Most people spend their lives avoiding situations that would put them behind bars. But true to past form, I actively researched the best way to get Mr Kiwi and I locked into prison – but it was at the luxurious Malmaison hotel in Oxford, rather than at her Majesty’s pleasure.
When I first saw Lauren’s gorgeous stay here last year, it stayed on my mind and at the top of my UK hotel bucket list – until I spotted that they had a Friday evening spot available in the A-wing – one of the original prison’s wings of this unique hotel.
In the 1780s, two identical cell blocks were built to house petty criminals in Oxford prison, overlooked by the watchful eye of the Governor whose house stood in the gardens. Today the two buildings are linked and form part of the 5-star Malmaison hotel.
A-wing (1852-56) is modelled on Pentonville prison where a central space was surrounded by 150 identical cells each housing a single prisoner held in isolation. However, when it closed in 1996 up to 3 men shared each cell.
HM Prison Oxford, housed within the city’s medieval castle, re-opened in 2006 as a plush hotel, the Malmaison Oxford.
We have both watched Porridge for years – Ronnie Barker and his gang of reprobates providing both harrowing and touching comedy as they charted their years behind bars – and which only increased our enthusiasm.
We crossed off the days before our visit with the excitement of innocent prisoners notching off days, weeks and months of their sentences.
In fact, I woke up the morning of our stay full of the flu, but I was so determined to go, that with a 3-hour mid-morning nap under my belt and a bag so full of cold and flu remedies that I could just about be accused of being a drug dealer, off we set on the train towards the city of ‘dreaming spires’.
Check-in was pretty speedy – we had the essentials pointed out and our hotel restaurant dinner reservation confirmed back to us which was a nice touch – and we made our way to the slammer in which we’d be spending our brief sentence.
Two cells make up the bedroom, with a third cell converted into a beautiful bathroom – complete with roll top bath and walk-in shower.
Annoyingly my photos don’t quite do the room full justice – I’m blaming the cold and flu tablets – but it really was generously proportioned, cosy and as warm as toast and every inch of the room was beautifully themed to the surroundings; from a Johnny Cash album on the walls, to the lockers that served as a wine cupboard and TV stand.
Dinner was in the basement of the hotel, in what we assumed are the old kitchens/laundry and our meal was impeccable.
With an extensive menu featuring truffle arancini balls and a ridiculously delicious chocolate truffle dessert that had both of us closing our eyes, we’d go back again even if we weren’t guests. Hotel restaurants are properly upping their game.
On our way back to our cell(s), sorry, hotel room, we peeped inside the cell that has been left in it’s original form – yep, 3 people lived for year upon year in this tiny space.
Scooting back to our room before our self-imposed curfew (because when in prison…) we managed to avoid getting in trouble with Mr Mckay (Porridge reference) turning our lights out and snuggling in the gorgeous cloud of a bed.
If this is really what prison is like, I need to start researching some crimes – my jokes are bad, but they aren’t bad enough to land us in the nick. Yet. The Malmaison Hotel in Oxford definitely lived up to every expectation.
Breakfast the next morning was delectable. Obviously, I had to order the porridge (and a side of eggs bene) and to my unending delight, it was served in a proper prison-style tray.
And with coffee this good, I could definitely see myself doing bird.
Checking out of the Malmaison Hotel and leaving our bags with the reception team, we wandered around the grounds and then into Oxford city centre – which is about 3 minutes walk from the hotel.
The sun was shining and we definitely felt like a couple of freed jailbirds, singing like canaries.
We had to take the obligatory mugshot obviously, but still haven’t quite worked out what our prison nicknames would be… we’ll definitely be back to the Malmaison Hotel in Oxford – and to visit the rest of the hotels in the group.
Have you ever travelled somewhere to just to stay in a hotel? We have a few times now – Salish Hotel & Spa in the Pacific North West of the US, Raffles hotel in Singapore and Beaumont Ranch in Northern Texas to name but a few…
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