Oxford's Hidden Gems

A visit to the city of dreaming spires is always rewarding, but check out Oxford's Hidden Gems for a different experience.

A visit to the city of dreaming spires is always rewarding, but check out Oxford's Hidden Gems for a different experience.


Tucked away in the heart of Woodstock, and a short stroll from the magnificent Blenheim Palace, is Hope House, a luxury boutique B&B with a difference. From the moment of arrival, guests feel like visitors at an ancestral home, rather than customers at a hotel, due largely to the history of the property built using the same pale honey stone as Blenheim and in a similar Vanbrughian style, and the warmth of owner Paul Hageman, a descendent of Woodstock's Money family with its own ties to the palace.

This personal reception continues throughout the stay, with guests being able to order silk or feather pillows and specify a choice of milk before arrival, so that the experience feels bespoke and unique. Like the best country breaks arranged by the most welcoming of hosts, you quite simply never want to leave.

Suites are grand and imposing, but offer contemporary touches (like a retro Smeg fridge) that merge surprisingly seamlessly with the oak beams, the traditional four-poster and a host of other original period features. The rooms all have free Wi-fi, iPod docks and handmade Mulberry Tree silk duvets and pillows. The bathrooms are a veritable haven of relaxation, with spacious baths, heated marbled floors, a television complete with splash-proof remote control, and a delicious array of custom-made, local bath products in addition to the Bulgari range.

A locally sourced, organic and positively mouthwatering breakfast in the Vanbrugh Restaurant caps off the experience. No wonder then that Hope House has attracted considerable success since opening as a B&B in 2009. Its list of accolades, including most recently being named a winner in the TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards, pay testament to the opulence of the property and the beauty of its surroundings.

Suites from £395. To book contact Hope House. (01993 815990; www.hopehousewoodstock.co.uk)


Oxford's first fully self-governing college, Merton was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, sometime Chancellor of England and later Bishop of Rochester. Eminent Mertonians include TS Eliot, JRR Tolkien, and Andrew Wiles, as well as Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library.

Today, the College is home to a vibrant and diverse intellectual community and boasts some of Oxford's loveliest gardens. Of particular interest is the College Chapel, which dates back to the end of the 13th century. Visitors are welcome to join members of the College at all their services.


The Duke of Marlborough's residence is widely recongised as one of the UK's finest stately homes. Standing in a romantic park created by 'Capability' Brown, the palace was presented by the English nation to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, in recognition of his victory in 1704 over French and Bavarian troops. Taking nearly two decades to build (between 1705 and 1722) and characterized by an eclectic style and a return to national roots, it was awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Listing in the late 20th century.

Since then the plaudits have kept on coming. A BBC documentary recently ranked it one of Britain's best buildings - and the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter filmed several key scenes there. But why settle for seeing it on the big screen when you can experience it in the flesh? Take a tour of the gilded State Rooms and enjoy one of the finest private art collects in Europe. You can even see the room in which Sir Winston Churchill was born. Or have a family day out with a picnic, over two-thousand acres of parkland and a lake.

Lower Wolvercote

Immortalised by Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels, The Trout is an Oxford institution. Popular with tourists and students alike, the pub boasts a large terrace overlooking the river Thames and was a favourite with Lewis Carroll and CS Lewis.

The seasonal menu incorporates local produce and embraces traditional pub grub including fish and chips, homemade pies and a great selection of cask ales, super chilled draft and bottled beers.