With summer well and truly underway, you’re probably tempted to escape the harsh UAE heat and travel to cooler climes. The UK is always a hotspot for regional travellers, but this year we recommend forgoing London – or at least taking a weekend detour – to the captivating university town of Cambridge.
Packed to the brim with exquisite architecture, fascinating history and an enviable F&B scene, this quaint village just a hop, skip and jump away from the capital is a fascinating maze of ancient colleges, picturesque riverside gardens and leafy green meadows that feel a world away from the sweltering heat of the Middle East.
In the heart of it all you’ll find the University Arms. The oldest and most famous hotel in the city, which was originally built as a coaching inn alongside the Parker’s Piece common in 1834, the hotel underwent a complete renovation back in 2018, rebuilt by classical architect John Simpson and with interiors by the world-renowned Martin Brudnizki. Not only is it home to 192 bedrooms plus popular bar and bistro Parker’s Tavern, this year saw the unveiling of its brand-new treatment rooms designed in partnership with Aromatherapy Associates, so be sure to make room in your schedule for plenty of R&R. As to be expected from a luxury hotel in the middle of the UK’s most famous university town, books take pride of place in the University Arms’ interiors, complete with a library downstairs curated by Hayward Hill where there’s no better spot to pull up a seat in front of a roaring fire and get comfy for the evening.
Brudnizki’s magic really comes to light in the guestrooms which, undeniably British, come painted in vibrant shards of Cambridge blue, which vary depending on the light. Expect retro desks, bookshelves filled with classics, white tiled bathrooms with deep-soaking tubs and quirky details including pictures and posters hung on chains from picture rails. The most impressive room in the house, The Hawking Suite comes floor-to-ceiling windows gazing out over the lush greens, while other rooms have bathrooms in turrets and private roof terraces.
Back to the treatment rooms, also designed by Brudnizki, the hotel’s newest space offers a quiet oasis in which to unwind and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life. With only two rooms available we recommend booking in advance, but bag a spot and there’s everything from heavenly massages and hard-working facials to choose from. If you only have time for one, we recommend booking in for its signature Ultimate Aromatherapy Experience which features a combination of eastern and western massage rituals. Using one of 12 therapeutic scents (the choice is yours), enjoy a combination of Swedish and neuromuscular techniques designed to stimulate the nervous system and relieve muscular tension, while lymphatic drainage encourages healthy circulation throughout the body. There’s also a 24/7 fitness suite on site for those looking to work up a sweat.
Once that’s done, it’s time to scrub up and head down for dinner at Parker’s Tavern. Imagined in the form of an upmarket college dining hall with a plethora of artwork lining the walls, this quintessentially English brasserie serves up magnificent takes on classic British dishes courtesy of Chef Tristan Welch. Kick things off with an expertly-crafted cocktail made by some of the most talented mixologists in town, before sitting down to starters of local Chaple & Swann smoked salmon, homemade burrata with heirloom tomato and local asparagus served with truffle spring butter. Local and fresh ingredients take centre stage with the main course too, where highlights include nut brown butter dole with Norfolk brown shrimps, stuffed artichoke hearts with spiced aubergine and roast rib of beef cooked over coals for two.
If time allows, take a day to explore Cambridge on the hotel’s Dutch-style bicycles and, a must on any traveller’s bucket list, be sure to head out on a private punting session where you can zig zag down the River Cam. Running through the heart of the city, enjoy fantastic views of the world famous Cambridge College ‘Backs’ from the comfort of a traditional Cambridge Punt.
And all this just 50 minutes from London? It would be rude not to.