A decade ago The Randolph was the best place to stay in Oxford. Now, with the Malmaison, Old Parsonage and Old Bank hotels around, there's more competition. Thanks to new ownership and a stylish refurbishment, however, my money is still on The Randolph. Built in 1864 in "simplified gothic style", it takes its name from its proximity to the Ashmolean Museum's Randolph Gallery. Step into the elaborate foyer, with its square corkscrew staircase and rainbow of stained glass, and you soon realise this is no shabby old dinosaur.

With its dynamic staff, a new wing of 40 rooms and a swish Decleor spa in the hotel vaults, it does contemporary comfort as classily as historic charm. In the spa, for example, there are four treatment rooms, a thermal suite, two steam rooms, rock and bio saunas, rain showers, an ice room and a hydrotherapy plunge pool. There's also a relaxation room.

The hotel is the best place in Oxford for afternoon tea. Not to mention an excellent dinner. No wonder Tony Blair and Bill Clinton stayed here. Creator of Inspector Morse, Colin Dexter, is also a regular, and the hotel has featured in so many episodes of the TV adaptations of his books that the bar has been renamed after the Oxford detective.The hotel is also great value (for the best rates, stay in August, the city's quietest month).


The Macdonald Randolph, Beaumont Street, Oxford (0870 400 8200; www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk).Opposite the Ashmolean Museum, at the foot of St Giles', it's less than a minute's walk from the main shopping streets.

Time to international airport: it's about an hour's drive from Heathrow, with buses from Gloucester Green station, less than five minutes away on foot. The train station is 10 minutes' walk away, though the hotel offers a pick-up service for guests.


The 151 rooms are comfortable and spacious. When the Macdonald hotel group refurbished it tried to preserve the hotel's originality. The decor has been spruced up in sympathy with the building's fabric, with period-style furniture, rich neutral furnishings and Victorian-style bathroom fittings.Bill Clinton stayed in the Presidential Suite, which has a panoramic view down St Giles'. Freebies: a good range of Molton Brown toiletries.

Keeping in touch: all rooms have satellite TV, CD players and modem points. Executive rooms have free broadband. Pay-per-use Wi-Fi is also available.


Doubles booked online start from £128 in August.

I'm not paying that: beds at the purpose-built youth hostel at 2a Botley Road cost from £20.95 per night (0870 770 5970; www.yha.org.uk).