Forget the rambling Randolph. If you're staying in Oxford, the Old Parsonage is the place to book. Michael Caine and Judi Dench haveboth been recent guests and the ancient creeper-covered building is not so much full of character as a character in itself. Lying behind St Gileschurch and between Keble and Somerville Colleges, it exudes the kind of amiable arrogance that comes with having been around for years.

Forget the rambling Randolph. If you're staying in Oxford, the Old Parsonage is the place to book. Michael Caine and Judi Dench haveboth been recent guests and the ancient creeper-covered building is not so much full of character as a character in itself. Lying behind St Gileschurch and between Keble and Somerville Colleges, it exudes the kind of amiable arrogance that comes with having been around for years.

In fact everything about the hotel is reassuring. The atmosphere is homely but not stuffy, the decor modern but not too trendy and the roomscomfortable but not fussy. Everything has been well thought out, from the gentle jazz and the whiff of fresh flowers in the lobby to the individualhand towels in the toilets.

The Parsonage Bar doubles as the hotel restaurant, where smart and discreet staff serve baked trout and pan-fried venison to guests who loll backon squishy cushions or perch on elegant wood and leather chairs. The dark red walls are crammed with prints and paintings and the whole effectis rather like walking in on an enormous, if rather sedate, house party.

Non-guests are welcome and visitors to the city (as well as residents) often pop in, mid walking tour, for afternoon tea on the terrace or, in theevenings, for cocktails on the roof garden. If it all gets too much in the bar, take refuge in the Pike Room - a smaller lounge - for dinner, drinks ora fireside game of chess.

Location, location, location

The Old Parsonage Hotel is at 1 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6NN (tel 01865 310210, fax 01865 311262, e-mail: oldparsonage@dial.pipex.com)

Perfectly placed to stroll around colleges, museums and parks, the Old Parsonage also has the shops and cafes of Little Clarendon Street closeby. Romantic souls should book in at Gee's Restaurant (same owner as the hotel) just down Banbury Road.

Transport

The hotel is right in the centre of the city, about an hour's drive - or train ride - away from Birmingham and Heathrow airports. Oxfordis also on several intercity train routes and, from London, there is a round-the-clock bus link and four trains an hour from Paddington.

Are you lying comfortably?

The 30 rooms are all individually decorated (in soothing shades of pink and green and beige) and all en suite. Ask for room 26, where OscarWilde once bedded down or room 16 for the honeymoon suite.

For a more traditional touch, the oldest part of the building offers deluxe rooms - room 25 has a magnificent stone fireplace - and some seriouslycreaky timbers.

Freebies: apart from Molton Brown toiletries (what more would you want?) in the bathrooms, the hotel is not big on gimmicks and is all thebetter for it.

Keeping in touch: all rooms have satellite TVs, phones and radios. Fax and Internet services are available at reception.

The bottom line

Single rooms cost £125, double rooms £145-£170 and suites £195, including full English breakfast and VAT.

I'm not paying that

clean and friendly, The Chestnuts Guesthouse is at 45 Davenant Road, Oxford, OX2 8BU (01865 553375) on the corner of Woodstock Road. Doubles cost £64, including breakfast, and if you don't feel like walking into town, there's a bus stop almost rightoutside.

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