New life breathed into an old city stalwart
What’s the deal?
A hotel has stood on the site of the University Arms since 1834, starting life as a coaching inn and, latterly, serving as a rather tired chain hotel. After an £80-million, two-year refurbishment by architect John Simpson and interior designer Martin Brudnizki, it reopened earlier this year.
Anyone familiar with the University Arms in its last guise is unlikely to recognise the current incarnation. Gone is the ugly 1960s façade, and in its place is a magniﬁcent classical frontage, with three sets of enormous doors opening onto the lobby. While ﬁrst impressions are of formal grandeur, once inside, warmth and humour reign.
Tell me more
The most interesting bits of the old hotel (the stained-glass windows showing college crests, the ceiling- height oak ﬁreplaces) have been retained, but much else is fresh, including an entire new ﬂoor containing the suites. A sense of playfulness is apparent throughout: the hallway carpets are patterned like university ties, intriguing artwork covers the walls, and Cambridge Blue, a bright turquoise, pops up in places as diverse as the exterior ironwork and the Do Not Disturb signs.
What’s my room like?
‘Calm’ is the word. Each is beautifully quiet, with black-out curtains, Farrow and Ball paint, Edwardian-style bathrooms, 300-thread count bed linen and Hypnos mattresses. A nice touch is the set of three books in each: Wind in the Willows, Porterhouse Blue and Cautionary Tales for Children. For a treat, book one of the 12 suites on the top ﬂoor; the wonderful Franklin (named after DNA chemist Rosalind) has a triple-aspect bathroom in a turret and a terrace overlooking the park.
What am I eating?
Before food, have a cocktail in the convivial bar or ﬁreside in the library. The light-ﬁlled restaurant, Parker’s Tavern, serves revamped, unfussy classics such as braised lamb and pie of the day, courtesy of head chef Tristan Welch. We loved the delicately spiced kedgeree at breakfast.
I want to ride my bicycle
Good news: the city’s compact size and ﬂat terrain make it a great place to cycle (though its cobbles may be a little unforgiving). Better news: vintage-style bikes are free for hotel guests to use. A pleasant, untaxing spin takes you along the River Cam and across beautiful Grantchester Meadows to the village of Grantchester. The hotel can rustle up a picnic to have on the riverbank.