a nurses’ home in London , a Church in Glasgow or…a Royal Mail Sorting Office in Birmingham. Whatever floats you boat I suppose! At Oxford’s hotel you can stay in a prison. Next door to a castle. 🙂
Staying at The Mal has been atop my Oxford Bucket List for some time but sadly it has always been out of my price range. Last October, P and I decided to embark on a “staycation” of sorts, as thanks to the Australian Government, a holiday abroad was not an option for our 2nd anniversary together. We booked a week off work with the aim of working through as many Bucket List experiences as possible – and in position number one? Staying in one of the converted cells at Malmaison. For the night of our anniversary, I booked a “Cocktails and Dreams” package which included a 2 course dinner for two in the hotel’s on site brasserie followed by after dinner cocktails in the converted visitors lounge. We decided to splash out on a superior cell double, one of the more expensive types of room offered.
Cell rooms (two or three cells knocked into one) have all the original cell features, a Queen size bed and an en-suite bathroom. Superior cell doubles are slightly larger as they have both a roll-top bath and a walk-in shower. In the standard cell rooms some have showers and some have baths. I have always had a bit of an obsession with roll-top baths (and baths that have feet) so I was happy to pay the extra pennies to go superior. I can tell you it was definitely worth it – thanks to the luxurious 12pm check-out I spent the morning sat in a beautiful bubble bath drinking fizz and eating chocolates imagining I was a movie star. 😀 (NB. You can pre-order a bottle of fizz and chocolates for your room at the time of booking, but as booking the room in the first place made us broke we made do with a bottle of fizz cheekily purchased from Tesco. Chocolates came from Thorntons.) It still tasted amazing. 🙂 Not all the rooms are converted cells, so if you want the true slammer experience, make sure you stay in the A-wing. Another bit of advice – stay as high up as you can. Cell rooms on the ground level can be a little dark.
Dinner in the brasserie was lovely, the menu is always seasonal which is a nice touch. On the package deals, you choose from a set menu rather than the a la carte but this didn’t bother us. There is plenty of choice – with three to four options being offered for each course. I had spiced butternut squash soup to start (perfect for an October evening) and P enjoyed the calamari. For main we both had the slow-roasted lamb shank in a red wine jus. We paid a little extra so we could share a dessert – a sinful dark chocolate brownie – as well as have a glass of wine each with dinner. Afterwards we went up to the visitors lounge to enjoy our post-dinner cocktails. The lounge was moodily lit and very atmospheric, perfect for unwinding. The building’s past is clear to see here too, the platform the warden used to observe the inmates from is still a feature and the room still has the original windows. Dotted around the room are other objects from the hotel’s previous incarnation, such as the visitor’s book. The cocktails were delicious and added a very decadent tone to our evening!
The staff at the hotel deserve top marks, everyone was professional and courteous, nothing was too much trouble. When looking into booking, I visited the hotel as I wanted to make sure I got the cell room I wanted (it was A-wing or nothing!). The staff were amazing, the receptionist even phoned one of her colleagues who used to work as a security guard at the original prison. He happily gave me a guided tour, giving me a fantastic insight into what it used to be like there. He showed me a selection of different rooms, making sure I booked exactly what I wanted. They seemed to understand it was a special evening for us and all the staff did their best to make it an unforgettable night.
It’s certainly not cheap, our package was £245 for one night, plus extra for our dessert and wine at dinner. This is the most I’ve ever spent on one night’s accommodation but was it worth it and would I do it again? Definitely. For the budget-impeded, I recommend registering on Mal’s website. They often do special offers and you can hear about it first on email that way. All in all, it was worth every penny and made it an anniversary to remember. What’s the point of saving hard if you can’t splurge once in a while? I’ve always wanted to stay in an unusual hotel and now I can say I have. 😉