For many, the name Oxford conjures up images of its venerable university and fictional super-sleuth Inspector Morse. But this medieval city is also a vibrant cultural center and home to the Oxford International Women's Festival, oxfordwomen.co.uk, which runs from Mar. 1 13. Now in its 23rd year, the festival aims to highlight women's local, national and international issues with a variety of events throughout the city, all organized by local women. Here, five distinguished female residents give their tips for a perfect day in Oxford.
Oxford International Women's Festival
I'd begin with a huge vegetarian breakfast at Mick's Café, tel: (44-1865) 728 693, a tiny trucker's joint off the Botley Road and a guilty pleasure! I'd then take a picnic and stroll along the River Thames in the direction of Jericho. There are many pretty places to stop, put down your rug, feed the ducks, watch the boats go by and maybe go for aswim.
In the afternoon I'd head into Jericho and visit the Albion Beatnik Bookstore on Walton Street, tel: (44-1865) 511345, a quirky, independent bookshop where you can browse, have a cup of tea, and maybe compose some poetry. For dinner I'd book a table at Chiang Mai Kitchen (chiangmaikitchen.co.uk), tel: (44-1865) 202 233. Hidden away just off HighStreet, and situated in a building dating back to the early 1600s, it's the most wonderful Thai restaurant. The service is excellent and the food simply delicious.
To end my perfect day I'd find an open-mic session for a cultural hit of music and the spoken word. There's something on every night of the week at various venues around the city, but my favorites are Port Mahon, the Jam Factory, the Old Fire Station and the famous Catweazle Club or I'd even go back to the Albion Bookstore.
Author and social entrepreneur
Founder of the NGOs Oxford Research Group and Peace Direct
My favorite Oxford hotel is the Old Parsonage (oldparsonage-hotel.co.uk), tel: (44-1865) 310 210, a seventeenth-century manor house near the middle of town where interesting people congregate. After breakfast there, I'd walk over to New College, founded in 1379. The old cloister, where you can imagine hooded monks walking with heads bowed, immediately takes you back seven centuries. Then I'd visit nearby Magdalen College, where in spring the meadow is carpeted with rare snakes-head fritillaries recorded growing in the meadow since 1785. From here I'd cross Magdalen Bridge and head up the Cowley Road to Restore (restore.org.uk), tel: (44-1865) 455 824, a wonderfully welcoming café entirely run by people with learning disabilities where you can sit out in the gardens and eat delicious homemade cakes. Just opposite, I'd enjoy the cultural diversity of the Cowley Road, with its murals by graffiti supremo Stig (shtig.net).
Lunch would be at Oxfork (oxfork.com), tel: (44-1865) 243 280, a cozy restaurant which feels as if you're eating in someone's home. Later, I'd take a stroll through Iffley village to see the exquisite little Romanesque church and its beautifully carved west door, then down toIffley Lock from where I'd walk back along the Thames into town, stopping en route for a drink at the Head of the River pub, tel: (44-1865) 721 600.
Professor of Pharmacology writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords
I'd start my day with a walk along the Thames towpath through Port Meadow, a flood plain that's never been ploughed. It has a wonderful, wild feel with herds of horses and flocks of birds, yet is so near the city centre. I'd stop at the Perch (the-perch.co.uk), tel: (44-1865) 728 891, a typical English pub with open fires in an unspoiled setting.
From here I'd deviate from the river to Binsey village, where I'd visit St Margaret's church and the ancient wishing well, dedicated to Oxford's patron saint, St Frideswide. Then it's a circular route back along the canal to the Victorian suburb of Jericho, where the industrial, brooding, Jude the Obscure atmosphere complements the grandeur of medieval Oxford.
Candlelit evensong at Christ Church is a magical way to end the day and shows off an Oxford college at its best. I'd follow this with dinner at Sojo, tel: (44-1865) 202 888, a fantastic Chinese restaurant. Inconspicuous from the outside, it's very popular with Chinese students. And I'd spend the night in Malmaison (malmaison.com), tel: (44-1865) 268 400. It's converted from a Victorian prison and you can sleep in one of the former cells, which makes a change from the usual bland hotels.
Member of Parliament
Oxford West and Abingdon
Near my flat in North Oxford is the Summertown Wine Café, tel: (44-1865) 558 800, where I'd spend a happy hour with the papers and a coffee and in the lovely conservatory. Then I'd nip across the road to Liscious (liscious.co.uk), tel: (44-1865) 553 111, an antiques shop that refurbishes elderly furniture, and wander along the Oxford Canal to Port Meadow. In cold weather, the flooded meadow freezes over and with people skating it looks just like a Victorian post card.
I'd browse Walton Street with its many independent shops, then head over to the revamped Ashmolean Museum (ashmolean.org), tel: (44-1865) 553 823. It has a new rooftop restaurant overlooking the city spires. After lunch, I'd admire the museum's 1716 Messiah-Salabue Stradivarius violin, then call in at Blackwell's Music Shop, tel: (44-1865) 333 580, which brings back happy memories of my undergraduate days studying music at the University.
Then it's back to Walton Street for a film at my favorite cinema, the Phoenix Picturehouse, tel: (44-871) 902 5736. If I'm feeling very indulgent I'd have dinner at the cozy Old Parsonage Hotel (oldparsonage-hotel.co.uk), tel: (44-1865) 310 210. Its little garden is a total escape from the outside world. I'd finish off with dessert in Little Clarendon Street at G&D's ice-cream parlor (gdcafe.com), tel: (44- 1865) 516 652, which saw me though my student days in Oxford.
Principal of Mansfield College, barrister, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords
I keep making new discoveries in Oxford secret places that I share with my favorite people. One is in Exeter College garden, where I'd start my perfect day. The terrace overlooks the Radcliffe Camera and gives you the most glorious perspective on one of the world's great buildings. Nearby, on Catte Street, is the Bridge of Sighs. I'd walk under the bridge and follow this meandering medieval alley, an enchanting and mysterious place. This whole area, with All Souls College and the Bodleian Library, is a favorite for me.
In Turl Street I'd stop for coffee at the Missing Bean (themissingbean.co.uk), tel: (44-1865) 794 886, before heading for the covered market like an Arab souk with its tiny shops, food stores and lovely flowers. I'd follow this with lunch at the rooftop Ashmolean Dining Room (ashmoleandiningroom.com), tel: (44-1865) 553 823, a delightful restaurant with views and delicious food. These are less well kept secrets, as is the wonderful Modern Art Oxford (modernartoxford.org.uk), tel: (44-1865) 722 733, with its great exhibitions and place for tea and cake.
I'd finish my day with a visit to the dark and haunting Pitt Rivers Museum (prm.ox.ac.uk), tel: (44-1865) 270 927, with its collection of shrunken heads and witchy artifacts. It is like a dark attic of incredible finds.