Feature

This week’s dream: A brief sabbatical in Oxford, England

Oxford, England, has inspired countless novels and films, and “it’s easy to see why.”

Oxford, England, has inspired countless novels and films, and “it’s easy to see why,” said Jennifer Moses in The New York Times. The home of the University of Oxford is a “ridiculously pretty” town, a “many-layered confection of history, aspiration, ambition, class, elegance, yearning, wealth, trade, and all things poetic.” While my husband spent a sabbatical there last fall, I took the opportunity to explore—renting a sturdy three-speed bicycle to get around and learning not to be slowed by a little rain. “A note for those inclined to fashionable footwear: Don’t even think about it.” Oxford is for Wellies and lots of walking—“through the winding streets, over cobblestones, up battlements, and along all kinds of footpaths.”

“Perhaps the best way to get a handle on the whole megillah is atop the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin right smack in the middle of the action, at Radcliffe Square.” From the 14th-century spire, “you can take it all in: the town’s location in the Thames Valley, the silky river itself, the gardens and meadows, the canals,” and, “of course,” the 38 colleges that compose the university. Founded around 900, Oxford was a trading hub in medieval times, a crossroads in central-south England located about 60 miles northwest of London. To try to imagine what Oxford looked like then, I pedaled to the district known as Iffley Village, where a 12th-century church proved to be “the kind of place that stuns you into reverent silence,” and the “typically English mix of thatched-roof and half-timbered houses” shares space with fields, geese, and centuries-old stone walls.

I liked Cowley for its ethnic restaurants and Osney for its pretty Victorian-era workers’ cottages. Still, nothing beat “the glories of Oxford central.” From the wide-ranging collection at the Ashmolean Museum to the intoxicating Botanic Garden, this city barely left me any time for its pubs. But I did find time on my last day to romp around Christ Church Meadow. Cows grazed to my right while bicyclists passed on my left, “and on the tantalizing far side of the walls, the college, with its spires, towers, gates, and cathedral, glowed in the pale afternoon light.”

At Malmaison Oxford (malmaison.com), doubles start at $233.

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