I’m not wearing hot pants now, but I’m certainly hot. After reacquainting ourselves with the lovely Backs, bridges, quads, colleges and churches in the recent heatwave, my husband (who was an undergraduate here) and I were mightily glad of the cool, now air-conditioned hotel with its calm, scholarly demeanour and shaded corridors.
Opened in 1834 as a coaching inn, the University Arms is the city’s oldest hotel and it overlooks Parker’s Piece, a flat 25-acre city common. After a two-year closure and an £80 million injection, the rebuilt hotel has just opened. Gone is the ghastly Sixties Regent Street wing, though the straggling 19th-century façade alongside Parker’s Piece has been retained and restored, with the addition of an extra floor for suites and private terraces that only adds to the interest of its articulated roofline.
This is ingenious, but the real triumph of classical architect John Simpson is the elegant porte cochère in Regent Street that now heralds the hotel and graciously invites overnight guests and locals through one of three handsome front doors. One is for the 192 rooms and the attractive reception lobby with its low-key, fabric-covered desk, the others for Parker’s Tavern, an all-day bistro and bar with an adjacent Library, the hotel’s only sitting room. Simpson’s intelligent, sympathetic architecture is the real deal: one senses that it will remain an important Cambridge feature for years to come.