Anusha Couttigane books into a hotel in Oxford’s iconic Castle Quarter for Fashion Week

Sunday night marked the climax of Oxford Fashion Week, bringing the city’s week-long fashion gala to an end. Naturally, as an OFW ‘alumna’, I could hardly miss out. And so, armed with a suitcase stuffed with cosmetics, straighteners, floor-length dress and impractical shoes, I checked into the Malmaison Hotel at the iconic Oxford Castle Quarter.

A friendly, attentive receptionist put me at ease and helped me quickly on my way to a well-equipped room where I found the all-important coffee and ironing facilities to help me prep for the night. To my delight I was also greeted with a hand-written card and a dish of delicious petit fours. These personal touches are a typical experience for guests staying on special occasions, such as birthdays or anniversaries.

Locked away in a superior cell room, I absorbed my surroundings: dimly lit with padded furnishing. The rooms preserve something of the prison culture which once shaped life at The Mal, as it is now fondly known. However, the king-sized bed and en suite with roll top bath offer both comfort and luxury.

What makes Malmaison stand out is its risqué but charming approach to marketing. This extends to even the smallest of details, such as the fig-scented ‘get figgy with it’ hand soap found in the rooms. This cheeky wordplay and suggestion also characterises it communications with visitors. Arriving guests will notice at once the chalk board forbidding them from smuggling in alcohol not purchased at the bar, or else risked being ‘locked up for life’ at The Mal.

Converted from a Victorian prison, the hotel retains many of its period features from the outset, including barred windows and its fortress façade. Inside, however, the setting is stylish, slick and unapologetically sexy.

Malmaison capitalises on its rich history as a prison, which remained active until 1996. Long corridors unexpectedly give way to 5x7 prison cells, complete with steel bunk beds and high level fanlights.

The one I peeked into benefited from flickering lights which, I’m told, were unintentional, but they certainly added to the effect.

Downstairs, guests can dine in the ‘dungeons’. For starters, I sampled the ahi tuna tartare with avocado, ginger and the most subtle wasabi I’ve ever tasted. The pan-fried sea bass was imaginatively complemented by sautéed chorizo, new potatoes and mussel vinaigrette. A side order of spinach gratin was so generous I didn’t even make headway with it. But it was all divine.

The castle conversion makes for an impressive venue too. Recently placed under the new management of Paul Watson, Malmaison is taking ambitious steps towards establishing itself as a not only a top tourist destination but also an exquisite events venue. This year the hotel took its annual partnership with Oxford Fashion Week to a whole new level, playing host to the headline event for the first time. The magnificent atrium down the centre of the conversion provided a spectacular space for the Couture Show. Earlier in the week, the Visitors’ Bar on the third floor, with its plush velvet furnishings and original cell block windows, was the perfect setting for the boundary-pushing Lingerie Show.

I fell into bed in the early hours following a night of partying, availing myself of the well-stocked bar and extremely obliging staff. Declining the offer of a wake-up call, I descended to breakfast at 9:30am and received seamless service from three waiters. Smoked salmon and creamy scrambled eggs to start the working week? I think so. A healthy variety of cereals, yoghurts, juices and fruits from the continental breakfast bar? Expect to go back twice. A bubble bath to end my stay in that elegant roll-top bath? Absolute bliss. Will I be going back soon? Just try and stop me.

PS. Sunday brunch is served from 12 until 4pm (Adults £19.95, children £7.95) and it’s brilliant.

* Superior cell rooms, based on two people sharing, start at £244 approximately.
* For information contact Malmaison Oxford, Oxford Castle, 3 New Road, Oxford, OX1 1AY
* Call 0844 693 0659
* Email