Hotel review: Courtyard by Marriott, Oxford

The hotel is opposite the ancient castle complex

The hotel is opposite the ancient castle complex - Credit: Marriott Hotels

Editor Richard Young takes a city break to Oxford to experience a new hotel at its heart

The roof terrace has wide views across the city and into the countryside beyond

The roof terrace has wide views across the city and into the countryside beyond - Credit: Marriott Hotels

On what turns out to be an island, with Castle Mound and the imposing former prison tower opposite, Courtyard Oxford City Centre, a new hotel by Marriott, is in an intriguing spot. With the waterways and little lanes and streets around it, it’s surprisingly quiet here and yet you can be in the bustling heart of the city in minutes on foot.

The hotel opened in 2019, and forms part of a wider regeneration of this area of Oxford following the construction of nearby Westgate Centre – an airy shopping centre with communal spaces and a multi-storey car park – where we left the car for our stay. Invited to experience the hotel, we were on a staycation – a couple of days in Oxford before making the short journey into the Cotswolds and a village B&B.

His and hers in the large bathroom

His and hers in the large bathroom - Credit: Richard Young

On our arrival we were warmly greeted by the receptionist and the general manager, Kaushik Subramanian. We then had our temperature taken by a thermal camera, one of the measures in place to meet government ‘Covid secure’ guidelines. Others were sanitiser stations, staff wearing visors and masks and socially-distanced dining tables. The measures didn’t feel intrusive and staff were exceptionally friendly and welcoming.

This modern brick and glass 150-room hotel seamlessly incorporates historic buildings on the site – once a horse hospital and a brewery. We stayed in a long, large ground-floor suite. Modern inside, we only discovered how old the building is when we took a walk outside, revealing the old red brick walls and clay tile roof with its chimneys. Other rooms in the historic part of the hotel gave more away, with beamed full height ceilings and quirky floorplans. All the rooms, in the new building and the old, have the same finish - dark wood paired with neutral tones - giving the rooms a classic feel, while the high-end, fitted finish in the bedrooms and bathrooms is sleekly contemporary. Our suite had a lounge area with drinks facilities (big thumbs up for the Nespresso machine), and a king-size bed with what I think is the thickest mattress I’ve ever slept on. The bathroom had a large walk-in shower, his-and-hers sinks and an enormous lit mirror.

Starter of grilled halloumi with chicory salad

Starter of grilled halloumi with chicory salad - Credit: Richard Young

The suite was so big in fact, that in the evening after visiting the Jolly Farmers pub just down Paradise Street (perhaps an ironic reference to the old prison?), my partner grabbed the remote to the enormous telly and started her own lip sync dance party to the radio stations. Luckily, being removed from the main hotel, she wasn’t evicted. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

After settling in, we were shown up to the roof terrace - a good reason to stay here on its own. With expansive views across the city, including over the neighbouring castle complex, prison tower and weir below, it is a lovely place to have a drink, which we did. Living walls give an unexpected lushness to the space. The hotel offers yoga sessions up here too. We however, were focussed on dinner.

The open-plan dining room is divided by this intricate display

The open-plan dining room is divided by this intricate display - Credit: Richard Young

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Despite Kaushik saying the restaurant was not really a destination venue, it really could be. The food is excellent. In the contemporary Kitchen & Bar Restaurant we had a three-course dinner. Highlights were the delicious grilled halloumi with sesame seeds and chicory salad starter and one of the best grilled sea bream I’ve ever had. Over the table, a rare steak with chunky chips and the Eton mess triumphed. A couple of large glasses of red sent us heading out into the night.

We had been warned not to overindulge at breakfast the next morning as we had ordered a picnic hamper for a mid-morning punt down the river. Coffee taken and perhaps slightly overindulged, we carried our wicker hamper the 12 minute walk to Folley Bridge and the punting station beside the Head of the River pub. The Thames quickly becomes wide here and yet is still shallow enough to punt (watch out for the odd patch of pole grabbing silt) Turning off into the Cherwell and away from passing boats, the winding waterway with overhanging and even fallen trees, give this tributary something of an Amazonian feel, before the scenery opens up to the backs of colleges and schools.

The exterior of our suite - part of the historic horse hospital

The exterior of our suite - part of the historic horse hospital - Credit: Richard Young

The warning about breakfast was spot-on. The hamper was packed with so much food, much of it locally sourced, that we actually had two sittings, one on the banks of the Cherwell after tying up our punt (&accompanied by an attentive family of ducks in the water and a magpie) and another later in the afternoon in Christ Church Meadow. The vast grounds of the vast college, the meadow is a beautiful slice of countryside in the heart of the city centre freely open to the public all year round.

Kaushik had kindly given us a day ticket for the hop-on, hop off, open top tour buses that circle past colleges, departments, museums and other attractions. Plug in the supplied headphones and listen to a recorded guide point out the sights and intriguing facts about the university and its many contributions to science and the arts.

After a bit of book shopping and gift buying we walked back to the hotel to return our (almost empty) hamper, have a quick shower and check out. It was a brief but memorable stay in a hotel where staff went out of their way to make us feel at home. With the Covid secure measures in place we felt safe without being in any way uncomfortable. In fact the opposite, we were extremely comfortable and well looked after.