“ Address: Oxford Castle / 3 New Rd / Oxford / OX1 1AY / England „
As Daily Mail readers will know, going to prison is a bit like staying in a hotel. Well, in the case of the Malmaison Oxford, that's true since, until 1996, the hotel really was a fully functioning prison. Since then, it has also featured in a number of TV series and movies, including Bad Girls and Vinnie Jones' Mean Machine remake. It was also the prison inhabited by Ronnie Barker in 1970s classic Porridge.
I got a taste of life on the inside when I attended a work-related event in Oxford. It was well above my normal class of hotel (work's budget usually stretches to a Travelodge), but since another company was paying, I got to sample this "luxury boutique" hotel.
Breaking and Entering
The Malmaison is ideally located for anyone who wishes to stay in Oxford to explore, since it is in a very central location right at the edge of one of the main shopping areas, next to Oxford Castle. It is actually slightly tricky to find, since it is in the same complex as the Castle and set quite far back from the road. Most of the signage simply directs you to the Castle and it's not immediately obvious that the hotel is in the same location. Indeed, although I had a map and directions on my phone (and so knew I was in the right area), I actually walked past the hotel a couple of times before I found it, since it's not immediately obvious from the street.
Entering the hotel is an impressive business, since the original prison gateway has been retained and is an imposing structure. This leads into a reception area which is rather dark (not helped by the fact that it is furnished with dark furniture).The check-in process was very quick (just a couple of minutes) and although my room was not quite ready when I arrived (I arrived before the official check-in time), the friendly staff were quite happy to complete the registration process there and then and store my luggage for me until the room was ready. Check-in time officially is after 3pm (with a check-out time of noon), but if you do arrive early, at least you don't have to hang around or trudge your luggage with you.
Casing the Joint
Due to its original purpose, there are not that many internal staircases to the upper floors of the Malmaison and the easiest way to reach them is by lift. These are quite small and dark, so may cause a few issues for people of a larger persuasion, or those with a fear of lifts or confined spaces. They are also very slow and seem to take an eternity both to reach you and then get you to your desired floor.
Without being anything so tacky as a "theme hotel", the Malmaison is rather striking. Rather than completely gutting the original prison and rebuilding it internally, the owners chose to retain the prison theme. As such, one area of the hotel retains the structure of a series of open landings and metal staircases that will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen Porridge. Similarly, many of the rooms are actually converted prison cells (although other, more standard rooms are also available if the idea if this freaks you out). These still retain the original heavy metal doors and high, narrow windows.
Don't let this put you off, though, since this is a real luxury hotel. Each room consists of several cells knocked into one and so is at least as large as your standard hotel room and bigger than many I have stayed in.
Room furnishings are tasteful and use the space to maximum effect. A large, comfortable bed sits in the middle of most rooms, with a range of other furniture (including a writing desk, double wardrobe and bedside cabinets) placed strategically to make the best use of space. There is even a small sofa at the end of the bed and a plasma TV built into wall. The room is comfortable and pleasantly furnished without being cluttered, whilst further investigation of some of the furniture (particularly the wardrobe) reveals useful items like coffee/tea making facilities, a hairdryer and an iron. Everything you will need, in other words.
Time off for Good Behaviour
As added extras, the plasma TV offers a range of digital channels, including Sky Sports 1 & 2, which is quite unusual, whilst free wi-fi or tethered internet access is provided as standard, unlike many hotels which charge an additional fee for their use. The TV was a slight disappointment, since the range of channels it provided was very limited and slightly odd (Fashion TV?) and the picture quality (in my room at least) was not brilliant. Still, when you're in a city like Oxford, who wants to sit around watching TV anyway?!
Set off from the bedroom is a very pleasant en-suite bathroom, complete with toilet (no bucket for that truly authentic prison experience!), sink and bath. There's even a heated floor in the bathroom, so your poor old feet don't have to get cold if you get up in the middle of the night!
They Were Just Lying There. Honest
You can always tell a luxury hotel from the quality of its "freebies" which are just asking to be (ahem) liberated, and here the Malmaison scores very highly indeed. In the bathroom are three bottles of body lotion, shampoo and conditioner, together with a healthy chunk of soap (not the usual tiny sliver that vanishes as soon as it sees water). The bottles are all a decent size (150ml) and it's good quality stuff. Similarly in the bedroom, you get both a pen and a pencil, as well as a small writing pad that contains about 50 sheets of paper, rather than the usual two or three. Into the bag they all go!
You Can Just Sleep It Off In There, Sir
The prison cell model has an added benefit. Since the rooms are old prison cells, they have very thick walls and a solid metal door. This means that they are very quiet at night. Despite the fact that the hotel was more or less fully booked on the night I stayed, once I closed my door I wasn't disturbed by a single sound from outside or surrounding rooms. This is a pleasant change from most modern hotels where the paper-thin walls means you are often kept awake by the slamming of doors or heavy footsteps and chatter of guests returning to their rooms.
However nice they have been made, it's fair to say that there remains a certain cell-like quality to the rooms and it's always clear what their original purpose was. Whilst this adds to the charm and quirkiness, it does bring one or two disadvantages. Chief amongst these is the fact that each room contains only two very small, narrow and high windows which firstly negate any views of the city which the rooms might have and secondly means that not a lot of light can get in, so rooms can be a little gloomy.
One Spoonful Each
We held the evening meal in the hotel, although we selected from a special menu, rather than the standard one. I did see the standard one, however, and it looked very similar to some of the dishes which we had. It was also rather expensive (as you might expect) so, even allowing for Oxford prices, you will be able to find cheaper places to eat. It's definitely the type of place you would go to really treat yourself got something special, rather than as a quick break from shopping!
On the other hand if price is less of a concern, then you might find fewer better. The food we had was excellent, made from really high quality ingredients without being fussy and pretentious. Surprisingly, given it was such a posh place, portion sizes were exactly right - neither too little, nor too big. Certainly, no-one in our party was left complaining that they were still hungry and there were a small quantity of vegetables left over, suggesting everyone had more than enough. It was also cooked to perfection and absolutely delicious. The beef served for the main course, for example, was pink and not overcooked, and simply melted in the mouth
The Verdict. No Appeal Allowed.
Of course, all this luxury does not come cheap and a room at the Malmaison is going to cost you between £160-215 per night (closer to £300 if you choose to stay in one of the mega luxurious rooms). That's an awful lot for a room, and unless you're made of money, it's likely you're only going to stay one, possibly two nights. I have to confess that had someone else not been picking up the bill, there is no way I would ever have chosen to stay there, but it was nice for once to have that little bit of luxury and see how the other half live!
3 Oxford Castle
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
I stayed at the Malmaison in Oxford at christmas time and I can't say I enjoyed it!
We won a nights stay through a radio competition and were really excited about staying there as we have always wanted to experience what it was like.
The Hotel itself is gorgeous, beautiful surrounding and a beautiful building. We stayed in a double room which was converted from 3 cells. The room was lovely with a large bed and an amazing bathroom, it had a large bath and huge shower and a heated tiled floor. You could tell it was 5*. As we went a few days before christmas, the hotel was beautifully set out with christmas trees and decorations. There were 2 large christmas trees by the entrance as you came in.
Before we stayed in our room we ate at the restaurant there, completely overpriced in my opinion! There wasn't much for me to eat on the menu, so i ended up just having bread! The presentation of everyone elses food was pretty good, but they also agreed its expensive for what you get.
Our Room: Had a large TV on the wall, a large wardrobe with hangers, a mini fridge stocked with goods (although was a lot cheaper to just nip to the shop across the road). There were complimentary toiletries in the bathroom also.
1) The Bed was the hardest, most uncomfortable bed i've ever slept in! Neither of us slept all night because it was that uncomfy.
2) The heating was on way to hot, we tried to turn it down or off but couldn't- another reason we didn't sleep and there are no windows to open so we were basically stuck in an oven.
3) The TV channels were all out of sync, we had like 4 channels and the channel number did not correspond to the channel we wanted, which was frustrating.
4) at 5-6am a cleaner walked into our room and went "oh Sorry" and walked out, it's not like we were asleep as we could sleep but surely they must have known someone was in there?
5) The room was too dark, its a terrible light for putting on make up, i couldn't see what i was doing.
So when we woke (well got up as we didn't sleep) at around 8am i couldn't wait to get out of there! We were in bad moods, aching and hot! I left the room at 8:30 to go into town just to get some cold, fresh air! We left the room by 9.45 ( I think check out was 11/12)
I dont think i would recommend it either
*Restaurant only review*
As our glitzy hen party descended upon the Malmaison in Oxford I was very relieved to note a sense of class, as having never been on a hen night before, I had imagined all sorts of tackiness and debauchery!
Thankfully I was able to leave my anxiety and sense of dread at the door and relax into a great evening at this unusual eaterie.
A former Victorian jail, the Malmaison has been designed to retain the original features and character of the building, whilst adding a luxury never before seen in a prison. A tall order, but one that is pulled off with flair and elegance.
The hotel is set in Oxford city centre, around ten minutes walk from the train sation, and situated on a lovely pedestrianised street with several other upmarket bars and restaurants dotted along the approach. This immediately sets the tone for the somewhat imposing, but strangely beautiful jewel of a building at the end of the walkway.
As our well-dressed party strutted into the lobby, we were immediately impressed by the striking brickwork, alcoves and hideaways and atmospheric lighting leading us into dark, cosy spaces.
We had paid for a private cell and so we were led into our little room, through a narrow doorway. The cell was quite small but neatly accommodated a long table where we all perched our bums ready to fill our rumbly tummies.
The cell itself was dimly lit, and had a high shelf along the wall, decorated in an old-fashioned way with lots of empty wine bottles. There was a glass door so we were completely seperate from the other diners and had a great deal of privacy.
I loved having a private booth, as it helped our group feel special and part of something a little bit quirky and different. The rest of the restaurant is more modern, and while beautifully decorated with sassy blue lighting and unusual artwork, it does not quite have the same charm as your own slice of historic penitentiary.
Each booth can cater for up to 30 people and all the food used in the menu is fresh and locally sourced where possible.
As we were a group of seventeen people, we opted for a set menu and my options were pate to start, a chicken dish for the main course and the lemon tart for dessert.
I was a little unsure of ordering the chicken liver pate as I am not usually a huge fan, but it was the best of the three options, and I'm pleased to say it was the best pate I have ever tasted. It was succulent and meaty and just salty enough, making it the perfect accompaniment to the little bits of posh toast it came with.
The main course was a fairly small portion and encompassed roasted chicken on a bed of garlic, onion and spinach plus a sprinkling of polenta which gave a lovely chewy texture and slightly nutty taste to the dish.
I cannot speak highly enough of the lemon tart which was the perfect combination of bitter and sweet sensations, tingling my taste buds and leaving me very satisfied.
Throughout our evening we were attended to courteously by the waiting staff who were polite and efficient but slightly surly. This didn't bother me as our service was exceptional and our meals and experience unspoilt.
The restaurant is to one side of the building so unfortunately there was no opportunity to visually devour the splendour of the main skeleton of the prison, which is meant to be exceptionally well designed, from what I have heard from other people and through travel articles.
Many of the original cells have also been spruced up to create luxury rooms, and the metal staircases, and thick heavy staircases have remained to create a stark, sombre feel with a twist of bittersweet style.
I would love to go back to the Malmaiosn some day with my husband to try out the hotel and its special suites, but it will have to be a long time in the future as I think the experience may be spoilt slightly by an excitable toddler!
I have to say this was a lovely experience and a great place to be confined for an evening!
I stayed at the Malmaison in Oxford on February 8th 2009 as part of a Christmas present for my boyfriend, and I would just like provide a little bit of feedback.
I booked the room through laterooms.com in November 2008. I communicated with the hotel a bit prior to my arrival, with regards to champagne in the room on arrival. The hotel was fairly efficient to responding to my requests, however the initial enquiry was quite slow, and I had to send my original e-mail twice.
Upon arriving in Oxford, we searched for the hotel by road, and I think we must have driven past four times, before we finally saw it, then panicked as to whether we could drive up the driveway, as it looked like a pedestrian only walkway.
We arrived earlier than the check in time, and we did not expect our room to be ready, but we wanted to drop off the car. The receptionist was extremely friendly, and informed us that our room was not ready, during our check in our room became available, and we were pointed in the direction of our room.
We found our room, which was really nice; I immediately fell in love with the bathroom with its roll top bath. However I did notice that the champagne and strawberries that I asked to be in the room were not in there. I telephoned down to reception, and asked that the half bottle of house champagne to be bought to the room as we were just on our way out and I wanted it as a surprise for my other half.
The room itself was very clean, and I was most impressed. The only little downside, was the recycled pencil in the room, which had been chewed at the end, resulting in no rubber and a very badly dented metal top that you would expect to find in a primary school.
We spent a few hours looking around Oxford centre, and then returned to our room, finding that our key card would not work, so we had to go back to reception, get our key reset so that we could enter the room. Not a huge problem, however the lift was not working.
Once back in our room, we found the champagne in a ice bucket (with not a lot of ice), however it was a full bottle of champagne, instead of the half asked for, I didn't want to send it back and request only a half, due to the embarrassment factor I thought I might receive, it wasn't so much the money point of view, more to the fact that we were going out shortly afterwards and didn't want to waste it, and an extra £20.00 or so that it cost does soon add up.
Upon our return to the hotel in the evening, we settled down for the evening, however we couldn't sleep for a while, due to loud music being played, we were not entirely sure where it was coming from, possibly from the restaurant downstairs, but it was around 11.30pm, which I thought was a bit late.
The next day on check out, we awoke; unfortunately we didn't experience breakfast as we woke up too late. We went to reception and checked out, this was all very smooth. I did not want to mention the champagne to the receptionist, as I know we had drunk it, and thought it would be easier to pass the comments directly via an e-mail.
All in all a very pleasant stay, but I just feel that in the future, any requests that have been made by a guest should be completed before the guest is shown to the room.
I plan on returning to Malmaison later on this year, hopefully in the Mallard Suite at your Reading hotel, and I hope that any requests that I make will be fulfilled.
Wow, what a hotel... if anyone wants a special treat, has a special ocassion or just fancies a romantic getaway then this is the place for you. I got a really great deal and only paid £80 for the room through a late booking site. I called beforehand to ask them to arrange some champagne in the room amd the staff were really helpful and made sure it was on ice for when |I arrived.
The hotel is an old prison building and it has been maintained to still have that feel. The rooms are the old prison cells and are absolutely breathtaking. the decor is so impressive, the walls are all of thick stone with heavy metal beams everywhere. There is a dvd player and stereo in each room and the bathrooms are just as luxurious. Believe it or not, even though very luxurious they even although dogs!
We went for a drink in the bar before going to the theatre and the cocktails were great in a lovely atmosphere although quite expensive. There is also a bar only accesible by one lift that feels like a very private members club with waiter service and high vaulted ceilings. All in all an amazing hotel situated right in the city centre. An experience not to be forgotton.
We were looking for a hotel for a special occasion, it was our wedding night. Due to having three children it had to be special as they would be coming on our honeymoon with us so this night was just ours.
We had planned that day to a very fine detail from outfits to canapés to catering to the marquee in our garden. The location had to be close by as we didn't want to leave our party too early as people had traveled from all over the world to be with us on our special day.
Then a little gem was recommended to us. The newly opened Malmaison hotel in Oxford. This was a quirky and luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Oxford and built in the old Oxford prison.
We promptly booked the 'Love Suite Love'. At £275 for the night, we hoped that it would live up to its expectations.
*The big day & check in*
So, the big day went well, even better than anticipated. When the time came to leave, we were sad to go but also rather excited to get to the hotel and relax.
We arrived at the Malmaison reception at around 10pm. Reception was inside a well designed and grand lobby area. The floors were stone and the style of the old prison was adhered to. The history beamed through the building in a beautiful and elegant way. We were impressed from this moment on.
We were given our room key, advised that checkout was 1pm & shown to our suite.
Our suite was fabulous and more than we anticipated. We walked through the door to find a lounge area with magazines, water, flat screen TV, big comfy sofa with an abundance of plump and comfy scatter cushions. The design was exquisite and the room was coloured in chocolates and purples and relaxing yet moodful furnishings and colour schemes.
We headed down the stairs to a large room with a king size bed, soft & satiny bed sheets with candles everywhere & complimentary massage oils. There was a huge window which opened onto the balcony & over looked he grass mounds around Oxford castle.
We decided to explore further and found a large bathroom with a free standing roll topped bath which was huge and was more than enough for two people. Next to this, there was another door which took us into a large shower area which is lit with red, green & blue soft lights and has an enormous shower head. It was soon apparent that everything in this room was made for sharing & love.
We were very impressed with the range of toiletries offered by Malmaison with the usual choices such as shampoo & conditioner, soap & bath & shower gel. The difference with these is that they were Malmaison's own brand and very high quality but most distinguishable by the fact that they were normal sized bottles designed for you to take home when your stay is over. There were also such accessories as eye masks, hand creams, hangover tablets, lip balm, breath freshener to name but a few.
After our busy day we decided to get relaxed in the big fluffy robes & slippers. We took ourselves back upstairs, put on some relaxing music and got stuck into the bottle of champagne that was on ice along with the chocolate dipped strawberries. Heaven!
As part of our suite package, a champagne breakfast was to be served into our room. This came at the time requested and was a selection of continental meats and cheeses, pastries, juice, coffee and champagne and strawberries...again! This was the perfect way to start married life.
After such a hectic day we made the most of our late checkout and took advantage of he facilities available to us.
*Restaurant & bar*
Although we didn't use the restaurant during this stay, we have used it at other times.
The restaurant 'The Mal' is tasty and beautifully presented cuisine and apparently prepared with local ingredients and served up with genuine passion. The food is lovely and a great menu selection is available.
My personal favourite menu choice here is:Starter ~ gloucester old spot bacon and onion terrine ~ Main ~ entrecote with béarnaise sauce and drank with a good French red wine.
The bar area is comfortable and chic. A great selection of drinks are available including good cocktails, wines and champagnes.
This is a good place to eat and drink whether you are a guest in the hotel or not.
*Will I visit again?*
Yes, we shall. Most definitely for dinner and drinks and it will probably be our first choice locally for that special night away. The hotel is expensive, but it is well worth the cost, particularly the Love suite love.
If you are visiting Oxford, the hotel is in prime position in the city centre and close to all of the shops and tourist areas.
The Malmaison Oxford is a highly recommended luxury hotel with an interesting history and a promising future.
This luxury hotel has been transformed from a prison.