Take a punt on an old favourite
DO you want to feel like a rock star while travelling with children but can’t afford a suite? I’ve found the answer — adjoining rooms. The children get to have their very own key card, which is thrilling for them and they actually want to close the door to have their own ‘grown-up’ space. Meaning you and your other half can actually do things like lie in bed at 5pm and watch Star Wars without being constantly interrupted. Boom, that’s the joy of a mini-break with kids right there. Of course, it helps when the rooms feature plump beds with posh sheets (thanks to 300-thread-count cotton and a squashy two-inch topper) and smartly tiled ensuites with velvety thick towels and robes.
Happily, we found all of the above at the newly opened University Arms, a box-fresh do-over of Cambridge’s first ever hotel that took four years and a cool £80million. Rather like Doctor Who, the hotel has been constantly regenerating since it arrived in 1834. It became the first in the city to have electricity and toilets on each floor, and in 1904 converted the stable yard into a garage thanks to the increasing popularity of the motor car. Other innovations weren’t quite so smart, like demolishing a beautiful Regency section and replacing it with what looked like a 1960s car park. The latest incarnation replaces this architectural misstep with a pillared porte-cochère (coach gate) and gives the hotel back its grandeur and curb appeal.
USP: The place has a preppy, upscale New York vibe and is a mere five-minute stroll from the centre of cultural Cambridge’s glorious gothic architecture. The sassy decor throughout gives a nod to the city’s university heritage without being stuffy or tacky (take the hallway carpets, which can often be questionable in hotels — these ones are boldly striped like college ties), eye-popping pop-art prints adorn every wall and the cocktail bar is so glam you’ll find yourself ordering a cosmopolitan.
The buzzy Parker’s Tavern restaurant is inspired by a university refectory room and comes with a fancy chef — Tristan Welch was formerly head chef of Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus restaurant. He offers a menu of British brasserie-style classics big on local ingredients (starters from £7, mains from £11, a glass of house white £5). The food is excellent — and I mean excellent. Try the rich and warming Somerset truffle risotto (£22), the burger (£15) and the rice pudding soufflé (£8), which sounds weird but tastes like a cloud of comforting rice pud swirled with raspberry.
Who goes there? It might be new but the place is already jumping — the hotel is busy with American and British guests and the restaurant is a happy mix of residents and locals on date nights.
Venture out: A stroll around Cambridge is the order of the day. Visit the King’s Chapel (£10 per adult, kings.cam.ac.uk) — the second most photographed building in the UK after Buckingham Palace, according to proud locals — peek through all the college doors you pass and admire the quads, check out the huge Harry Potter shop, and the newly renovated Museum Of Zoology (free, museum.zoo.cam.ac.uk). And you can’t go to Cambridge without taking a punt. We went in the rain (£120 for a boat that seats six with a guide, rutherfordspunting.com) and it was still magical.