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At the end of last year’s glorious summer, the University Arms hotel in the centre of Cambridge reopened to a huge fanfare after a four-year, £80 million revamp. Editor-in-chief Helena Lang checked in to find out if its reinvention was worth the wait...
The attention to detail at the uber-smart University Arms is staggering. From the swish valet parking at the hotel’s front to the slick reception team in the imposing lobby, this is a first-class hotel. In our suite, the mugs are emblazoned with the hotel’s crest, the milk in the small glass bottle is fresh, the homemade shortbread in its tiny tin is crumbly and sweet, and the coasters are in the same yellow as the hotel restaurant, Parker’s Tavern.
The prints on the wall are of Cambridge University colleges, and the books – oh, the books: the little library in our room is a book-lover’s dream. They include Cambridge hero Stephen Hawking’s classics and a hand-picked collection of vintage crime, provocative new must-reads and stunning coffee-table tomes.
We settle into the perfectly placed armchairs with a bird’s-eye view over Parker’s Piece – the green where legend has it the great game of football was invented – pour out a cuppa and make like academics for an hour or two. Then it’s time to freshen up and make the most of our vast white-tiled bathroom with its gleaming chrome taps, huge roll top bath, power shower and double sinks, and the extensive range of gorgeous-smelling bespoke DR Harris toiletries.
Walking down the hushed, carpeted corridors and into Parker’s Tavern for dinner, the mood alters dramatically – no starchy service or pompous menu here. Instead, this is chef director Tristan Welch’s fun, bustling brasserie with a busy cocktail bar, and reasonably priced seasonal menu of easy-going British classics, such as juicy, tender, hand-dived scallops cooked and served in their shells, a platter of house-smoked fish and nut-brown, buttered sole. For dessert, no one should resist the Duke of Cambridge tart, which smacks of sharp citrus in a brown sugar crust. Divine.
The hotel’s renovation is a triumph, and popular with the eclectic city-centre crowd. Originally a 19th-century coaching inn, then a gruesome Sixties monstrosity, it’s now a grand and imposing place to meet, greet, party, entertain and rest one’s weary feet on Regent Street. The next morning, after a hugely satisfying breakfast, we step out to explore the beautiful colleges within walking distance.
First stop is Christ’s College, where we admire the gorgeous gardens and pop our heads around the dining hall door, then on to the imposing Trinity College, before stopping to sip coffee on the bridge alongside and admire the skilful punting along the River Cam. Not as grand as the University Arms... but just as iconic.
How to book:
From £143 per room, per night; suites from £419. Both room only; universityarms.com.