Cambridge finally gets a luxurious hotel you'll want to spend a long weekend at...
Cambridge has long attracted tourists with its ancient history, its magnificent 16th century colleges and chapels and its pretty river to punt on, but the lack of a good hotel, until now, has kept it the preserve of students and day trippers rather than weekend visitors. However, with the arrival of the seriously sleek University Arms, all that is about to change..
Where is it
In the heart of Cambridge, overlooking the large, green common of Parker’s Piece, and minutes away by foot from the main colleges of King’s and Trinity and the main shops. A train from London takes just 50 minutes.
The oldest hotel in Cambridge, this originally opened in 1834 as a 15 bedroom coaching inn. Extended over the years to an unbecoming architectural hotch potch, it has now, under new ownership emerged from a two year overhaul with a gleaming new persona, courtesy of classical architect John Simpson and interior designer Martin Brudnizki. Its entrance, or even three entrances, for you can also go directly into restaurant Parker’s Tavern, are found under the arches of the newly added porte cochère, on Regent Street, their slightly bulbous pillars adding a definite charm.
Books are the theme that dominate the interiors, from the bespoke wallpaper inspired by antiquarian end papers to the suites, named after eminent men and women with a Cambridge connection and in which are libraries revolving around their life. The library downstairs, complete with roaring fire, has enough volumes of interest to keep anyone snowed in happily for a week, whilst fans of audio rather than the written word must pay a visit to the downstairs loos where Wind in the Willows can be heard. Overall the style is warm and welcoming, modern British imbued with a sense of heritage and shot through with an element of fun.
The hotel does not have a swimming pool or any spa facilities but it does have smart bikes trimmed in the hotel’s signature turquoise which you can borrow to explore the city like a local. They can also pack up a picnic for you to make a day of it. Otherwise it is their books which mark them out, with a hugely impressive collection curated by Haywood Hill of a perfect mix of learned, light and literary. Every bedroom has a copy of Hilaire Belloc’s wonderful Cautionary Tales, which if you were not brought up on, you should read now from cover to cover.
Food & Drink
Talented Chef Tristan Welch has returned from The Cotton House in Mustique to his native Cambridgeshire to take up the role of chef patron at Parker’s Tavern having previously been Head Chef of London’s Launceston Place. In a setting which nods to a college dining hall with wood panelling decorated with colourful pictures and cartoons, the menu delivers an unerring blend of desirable modern British dishes brought to new heights.
Try the devilled potted shrimps from Norfok or the slow cooked truffled duck egg on toast before the Saffron Walden lamb or charcoal grilled lobster and chips. Start with a glass of the superb Gusbourne English sparkling wine and finish with an indulgent ‘make your own’ ice-cream where you can tick marshmallow or peanut brittle or caramel popcorn as topping and sauces of chocolate fudge or salted caramel over triple vanilla ice-cream.
The hotel can arrange walking tours of Cambridge with guides like Tony Rodgers from Cambridge Tour Guides, who will be able to give you a fascinating insight into the rich history of the colleges. A punting tour is also not to be missed and the hotel booked us with Rutherford’s (ask for Pip) who took us along the beautiful River Cam, through the Backs (where the colleges back onto) under the Bridge of Sighs, the Mathematical Bridge and onto cows grazing on the meadows.
The 192 rooms vary in size but colours draw on a palette of Cambridge blue, with accessories in warm reds or mustard yellows. The two turret suites at the top of the hotel are the most impressive with free standing bath tubs in the turret of the building surrounded by three windows overlooking Parker’s Piece and chic black and white tiled floors. But lovely too is the Woolf suite with its pictures of Virginia on the walls and a book case dividing the room. Lotions and potions come from a bespoke range from the delicately fragrant D.R. Harris & Co.
Parents visiting students and tourists, who can enjoy this beautiful city at a more leisurely place now they have a luxurious base from which to do so.
When to go
July and August are crowded with tourists from far-flung China and America, whilst students take over the city at other times out riding their bikes in force but early summer is particularly lovely with the flower-filled gardens, wisteria-clad colleges and leafy parks at their best.
Review by Mary Lussiana