“ Address: 315 Iffley Road / Oxford / OX4 4AG / Tel: +44 (0) 1865 244524 „
Set on the Iffley Road within walking distance of Oxford city centre, the Balkan Lodge is a hotel with a good location but little to set the imagination on fire. We stayed at the Lodge over a weekend at the end of September that unfortunately coincided with a batch of university graduations and an alumni weekend, both of which served to limit the choice of available accommodation in the city. All we required was somewhere with parking, that allowed easy access into the city on foot or by public transport, would not break the bank but would offer up more of a treat than defaulting to the nearest Travelodge. Our searches online drew many blanks, but the Balkan Lodge seemed to tick all the boxes; as a bonus, they advertised "for that little extra luxury we also have a room with a splendid four-poster bed and jaccusi [sic] which can also make a romantic weekend break". We were sold on the promise of this deluxe double room, and booked ourselves in for our "romantic" treat.
First impressions were very good. On a main road not too far from the Oxford ring road, the Lodge was easy to find, and had a neat little car park around the back that had been newly surfaced and was protected at night with heavy security gates. The exterior generally was well-presented and welcoming, and appeared to have been refurbished recently. Entering through the front door, however, led to an entirely different world; although spotlessly clean and tidy, the decor on the downstairs was very outdated, and I don't think the red patterned carpet can have been changed since circa 1973. For anyone more used to being in buildings decorated in neutral shades and modest colour schemes, the reception area was an assault on the senses (not helped by the fact the area smelled very heavily of a sickly air freshener). The Lodge is a small family-run affair, and bills itself as being a friendly place to stay. The welcome and check-in was certainly that, and we were given a free map of Oxford and information about local buses. A nose around downstairs revealed the eclectic colour scheming extended into the resident's lounge (unused by a single resident during our stay - possibly because people couldn't tell where the patterned carpet stopped and the patterned sofas began), a small bar, and the breakfast room.
Moving upstairs (along the patterned stairway to the patterned landing), we found our room easily (well, there are only 13 of them) and let ourselves in. What greeted us was incongruous to say the least. This was a fairly basic B&B, rated 2 stars by the AA - imagine a fairly basic 2 star hotel room that you have stayed in, if you will, they try and imagine a four-poster bed inserted into that room. It just doesn't quite seem right, does it? The bed was a very attractive piece of furniture, and completed dominated the modest room, leaving just enough space for a small desk and chair, an armchair, two night stands, a small wardrobe and gaps for moving around. However, with just two of us and our weekend bag, we did feel a bit cramped into the space once we had begun to unpack. There was also a wall-mounted TV on the wall at the end of the bed; we didn't use it much, which was just as well as the four-poster hangings stop you from seeing the screen easily either from on the bed or the armchair or anywhere where there is enough space to move the armchair to. I did play with it a bit in search of a news programme, and found that it was also missing Channel 4 oddly enough.
The window in the room and en suite bathroom had been flung wide open when we arrived, leaving the room feeling very chilly. Extensive fiddling with the radiators did encourage the room to warm up while we were out to dinner, but we discovered in the morning why they like to leave them open - condensation. If the room produces that much on a late September morning, I'd hate to see what it was capable of come winter. To be fair though, they had provided good tea and coffee making facilities, including individual packs of biscuits - a nice little touch that more expensive hotels could learn a thing or two from.
So, we had got the four poster we were promised, but what about the jacuzzi? Well, yes, there was indeed a whirlpool bath in our bathroom, along with a good pile of towels, and a small selection of toiletries (although the shower gel was in those annoying sachets that are impossible to open with wet hands). The shower that had been advertised as part of our room facilities was stretching the description to its maximum, however. I'm sure everyone reading this is aware of those little shower heads that can be plumbed into your bath taps, the sort that are intended for rinsing your hair off while in the bath. Well, the "shower" was one of those attached to a wall bracket. It produced a trickle of tepid water that would have made standing under a watering can look like a good option for getting clean. It took an absolute age to take a shower, and then you get out of it only to remember that there was nowhere to hang your towels that end of the rectangular bathroom (an additional towel rail would have been a nice touch). Other half did attempt the jacuzzi after a long day of walking around Oxford, and to quote him, "it made a noise like the gods farting, but didn't do very much to the water."
The four-poster also let us down on use; on both nights I slept very badly due to a combination of a rock hard mattress and a pair of the flattest pillows I have ever come across. Each day I was up before 7am as my back, shoulders and neck ached so much from lying on the bed all night that I just had to get out of it, leaving me tired and a bit grumpy. I thought this might just be me getting fussy about mattresses in my old age, but a quick search around Trip Advisor found several other references to guests having an uncomfortable night on a hard mattress in the four-poster room. Still, the room was quiet and we were not bothered by either other guests or traffic noise, which was great considering the Lodge was full that weekend and situated right on a main road.
After the disappointments of the room, I was a little wary of what might be served up for breakfast. I needn't have worried, though. As we entered the breakfast room we were greeted by the sounds of Classic FM playing the background and the most wonderful smells of cooking wafting through from the kitchen. I am not normally one for cooked breakfasts, but couldn't resist having some bacon and eggs. It was produced promptly, and really was very good; thick rashers of juicy bacon and a large egg, both cooked to perfection and accompanied with toast neatly set in a toast rack. Other Half had the Full English, and was served with a plate heavy with food, all of which he agreed was very good indeed. In fact, it was so good I had more bacon and eggs the next day - and cooked breakfast on consecutive days in almost unheard of for me, even on holiday. Should you feel like less of a greedy pig, there was a buffet table with cereals, juices, yogurts, fruit, pastries and waffles to help yourself to.
On the Sunday of our stay, we needed to check-out by 10.30am. Wanting to get the most out of our last day in Oxford, we asked at reception where it would be possible to leave our car so we could get back into the city on the bus - and were told that we could leave it in the Lodge's car park at no extra charge and pick it when we wanted to later in the day. This I felt was a nice little touch, and allowed us to finish our break on a positive note.
In the end, I have some mixed feelings about our stay at the Balkan Lodge. There were many positives about the place - the location, the easy local access to buses (the number 4 stopped two minutes down the road and takes you into the city centre for just £1.80 each), the fantastic breakfast and the friendly and accommodating service. However, it was let down by the fact the bed was so uncomfortable and I couldn't get a half-decent shower in the morning. It was a nice enough place, but I don't think it justified the price tag (£90/night bed and breakfast for the double deluxe room), especially when late September is out of main season. Would I stay there again? Only if nothing else was available, I could stay in another room and manage to travel there with my own pillow!
Recommended only if you don't mind hard mattresses and taking a bath in the morning...
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