(Bloomberg) -- Oxford is one of the most visited places in the UK, renowned for stunning medieval and neoclassical buildings. Its great hotels? Not so much.

This will change in May when the Store Oxford opens in what used to be Boswells of Oxford, the city’s oldest department store, which dated to 1738 and closed in 2020. I’m the first journalist to tour the hotel, redesigned by the team behind chic Parisian hotels Dame des Arts and Hotel des Grands Voyageurs. The 54,000-square-foot building is located in Oxford’s historic center just opposite Balliol College, one of the oldest of Oxford University’s famed 39 colleges and once home to author Aldous Huxley and economist-philosopher Adam Smith.

Floor-to-ceiling windows that acted as displays for the emporium will stream light into a bright, open lobby and entry-level bar that seems tailor-made for early morning coffee and post-college tour cocktails. 

A rooftop bar with an outdoor terrace offers sweeping views of the “city of dreaming spires,” as Victorian poet Matthew Arnold put it. The vista includes the Radcliffe Camera, the neoclassic circular library seen on postcards of the city. Of the drinks served, one will be called Second Breakfast, a reference to The Lord of the Rings, and made with bourbon, maple syrup and blueberry. (Author J.R.R. Tolkien attended and taught at Oxford.) 

Barbecued meat will be smoked on the roof and pizzas baked in outdoor ovens. Cocktails will utilize gins and rum distilled especially for the hotel, and meat and produce will be sourced from Oxfordshire’s rolling hills. Downstairs, British brand Oskia will supply products for the spa, which includes a sauna, steam room, ice bar and gym, though no pool.

The 101-room property is filled throughout with clever nods to its own history as well as that of the city. The rooms, some of which present views of a thousand-year-old Saxon tower, have QR codes on the walls to explain what guests can view outside.

“The one big thing that people ask about Oxford is, well, what’s that?” says general manager Simon Drake, pointing out the white stone college buildings across the street. Drake, formerly the general manager of London’s Mandrake Hotel, says he wants the guests to be able to find out what colleges their rooms face, as well as such facts as the year they were built and the types of students studying there. They can even find poetry from famous writers who attended Oxford’s colleges. Drake jokes that there’s nothing more annoying than going on holiday and having to constantly search for information about what you’re viewing. Oxford’s landmarks are not only located outside guests’ windows, they’re at their fingertips in an easy-to-digest format.

All that heritage is a big draw for visitors: Around 7 million a year come to the university city 56 miles northwest of London. When I tour the hotel on a gray day in February, I pass several groups on walking tours regarding the surrounding buildings and their connection to history both medieval and modern—such as the Harry Potter films that shot scenes locally. 

On the walls of guest rooms, posters recall what Boswells of Oxford was like in the early 1900s, when shoppers in Edwardian garb inspected the shop’s windows. There are also reproductions of ads for clothes that were found in the building during the four-year renovation.

The rooms are decorated in earthy greens, reds and blues and are quiet and peaceful, despite their location on a major thoroughfare. While the starting size for rooms isn’t especially large—18 square meters (194 square feet)—some of the larger suites offer spacious outdoor terraces with sun loungers and yoga mats along with sitting areas that have fireplaces and cozy couches.

The hotel team dug further into the area’s history in creating Treadwell, the Store’s ground floor restaurant. A census from 1850 shows who was living in Treadwell Passage, near where the restaurant is now located. (Boswells expanded over the years to encompass it.) The census forms contain residents’ jobs—Drake found a fish hawker, a scavenger, a needlework mistress and a policeman’s apprentice living there. 

“We brought them to life through illustrations on the menu, so we have things like the fish hawker’s menu of the day,” says Drake. The bar bites menu, featuring items such as burnt ends, will be called the “scavengers menu” with reference to those who scavenged outside the city limits for things to sell. The restaurant will offer classics such as Sunday roasts, with carve-at-your-table options of lamb and chicken alongside heaps of roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. 

So much history and heritage will appeal to Americans, who so far account for the biggest proportion of bookings. Future guests include a prominent US politician with close ties to Oxford, as well as a billionaire tech founder, says Drake. There’s also a large market of domestic tourists visiting for the weekend. “It’s not just parents of students. There’s a huge leisure business,” he says. 

Drake says Oxford lacks rooms to satisfy existing demand. Room rates spike dramatically around graduation weekends in July. Such properties as the Courtyard Marriott, which normally charge around £200 ($253) a night, can sell out at triple the rate during busy summer periods. 

That’s where the Store comes in with its higher-end offering amid the hustle and bustle of Oxford’s historic college center. Rooms start at £285. 

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