Great British bolt holes: An old favourite passes the test

University arms hotel, Cambridge

By Jennifer Cox, Mail on Sunday.

IF, like me, your exam success peaked at the Cycling Proficiency Test, don’t despair. You can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the University of Cambridge’s hallowed halls by checking in to the University Arms hotel on Regent Street.

Cambridge’s oldest hotel, now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, dates from 1834. It recently underwent a laudable £80 million makeover by architect John Simpson, whose touches include the dramatic triple-arched portico through which guests enter the soaring double-height lobby that’s hung with statement belle epoch-style pennant lighting.

Once inside, designer Martin Brudnizki (of Annabel’s nightclub fame) has fun, channelling university character throughout, from the Cambridge blue of the 192 guest rooms to the university tie striped carpets. Even the concierges’ smart uniforms are a homage to Cambridge alumnus Winston Churchill’s siren suits.

And it works. For all its quirkiness (Alan Bennett, an Oxford man, reads Wind In The Willows in the chic loos), the University Arms is a smart, seriously stylish hotel. We marvelled at the grand lobby, which my husband likened to Hogwarts.

It’s certainly magical: to the right, arched glass doors lead to a cosy wood-panelled library with fireplace and velvet sofas (where we would later enjoy the most decadent afternoon tea). Ahead, Parker’s Tavern bistro and bar resembles a college refectory, its gleaming parquet floors, wooden tables, leather banquettes and huge original stained-glass windows overlooking the sprawling Parker’s Piece common outside.

Navigating a warren of corridors, we check in to the spacious Stephen Hawking suite on the first floor: one of 12 suites named after illustrious alumni. It’s a homage to student rooms with its bespoke wooden writing desk, rattly drinks trolley and pop art, but it’s heart-soaringly luxurious, boasting a walk-in dressing room and stylish bathroom with underfloor heating.

Later we take a stroll across the common, circling back via Cambridge’s beautiful, ancient colleges, and that night we sample chef Tristan Welch’s dishes in Parker’s Tavern. He specialises in British classics using local produce, and our dinner of pan-fried hake with asparagus and tomato, and sirloin steak with Cambridge sauce and watercress salad, is simple and delicious.

After an extremely comfortable sleep (possibly aided by the Bloomsbury Boozer cocktails), I eschew the full English breakfast to graze granolas, yogurts, fruit and sourdough toast. Perfectly fuelled, we grabbed a couple of hotel guest bikes and cycle over Mathematical Bridge to the glorious Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. A weekend break that passed with flying colours.