It’s not often a hotel makes you want to further educate yourself. But I’ll give it to the University Arms in Cambridge, for leaving me with such a yearning.
Whether it’s the hotel or Cambridge itself, I would certainly head back with my reading list, confined to a bedroom balcony or its private library.
Interior Martin Brudzinksi, who really is everywhere right now (from Soho Beach House Miami to Annabel’s London to Four Seasons Hampshire to Sexy Fish London to… well the list could go on), has been mindful to create an environment reminiscent of school days past and lazy afternoons spent on the banks of the River Cam, in an affordable but luxury setting.
Following its two year, £80 million transformation, they made it bigger too with the help of classical architect John Simpson, (who has, incidentally worked on Buckingham Palace) increasing the number of bedrooms from 119 to 192, an expansion made possible by completely stripping out the interior and reimagining the layout.
Since the hotel has reopened, it has perfectly captured the defining characteristics of the literary and academic spirit of Cambridge, as well as it’s history dating back to 1834. Facts, figures and key historical information playfully peers down over you in all it’s public areas – a ‘cartographic quartet’ tracing the outlines of this most famous academic destination, to a portrait of Winston Churchill during his university days, from which the hotel uniforms derive their inspiration, continuing down the corridors with all manners of relevant artwork, historical boat race images to phrenological charts.
Situated on the edge of Parker’s Piece (the site of the very first game of football and where a 32,000-strong feast to celebrate Queen Victoria’s coronation took place), it is directly in the epicentre of Cambridge city’s conservation area – both geographically and historically.
ROOMS & SUITES
Split into Cosy, Classic, Superior and Suites. Entry level cosy rooms are internal facing, and cosy indeed, with comfortable beds, tea, coffee and fresh milk in the fridges, and heated black and white tile-pattern floors with Dr Harris toiletries in bathrooms.
The 12 suites are named after local scholars, most of whom attended the university. Each suite comes complete with a private library curated by Heywood Hill, helping to retain a classically Cambridge feel. Many on the top floor have access to private balconies overlooking Parker’s Piece, with bathrooms sat inside the original domed turrets, and freestanding bathtubs. You can choose to relax in your room with a good book, accompanied by a complimentary minibar, and writing desks should the urge to begin a new writing career occurs. Simply keep your bookmark resembling Do Not Disturb on the door and let the magic commence.
Only 2 out of the 12 suites are named after women. Given the quote ‘A Room of One’s Own, there is the Virginia Woolf Suite, and Rosalind Franklin. But considering 2019 marked 150 years since women were accepted at Cambridge University, I would have hoped there were more women that made their stamp here.
The main restaurant space is Parker’s Tavern, overseen by Tristan Welch, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner sittings. Cleverly designed to evoke a college dining hall, it serves a hearty English breakfast fayre, followed by low key classic British comfort food, from Hobson’s Choice Pie to a Catch of the Day to a soft whipped ‘flavour of the month’ in a classic cone (unfortunately not 99p like they used to be, but worth it). Or an ice cream sundae perhaps? Not a fry cry from a Ping Pong style check menu, but far superior, diners are handed a checklist and pencil to create their own ice cream sundaes. The kind of multiple choice I can handle.
The bar works for afternoon tea throughout the day, aperitivo or post dinner cocktails. Signatures based on monumental parts of history. Favourites include ‘The Sixth Man’ based on the uncaught sixth member of Soviet Spy ring ‘The Cambridge Five’, to Blushing Byron based on the late night baths in the Trinity College Fountain Lord Byron enjoyed whilst an undergraduate.
(Again a shame to see no cocktails based on brilliant women in history.)
Enjoy an Early Grey in The Library paying homage to Cambridge’s academic heritage, with walls of a curated bespoke library (also by Heywood Hill). Take one of the University Arms bicycles through town, or grab a picnic basket in the barmier weather into Parker’s Piece. But the one thing you simply cannot miss? A punt down the River Cam with students telling you whimsical stories and historical anecdotes of the famed colleges, with a view from the water (arranged by the concierge of course).
The one thing I can sure you is that if you’re not actually smarter after a weekend at The University Arms, you’ll certainly feel it.