Pamper your senses

WHETHER you are struggling to find that special lover's treat or just need to get away for a weekend, then Oxford and its Belfry Hotel may be just what you are looking for.

WHETHER you are struggling to find that special lover's treat or just need to get away for a weekend, then Oxford and its Belfry Hotel may be just what you are looking for. HELEN SKENE reports.

INDULGING in luxuriating, pamper treatments, dining on the finest cuisine, and strolling through a city soaked in history - this is Oxford and the Oxford Belfry experience.

The Belfry, which has recently undergone a £3 million refurbishment, is easily found off the M40 but the rear aspect gives way to mile upon mile of open English countryside.

After my three hour motorway drive I arrived tired and disorientated. I must have appeared a complete head case to the receptionist who was handing me a swipe card to my room and asking for my credit card details (for security) while I protested that I had not bought anything yet.

The Belfry's modern guest rooms are set on three floors around a large, square courtyard. They are spacious, spotless and feature all the extra touches you would expect of a deluxe 4-star hotel. Some even boast a walk-in shower and Jacuzzi bath.

The hotel's leisure club has a new poolside sauna and shower, a state-of-the-art gymnasium and dance studio; plus spa treatments, from facials and manicures to full body massages and seaweed body wraps.

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On the first morning of my two-day spa break I woke early and headed off to the pool for a 7am swim. There was only one other person taking advantage of the peace you can feel swimming up and down an almost empty pool (and they soon got out when I got in . . . something I said?).

After half an hour of hard swimming, ten minutes just floating around on my back and five minutes in the sauna, I decided a hearty breakfast was in order before exploring the city.

Oxford city centre oozes history, tradition and intellect. Whatever your background you will instantly feel studious and welcome in this unique city. The sheer beauty of the city's colleges and riverside setting makes this one of the most romantic cities of England - whether you like wandering among historic buildings or prefer a quiet punt down the grass banked rivers.

Oxford has a lively mix of eateries, pubs and clubs and a dynamic programme of contemporary culture giving this historic city a youthful, vigorous buzz.

My own experiences of Oxford date back over the last 20 years from when my brother, Jeremy Robertson (some readers may remember him as a clever rugby player at Orwell High School) left rural Kesgrave to study chemistry, and I regularly visited him in his student digs and more recently in his various houses.

I spent the day with him and my nieces in one of Oxford's many parks and arrived back at the hotel at 4pm ready for my booked full body massage. I am a part-time complimentary health therapist, so it was great to be on the receiving end on a relaxation treatment. The treatment rooms were thoughtfully furnished and the Swedish massage did just what it was intended to do and I floated off down the corridor afterwards feeling that nothing in the world could phase me.

At dinner that night, one chap confided to me that he had found the entire treatment an ordeal. He had worried constantly about the correct etiquette when having a massage. Should he talk all the way through it or is it okay to be silent?

My advice is to chat until the massage starts and then switch off, relax and just enjoy the pampering.

Where:

The Oxford Belfry at Milton Common near Thame, Oxford.

How to get there:

Ipswich to Oxford by car takes about two-and-a-half hours via the A12. The journey takes three hours via the more scenic route of Bedford, Milton Keynes and Buckingham.

What to do:

The Oxford Story: A dark indoor ride provides a vivid insight into the city's history

Walking Tours: Including a Inspector Morse theme. Phone 01865 333606 and open-top bus tours.

Harry Potter Film Locations: Christ Church, St Aldate's, aka Hogwart's Hall. Bodleian Library, Broad Street.

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology is the oldest public museum in the world.

The Botanic Garden: Founded in 1621, is the oldest botanic garden in Britain.

Christ Church Meadow: Still grazed by Long Horn cattle, a pocket of green in the heart of the city.

Boating and Punting: Chauffeured or DIY punts. Magdalen Bridge Boathouse 01865 202643 and Cherwell Boathouse 01865 515978 (Open March to October).

The Covered Market: created in 1772 to rid Oxford's streets of the “untidy, messy and unsavoury stalls”.

Where to stay and cost: Oxford Belfry offers couples a two-night break from £139 (£39.75 per person, per night), includes dinner on the first night and breakfast both mornings, plus use of the leisure facilities.

A two day Spa break can be added to a two-night leisure break for a supplement of £89 per person. It includes unlimited free use of the leisure and gym facilities, a skin consultation, full body massage, facial and conditioning manicure. Call 01844 279381

Contact: For more Oxford City information contact 01865 726871 or see www.visitoxford.org