An Inspector Calls… Inside the revamped University Arms hotel – a Cambridge landmark that is the talk of the town for all the right reasons

  • The University Arms, established in 1834, has had an £80 million refurbishment
  • The hotel backs onto a 25-acre park and has 192 rooms, a ballroom and library
  • It runs tours of the buildings at 6.30pm every day – and you must visit the toilets

Knowing that this was a mega-opening following an £80 million transformation of Cambridge’s oldest hotel (The University Arms was established in 1834), I booked two months in advance and was told bed-and-continental-breakfast in a classic room would be £359. It seemed absurd, but the place was the talk of the town. Perhaps I was lucky to secure a berth at all.

A week before our stay, I checked on the website and found the same room for less than £300. Anna in Reservations did her best to explain that rates go up and down while agreeing that it was nonsense. But her computer would not budge — until I got cross. We finally agreed that if I joined the Marriott loyalty scheme, I could stay for £287.

This was a dampener, but pulling up on Regent Street to be greeted by a man in tweeds and whisked through huge doors into a high-ceilinged reception displaying a wonderful photo of Churchill wearing dungarees was a thrill. The hotel backs on to Parker’s Piece, a 25-acre park. There are 192 rooms, a ballroom, library, restaurant designed by Martin Brudnizki (who has worked on Soho House), sassy bar and a legion of staff. For the price, our room was small, without an armchair or bath. But there was no faulting the quality, especially the sumptuous pillows and duvet.

Not many hotels offer historic tours of their buildings — but this one does, at 6.30 each evening. Oh, and a visit to the loos is enhanced by Alan Bennett narrating The Wind In The Willows. There’s a palpable buzz about the place, helped by the hugely talented chef Tristan Welch and the omnipresence of the sharp-suited GM, who roams here and there, puffing up cushions. The University Arms might not yet be fully in its stride, but Cambridge has a top-notch hotel of which to be proud.