Amongst the historic architectural wonders that are Cambridge’s colleges, the University Arms stands tall and resplendent. Built in 1834 as a coaching inn, an £80 million rebuild overseen by John Simpson (best known for renovating Buckingham Palace) and completed in 2018 has marked it as a glorious monument of the city. Overlooking Parker’s Piece with a main entrance on Regent’s Street, it was once frequented by the Onassis family, as well as the Rolling Stones.
The interiors have been elegantly, and in places eccentrically, updated by Martin Brudnizki (of the Ivy and Annabel’s), and reflect a nostalgic kind of alma-mater spirit. Books at every turn, original fireplaces and stained-glass tributes to each of the colleges, every communal room effortlessly flows to the next with touches of Cambridge blue throughout. Each of the 192 bedrooms is unique, and suites are inspired by local historic heroes, from Virginia Woolf to Stephen Hawking. The generous monochrome-tiled bathrooms are so luxurious, with large roll-top baths and spacious walk-in showers, and come stocked with D R Harris soaps.
The restaurant Parker’s Tavern warrants a visit in itself, serving up mouth-watering dishes of honey-drizzled tempura courgettes and nut buttered sole with Norfolk brown shrimps – the chef Tristan Welch’s comforting homemade spaghetti with artichoke and dried tomatoes was a memorable highlight. Be sure to save room for some Cambridge burnt cream (or ‘what the French call crème brûlée’, as the menu japes), for legend has it Trinity College was the origin of this delectable dessert. For the young at heart, there is also the option to design your own ice-cream sundae, with a huge selection of toppings and sauces – I would enthusiastically recommend the peanut brittle, honeycomb and salted caramel sauce.
Located in a prime spot of the city, just five minutes from the centre, the hotel offers the very best of a British staycation. With the Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard and University tours aplenty, there is much to explore on foot. But should you wish to retire to your room early, you will be welcomed by large flat-screen televisions, cosy sofas and huge pillow-like beds that will ease you into a deep relaxation.
Ideal for warmer, amorous evenings, the University Arms has recently partnered with a local punting company Rutherford's to offer a date night like no other. Here, you can float down the River Cam through the city centre, beneath St John’s Bridge of Sighs, meandering around past the King’s College Chapel, all whilst dining on woodfired pizza from the hotel’s restaurant and sipping bubbles while the sun goes down.
Since reopening its doors following lockdown, the University Arms has implemented stringent safety measures in order to protect their guests. Face masks are worn by staff, hand sanitiser provided in every room and a one-way system is observed in the lifts. A friendly reminder to remain at a distance from fellow guests comes in the form of a Wind in the Willows quote: “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” This message is not only apt for our current times, but also for the hotel as a whole, which retains a special sort of bygone gentility that is so treasured in modern hospitality.
The University Arms, from £159 a room a night; and from £419 a suite a night. Until 30 September, the hotel is offering a 15 per cent reopening discount. For more information and to book, visit www.universityarms.com