The sight of students cycling back and forth across Parker’s Piece is characteristic of many a Cambridge morning. On the weekends, and especially during the summer months, these locals are almost always accompanied by tourists in rented vehicles hoping to experience some of the city’s university culture while risking their limbs on the busy bike routes.
Visitors seeking that unique academic atmosphere without the physical exertion will find it at the University Arms, a Marriott Autograph hotel with a boutique atmosphere, on the corner of Regent Street and Park Terrace – and just off the Common.
Our stay coincided with a wedding, several events for the Cambridge Literary Festival and many bookings for afternoon teas and sumptuous dinners. Undeterred by the hustle and bustle of the guests, the service was warm and efficient, the mark of a well-oiled machine. I suppose that’s to be expected – no Cantabrian would let their wheels rust.
With 192 suites, the University Arm’s nine floors are something of a rabbit hole. We got lost twice trying to take the stairs (even before cocktail hour) but once in our rooms we were on a much firmer footing.
The original building dates from 1834 when it served as a coaching inn for traders passing through Cambridge. An £80m refurbishment, which saw the hotel reopen in 2018, has retained elements of that historic character while incorporating the modern comforts and conveniences that today’s slightly more discerning clientele have come to expect from the Marriott group.
The suites benefit from high ceilings and generous floor space. With colorful drapes, decadent upholstery, and books on the shelves that make you want to dive into it, you’ll be forgiven for feeling like you’re nodding off in a college library, or so this author would like to introduce himself.
Spacious bathrooms are beautifully decorated with monochromatic tiling and gold metalwork, plus waterfall showers. Some also have the luxury of freestanding bathtubs. 19th-century detail is present here too, with apothecaries from both sides of the Atlantic – DR Harris & Co and CO Bigelow – chosen to supply the bath salts, soap dishes and toiletries.
The design and ambiance of Parker’s Tavern on the hotel’s ground floor is said to be inspired by the communal dining rooms of Cambridge colleges. Parquet floors, dark wood furniture, and paneled walls adorned with a smorgasbord of artworks convey the feel of a bygone era. Luckily, my guest, a Cambridge graduate, was able to attest that the menu exceeded her memories of dinners in the formal hall.
Like many restaurants vying to lure today’s foodies, the self-proclaimed British Brasserie serves local, seasonal fare. Even more unusual is that it’s the only restaurant I’ve ever visited where spaghetti bolognese is included in both the starter and main courses of the a la carte menu. Maybe I ate in the wrong places…
Appetizers are a reasonable size, leaving enough room for the main event. My hazel butter sole came with a hefty handful of sea fennel—exactly how I think this ingredient should be served. My guest devoured a perfectly pink sirloin steak. For dessert, ice cream fans will enjoy the pick ‘n’ mix nature of the build-your-own sundae option. There are continental classics like tarte tatin and Cambridge’s crème brûlée, but the cheeseboard is all British.
Bartenders mix an exquisite selection of cocktails, and a thoughtful drinks menu offers the pleasant array of old favorites and perhaps more surprising offerings. Highly recommended is the Saffron Grange Brut, which is produced just a few kilometers from the hotel. Flip to the back if you fancy a cigar.
recovery and rejuvenation
The hotel opened its two treatment rooms in March with a range of bespoke offerings in partnership with luxury spa company Aromatherapy Associates. Tucked away on the ground floor, guests can relax on velvet loungers, tea or juice in hand while deciding on their treatments and conferring with the in-house therapists in a serene, decadently designed relaxation room.
Treatment times range from 30 to 90 minutes and there is a carefully curated selection to choose from including facials, full body massages and a treatment also designed for pregnant mothers. We decided on the ultimate aromatherapy massage and first consulted with the team about what our mental and physical needs were at the time before deciding on an aromatherapy blend that would do the job.
Guests can expect an experience that feels particularly exclusive, both due to the privacy of the treatment rooms and the attentiveness of the team’s therapists. In a hotel of this size, having an entire treatment area to oneself is a rare luxury (and we happily allowed ourselves that). We have been advised that Friday and Saturday nights can be busy. So book ahead if you want to relax before your night begins.
If you’re feeling active, there’s a 24-hour underground gym that’s open to guests. You can also borrow the hotel’s Cambridge Blue bicycles to explore the city, or join a walking tour to discover historical stories behind the college doors.
However, parking at the University Arms is limited, so it’s worth calling ahead to see if space is available. If not, staff can recommend nearby parking lots or park-and-ride services — and the train station is no more than a 20-minute walk away.
Rooms at the University Arms start from £209 per night on a B&B basis; Treatments start from £60; universityarms.com
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/travel/956682/university-arms-cambridge-hotel-review Hotel Rating: University Arms, Cambridge