Keble College, Oxford review: Plenty for your Oxford scholar

Dreaming spires ... Oxford University's New College, one of the best preserved college buildings, dating from the 1400s.
Dreaming spires ... Oxford University's New College, one of the best preserved college buildings, dating from the 1400s. Photo: iStock

Read our writer's views on this property below

Historic surrounds at old-school prices have Saska Graville sitting up and paying attention.

No one in their right mind would pay to live like a student, right? What if I told you the student life in question involved a smart room with en suite looking on to the grassy quad of one of Oxford's iconic university colleges? That you'd be waking up to the sight of heritage-listed architecture and strolling to breakfast in a Hogwarts-esque great hall? And that your room would cost you way below the going rate for similar bed-and-breakfast accommodation elsewhere in town? Student life starts to sound appealing.

In what must be one of the most innovative hospitality initiatives in years, a selection of British colleges have opened their rooms, during holiday time of course, to paying guests. The scheme, which includes 11 colleges at Oxford, five at Cambridge and a number of other British universities, offers a mix of room types and prices. Luxurious it ain't but, in a historic city such as Oxford, it's a unique experience. (I'm not sure that a room at Sheffield, one of the other universities involved, would have quite the same allure.)

My night at Keble College has a "wow" moment as soon as I arrive. Stepping from the street through the traditionally small college entrance door, I find myself walking into one of the largest quads in Oxford. The Victorian college (it was founded in 1870) is famous for its distinctive "zebra-striped" brickwork and large chapel and is a pretty impressive place to spend a night. The college porter gives me my room key and sends me across the quad and up an old, worn, stone staircase to my twin room.

The second "wow" moment isn't long in coming. Oxford students have a very good life. My room is freshly painted, newly carpeted and has a little en suite. The bed linen has that lovely hotel crunch and there's even a small fridge tucked in one corner. As for the view, it's a postcard, with the immaculately landscaped Liddon quad and looming chapel laid out right under my nose. I know working Londoners who would kill for an apartment like this.

Keble offers a range of rooms around its four quads. Admittedly, not all of them are as smart as mine. Some are older in style (with plans to refurbish over the next few years), while others, in the college's two more-modern wings, are contemporary in feel. Book yourself into the Arco Building, dating from the 1990s, and you'll be in a sleek, modern bedroom, complete with mosaic-tiled wetroom, and in the 1970s block you'll be hanging out on custom-made furniture by revered designer John Makepeace.

Ready for another "wow" moment? Remember your uni bar? Mine had permanently beer-soggy carpet and dodgy curtains. It certainly didn't have tables and chairs laid out under apple trees in a pretty flower-filled garden. What both bars share, however, is student prices. I can't remember the last time I paid less than £5 ($10) for two gin and tonics. Student living is getting more appealing by the second.

The beauty of staying in a historic college is you can linger and soak it all in. There are endless shady benches and quiet corners. The chapel is worth a quiet moment or two. The size of a small town church, it has impressive mosaics and stained glass, but is most famous for being home to The Light of the World, a masterpiece by pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt.

There's more pomp and circumstance in the great hall. Breakfast is eaten under a high, painted, panelled ceiling, with portraits of the college dignitaries looking on. Just as the students do, guests sit at long trestle tables. It must be an impressive place during term time when Keble hosts formal dinners six nights a week, with students in their gowns and the bigwigs at the high table. For the rest of us there is an amazingly priced £9.75 two-course dinner offered. Gowns not required.

Staying in a university room isn't for everyone. Keble College isn't a hotel, and if you want room service, a mini bar and a flat-screen TV at the end of your bed you're going to be disappointed. But if you fancy a novelty night or two and the chance to wake up nose-to-nose with history, it's a must do.

And with prices from just £30 a night for a standard single with shared bathroom, Keble is amazing value for money. I give it a definite pass.

History and Harry on foot

WANT to see the college where Bob Hawke set the university drinking record in 1953? Or where Bill Clinton declined to inhale? University College is just one of the sites on a guided walking tour. The 90-minute excursion takes in medieval colleges, hidden back streets and, most importantly for junior members of the group, Harry Potter film locations. Highlights include the 13th-century dining hall and chapel of Merton and 14th-century quad of New College where, when the guide was asked, yet again, "Was this place in any Harry Potter movies?" the answer was yes. See historicbritain.com/vendor/image.aspx.

The writer was a guest of Keble College.

TRIP NOTES

WHERE Keble College, Oxford. universityrooms.co.uk. Online bookings only.

HOW MUCH A superior twin room with ensuite bathroom at Keble College is £75 ($145) a night. Rooms are mainly available during university holidays: summer (late June–mid October), Christmas (mid December–mid January) and Easter (mid March–mid April). However, rooms are occasionally available outside those dates.

TOP MARKS Student prices in the bar — those were the days!

BLACK MARK No chance of a lie-in — weekend breakfast is 8.30-9.30am.

DON'T MISS Harry Potter film series buffs will love the Oxford walking tour (see box left), which takes in some of the movies' locations plus other spectacular college interiors.