“I loved my time studying in Oxford, with its coffee shops and great bookstores,” says Chelsea. Stylist contributor Francesca Brown takes a punt and finds she loves it, too,
Exploring Oxford’s quirky Museum of Natural History, you’ll find yourself stumbling into a world where fact is so outlandish it seems like fiction. Highlights include a dodo head and an ichthyosaur fossil complete with half-digested fish bones found by palaeontologist Mary Anning (whose pivotal finds 19th-century male scientists neglected to mention in their scientific papers) – this is the woman who inspired the rhyme, “She sells seashells…”.
The museum is a metaphor for Oxford – a place where academic science meets wonder. Our guest editor Chelsea studied international relations here from 2001 to 2003 and talks fondly of jogging through the city, and we would recommend following her example (somewhat) – long, meandering walks are when you’ll stumble across the city’s lesser-spotted delights.
Step one way along St Giles and you’ll find the legendary Eagle And Child pub where Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkien and The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe’s creator CS Lewis used to hang out together (pop over to St Mary’s Passage near the iconic Radcliffe Camera to see some engraved fauns curiously reminiscent of Mr Tumnus). Head into town and you’ll spot where the Harry Potter films have purloined landmarks across the city (the Bodleian Library stood in for Hogwarts’ infirmary and library. You’ll need to sign up for a daily tour to nose around inside).
The perfect respite from all this exploring is The Old Parsonage Hotel, which offers elegant-yet-cosy bedrooms overlooking its garden and complimentary bicycles for heading further afield. Its location next to the peaceful open space of University Parks and the River Cherwell means you can escape the hustle of the city centre fora morning walk spotting wild fowl and punts in the summer.
Head across the park to social business and all-day brunch spot Turl Street Kitchen, which offers full vegan breakfasts and donates proceeds to their community charity, Student Hubs. Just around the corner is design store Objects Of Use. Prepare to come out with armfuls of coloured Picardie tumblers and old-school stationery.
It’s also a city for browsing literature. Blackwell’s on Broad Street holds a record for being the biggest single-room bookshop in the world, while the nearby Oxfam bookshop is perfect for picking up Penguin classics. Or head to Jericho to The Last Bookshop, which stocks vintage finds, art books, postcards and vinyl. (Walk to Barefoot Jericho on Walton Street for flat whites and delicious pumpkin and ginger cake.)
Finally, the glorious Botanic Garden is unmissable for book lovers – it’s like stepping into The Secret Garden. Tucked away is ‘Lyra’s bench’, made famous by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (set to go stellar with the arrival of the HBO adaptation this autumn). You may shed a little tear… we did.
To recover, book a spot at Arbequina on Cowley Road. This old chemist has been transformed into a tapas temple with the best olives and beetroot borani jostling for space with tasty crackling-covered pork belly. Order negronis and wines by the glass and toast a city that’s always dreaming.
Rooms at The Old Parsonage Hotel start from £230 per night; oldparsonagehotel.co.uk
Images: Getty, provided
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown