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Reviewed: A night behind bars at the Malmaison Oxford

Malmaison luxury hotel in Oxford, UK

Unless I decide to take up a life of crime, a stay at the Malmaison in Oxford is hopefully the only way I’ll ever spend a night behind bars. And in this unique hotel you get a lot more luxury now than the last people who got locked up here. The building started off as Oxford Castle and was demolished and rebuilt over the years before being turned into a Victorian jail. And it stayed as a prison until 1996 when it closed down and the building got sold off to the Malmaison hotel chain. They specialise in turning historic buildings into boutique hotels – others include an old postal sorting office, a church and even a brothel – so have kept a lot of the original features while turning it from a place of punishment to pleasure.

The location

The hotel is in the middle of Oxford’s recently redeveloped Castle Quarter, surrounded by various bars and restaurants, an art gallery and Oxford Castle Unlocked, where you can find out more about the history of the castle and prison. You’re in the centre of town so can easily walk to the Oxford colleges and the main shopping street in a few minutes. It’s also an easy walk in the other direction to the train station. Or if you’re travelling by car they have a valet car park – but it’s pricey at £25 a night and you can’t leave your car there beyond check out time. A cheaper option is to park in one of the park and ride car parks on the outskirts of Oxford, which also avoids the confusing drive through the one-way system.

The Oxford Malmaison hotel, UK

The hotel in Oxford’s Castle Quarter

The rooms

The hotel has a mixture of rooms, with suites named after former prison governors and modern rooms in the adjoining buildings. But if you’re spending the night in prison then you really want to be staying in one of A-wing’s converted cells. Rooms are made up of three cells each – one is the bathroom and two have been knocked through for the bedroom. They still have a lot of character, with original iron doors, vaulted ceilings and thick walls, making it incredibly quiet. It’s a lot more luxurious now though, decorated in deep reds and browns with a big comfy bed, flat-screen TV, iPod dock and free wifi, and the room is big enough to have a table and chairs to sit at. Our bathroom had a roll-top bath and a big walk-in shower, tons of soft towels and full-size toiletries (marked ‘Steal me’ in a homage to past residents).

Cell room in the Oxford Malmaison hotel, UK

Our cell room, converted from three old prison cells

The food

As part of our Sunday Stopover deal (see below), we needed to spend £75 on food and drink at the hotel, so we booked a table for dinner in their brasserie. It’s underground in the former solitary confinement wing, with old pipes running along the ceiling and an original steel staircase. The moody lighting suited the space at night, but it might seem a bit dingy in the daytime. On a sunny day you can also eat out in the exercise yard or on the roof terrace. The menu is a mixture of modern British/European dishes, like steaks, fishcakes or roasted duck breast. The food was fine and our waitress was lovely, but it’s quite expensive so if you’re not on a package there are plenty of other places to eat nearby. Drinks-wise there’s also a cocktail bar in the old visitors room on the third floor, with high ceilings and comfy sofas.

Bar and restaurant in the Oxford Malmaison hotel, UK

The Malmaison’s basement bar and restaurant

The facilities

There’s not much in the way of extra facilities – no pool or gym. But for me the best bits of the hotel were its old prison features. The cell rooms are all set around a vast, three-storey atrium which still has the original wrought-iron stairs and walkways. It’s all carpeted in thick red carpets with some quirky furniture. There was hardly anyone around so it was perfect to take photos, especially with the moody lighting at night. Outside there’s a terrace in what was the prison’s exercise yard which hosts occasional events like film screenings – next up, appropriately enough, is a showing of The Shawshank Redemption.

Former prison now the Oxford Malmaison hotel, UK

The communal areas with the original prison stairs and landings

My tips

  • Guests are… a mixture of tourists, couples and people on business, but you’re only likely to see them in the bar or brasserie.
  • Staff are… friendly, passionate about the hotel, but not all very experienced.
  • Don’t forget… to go and check out the original cell down in the basement so you can see the less luxurious conditions the previous residents used to live in.
  • Useful to know… if you’re not in a breakfast-included tariff then it’ll set you back £12.95.
Former cell in the Oxford Malmaison hotel, UK

The slightly less luxurious rooms back when it was a prison and the foyer now

The details

Rooms are never cheap but prices vary hugely – with the modern rooms ranging from £120–£235 a night, cells from £155–£265 and suites from £250–£465. There’s also various special offer packages available, check their website for details. We did their Sunday Stopover deal which lets you stay in a standard room for £25 (or a cell for £75) on a Sunday night if you spend £75 on food and drink.

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28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Very cool. This is exactly the type of place I like to stay in when I’m traveling — something unique to the area. I’ll have to remember this if I’m ever in Oxford.

    August 16, 2013
    • Me too, I’m always looking for unique and interesting places to stay, especially somewhere with a story. If you do ever make it Oxford let me know – I lived there for a couple of years so have lots of recommendations!

      August 16, 2013
  2. This is really, really, really cool! Awesome review. I love old buildings like this and would really enjoy staying at a hotel that’s an old prison. It’s pretty admirable that they did something productive with space, while still paying tribute to its origins.

    August 16, 2013
    • I love old buildings with character so had wanted to stay here for ages. Loved how they have kept so much of the original feel of the place while making the rooms so modern and comfortable. I stayed in another converted prison in a hostel in Christchurch in New Zealand that was a bit less fancy but also really cool.

      August 16, 2013
  3. I actually just stayed there this past week! I loved the hotel, it was so unique!
    http://thebowho.com/

    August 16, 2013
    • How funny! It’s fab isn’t it? I loved the atmosphere and it would definitely go back.

      August 16, 2013
  4. It looks fab Lucy although I’m not sure I could stay there – bit creepy? I have stayed at the Malmaison Birmingham a few times, the converted postal sorting office, and it’s always been lovely 🙂

    August 16, 2013
    • Inside the rooms it was more cosy than creepy – and I had an amazing night sleep as as well as the thick walls keeping all the noise out there were shutters to keeping all the light out – but the atrium area was very atmospheric and just a little bit eerie at night. I’d like to try out more of their hotels though, the sorting office sounds great.

      August 16, 2013
  5. I’m sure I saw this on Lewis? Very photogenic!

    August 16, 2013
    • Yes I think it was, and apparently it was in an episode of Porridge too!

      August 20, 2013
  6. So cool! I stayed in a Four Seasons in Istanbul that was also a converted old prison, but unfortunately they didn’t maintain any elements of the old prison other than the building itself – just turned it into a swanky and fabulous hotel, so I can’t complain! It’s apparently the prison the movie “Midnight Express” was based upon, but I’ve never seen the film.

    August 16, 2013
    • I saw that film years ago and can vaguely remember the building! Sounds like a good place to stay though – it’s always interesting to be somewhere that’s had a history.

      August 20, 2013
    • Lauren- I loved the Istanbul Four Seasons, especially the views from the rooftop terrace at night! My favorite city in the world. I had the most wonderful brunch in the garden restaurant. Thanks for bringing back that memory.
      Based on that great experience, Lucy, I think this Oxford hotel may have a place in my future! It may become a thing to visit prison hotels around the globe! 🙂 Great post and photos!

      August 25, 2013
    • I couldn’t agree more about the Istanbul Four Seasons! That rooftop was to-die-for and we had one of the best dinners of my life in that same garden restaurant. I’d love to go back!

      August 26, 2013
  7. Looks great, I love cool and quirky! Will keep it in mind when we eventually make it to Oxford!

    August 17, 2013
    • Hope you do get to make it there, it’s quite a place!

      August 20, 2013
  8. Better hotel than jail…..

    August 17, 2013
    • Definitely – having been into the old cell and seen how little space there was I’m glad I was a guest not an inmate!

      August 20, 2013
  9. Ah! I LOVE this…

    August 17, 2013
    • Thanks, I really liked how they had kept so much of the original building and the features from when it was a prison, made it different from the usual hotel buildings.

      August 20, 2013
  10. I’ve been to Oxford many times as have a friend living there. It does look a cool place. And of course featured in an episode of Lewis. Or was it Morse? One of them. I need to put it on my wish-list I think. Trouble is, my son-in-law works for The Marriott so we get cheap rates there. I’ve stayed in a number of Marriotts here and abroad.

    August 18, 2013
    • Always hard to argue with a discounted hotel! If you do make it Oxford again you could always go for drinks or dinner there and have a bit of a look around while you’re there?

      August 20, 2013
  11. Lucy,

    Thank you for the review. It was our pleasure to have you here and we hope to see you again very soon.

    For all those wishing to stay, we always have great deals on at http://www.malmaison.com so look out for those. You can always contact us directly too!

    Thanks again Lucy.

    Kind Regards

    Paul Watson
    General Manager @theoxfordmal

    August 23, 2013
    • Thanks so much Paul, we had a really great stay, it’s such a fabulous building – hope to be back soon.

      August 26, 2013
  12. This looks like a really cool experience. I just started a new job in Sydney at the National Arts School, which is a converted prison. Very cool indeed, but a bit creepy to know that someone was hung there once, many years ago!

    August 29, 2013
    • Congratulations on the job. Sounds like an interesting – if slightly creepy – place to be working!

      August 29, 2013
  13. Reblogged this on Just Go Places.

    September 17, 2013

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