Sometimes with hotels, you visit, you stay, and say that was good. Very occasionally you visit, you stay, and say “that was a real find”. And that is precisely what I said about the University Arms in Cambridge.
Built in 1834 as a coaching inn, the University Arms Hotel in latter years had a façade that owed more to slab-fronted office construction than architecture. Now totally refurbished, over two years and at a cost of some £80 million, it is transformed. Throwing money at a project can result in just bling, but this has wit and style, and judging by the local visitors, is much appreciated. It’s positioned in Regent Street, right by Parker’s Piece – the 25-acre open common which is more town than gown.
The hotel entrance is now a colonnade, and the interior design references Cambridge, its colleges and English Edwardian style. There are open fires, the carpets in halls and corridors are in the design of a college tie, the bar is in the style of the most superior common room, and Parker’s Tavern, its brasserie restaurant, gives an impression of dining in hall in a college.
And that is not to mention the toilets. Again Edwardian, with much use of dark panelling. As you enter there is not music, but a recording of Alan Bennett, alumnus of Cambridge, reading from The Wind In The Willows, and the sight of people, washed and brushed-up, staring at the ceiling and enjoying the story.
Budget or boutique?
A hotel with 192 rooms and suites cannot be boutique, and rates are not budget, but if you want style, it’s here.
Wining and dining
Parker’s Tavern chef is Tristan Welch, a Cambridge native with an impressive CV, and the menu here reflects his taste for local produce and traditional dishes with a modern approach. First courses include Norfolk fruits de mer, an unctuous truffle risotto and salt baked celeriac, whilst main courses have local lamb, a pie, suckling pig, lobster and chips, and nut-brown buttered sole. With a fish dish and the suckling pig, I recommend the celeriac, which if you are a greedy person, you could order as a side vegetable, and yes, I was that greedy person.
The wine list is extensive, complemented by the choice available in the bar, with whiskies, tequilas, gins, plus cocktails including the 1848, celebrating the match on Parker’s Piece that established the basic rules of Association Football. Then, for this person, there is dessert – Duke of Cambridge tart and Cambridge burnt cream (the French may claim to have invented crème brûlée, but Cambridge says its burnt cream predates it). Breakfast is also served here, and is hearty, and an excellent afternoon tea is served in the library, with its tempting book shelves, large sofas and open fire.
The accommodation ranges from cosy rooms to capacious suites and all are decorated in the same cool colour ranges of teal and mint green, with Edwardian tiled bathrooms, toiletries by DR Harris and powerful showers. All are named after Cambridge people, and the most notable of the suites is the Stephen Hawking, with its wide bay windows overlooking Parker’s Piece, copies of his books, paintings reflecting his life, and yet another example of wit and style, the waste-paper bin with a design citing his quotes, such as “Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free” and “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
Worth getting out of bed for
Cambridge. Marvelling at the architecture of these ancient colleges and seeing the peace of their quads, their chapels, and the beauty of the Backs, where the grounds sweep down to the River Cam, and punting tours of the river.
For more modern tastes there is also a gym, and to blend in with the local population, the hotel has bicycles for hire. If you want to end your punt tour with a picnic under the willow trees, that too is available to order.
A stylish transformation that showcases the wit and style of this university town, with locally produced fare that feeds the soul as much as the mind.
Double room rates with breakfast are from £167, but offers and deals are available. Flights from Edinburgh to Stansted from £40 with EasyJet. The University Arms Hotel, Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AD (01223 606066 – email@example.com)