Ah, Cambridge - land of chocolate-box, academia-steeped buildings, characterful medieval lanes and flower-strewn riverside gardens. Whether or not you've visited before, you're sure to have heard of the place's quirky rituals and free-wheeling students. But, while we're not suggesting you dismiss the university's history, nor its impressive alumni - Sir David Attenborough and Dame Emma Thompson, we're looking at you - we think it's this destination's thriving art scene and hip new hangouts you're going to be more excited about.
Step forward, the new-and-improved University Arms Hotel - aka Cambridge's oldest and best-loved bolthole. Overlooking the famous Parker's Piece green, with its main entrance located on buzzy Regent Street, the hotel underwent a major £80million refurb in 2018, led by the dynamic duo that is architect John Simpson and designer Martin Brudnizki. Today, the former coaching inn is barely recognisable. From its three handsome forest-green front doors to carpets patterned with university ties, the property effortlessly fuses a contemporary style with a splash of English eccentricity, making for a snug and stylish place to bed down.
There's plenty to be said for the hotel's grand features, but the real beauty here is to be found in the small details. Take the black-and-white portrait of Winston Churchill, founder of Churchill College, delicately hung in the olive-hued entry hall. Or the fact that all of its 192 bedrooms are named after legendary Cambridge alumni.
Choose from four room types: cosy, classic, superior and suites. Across all categories you can expect to find walls painted in arresting shades of Cambridge blue and silhouette-hugging beds framed by bookshelves stocked with the classics. Bathrooms take inspiration from the Victorian era, with monochromatic chequered flooring, huge claw-foot bathtubs and gold taps - be sure to help yourself to a scoop of the soothing scrub.
What's for breakfast?
The real question is, what isn't for breakfast? In-house restaurant Parker's Tavern adopts a buffet-style approach, making it near impossible to avoid restacking your plate at least four times. We're talking fresh fruit platters, locally sourced honeys and jams and baskets overflowing with toaster-ready bread. Cheat day? Even better. There are plenty of fresh pastries to choose from, spanning flaky croissants to sticky cinnamon swirls and chocolate-filled buns. If you prefer to start your day with something a little lighter, grab a berry-packed smoothie from one of the handy dispensers. Vegan? The sweet potato waffles served with apricots are for you.
How about lunch and dinner?
Head chef Tristan Welch really delivers the goods. Daytime reservations are a light, airy and relaxed affair, then, come sunset, the restaurant is made intimate and cosy with the addition of mood lighting and candles on tables. Don't even think about leaving without trying the famous spaghetti bolognese.
Is there a bar?
Only the best. Cocktail connoisseurs will delight in watching the dynamic mixologists whip up a flavoursome concoction.
The in-house gym is kitted out with all the essentials, allowing fitness bunnies to cram in their planks and pikes. Want to go the extra mile? Take one of the hotel's blue bicycles out for a spin. After touring the city, finish with a pit stop at the famous Fitzbillies cafe, where it would be rude not to fill your basket with a mountain of the award-winning chelsea buns.
How about their green credentials?
The conversation regarding food waste in the hospitality industry is a complex one. University Arms is keen to challenge the old order. In 2019, it launched the successful Rubbish Cooks initiative, an incredible once-a-month event comprising a three-course meal made from only food that is considered waste. For just £20 a head, £5 of which is donated to Jimmy's Night Shelter, guests can dine out for a good cause.
What about accessibility?
There are 10 spacious adapted rooms available. Staff are incredibly attentive and happy to accommodate each individual guest's needs.
Things I should know
You asked, they delivered. This month, the hotel has welcomed two tranquil treatment rooms in partnership with the fabulous Aromatherapy Associates. Drawing on Swedish and neuromuscular techniques, therapies focus on sleep concerns, stress and anxiety, immune support and combating the signs of ageing.
Within a short walk I can find…
Take the 10-minute stroll to the River Cam. There, you'll find a handful of clued-up locals offering punting tours. We'd recommend Rutherford's, both for their history-packed spiel and the bubbles on tap.
Doubles cost from £249. Discover more at universityarms.com