Overlooking Parker’s Piece in the heart of Cambridge, University Arms hotel combines the literary and academic spirit of this university town – the perfect size for a weekend away.
Hop on a Ryanair flight to Stansted and there’s a direct train link to Cambridge, which gets you there in 40 minutes. The place to stay is the recently relaunched University Arms hotel, which overlooks Parker’s Piece and is in the heart of the university town.
Formerly a coaching inn, which opened in 1834, the hotel has always been innovative – it was the first to have electricity and loos on each floor (in 1904). Following a two-year £80 million transformation overseen by classical architect John Simpson, whose work includes palaces and other Cambridge colleges, and interior designer Martin Brudnizki (of Annabel’s and Sexy Fish and The Doyle Collection’s Bloomsbury Hotel), the result is sleek and scholarly.
Simpson replaced the building’s 1960s and 1970s extensions with a classically designed front, while Martin Brudnizki’s interiors are thoughtfully designed with playful touches. How about Alan Bennett narrating The Wind in the Willows in the loos? The suites painted in Cambridge Blue (which looks more green) are named after Cambridge alumni and include individual libraries in each room curated by posh booksellers Heywood Hill.
“I love colour, pattern and mixing art into interiors to give a space substance. In doing so I feel like the space suddenly has a narrative,” Brudnizki told me. “When I first started designing hospitality spaces they were still very much a functional thing: hotels were where you went to sleep and restaurants where you went to eat. Now they are more holistic. Everyone who visits them wants an experience and feel an emotional connection to a space. This is one of the first things we take into consideration when designing a space.” It’s easy to see the link between his muses – Dorothy Draper, Carlo Scarpa and Paul Dupree Lafon – and his upbringing in Stockholm. “I grew up surrounded by very beautiful things, thanks to my mother’s eye for great design. Our home was filled with the vibrant colours and patterns of Josef Frank and Svenskt Tenn. I was also inspired by the architecture of Stockholm, especially that of Gunnar Asplund.”
At University Arms, guests will find destination restaurant Parker’s Tavern headed by local chef Tristan Welch, who reimagines British classics and has recreated the feeling of college communal dining halls. Blue wall panelling, parquet flooring and original stained-glass windows with crest detailing, contemporary artworks and a view of the iconic Parker’s Piece are key features of the restaurant. Welch has started a monthly charitable supper club called Rubbish Cooks (on the last Monday of every month) where guests “eat for free” and only pay a cover charge, a portion of which goes to charity. These supper clubs highlight food waste – the three-course menu ingredients are usually considered waste eg unwanted “wonky” vegetables, stale bread and vegetable stalks.
Cambridge is synonymous with punting on the river during summer but for an autumnal visit there’s plenty to inspire. Kettle’s Yard would be my top recommendation and booking a House Tour of the beautiful former home of HS (Jim) Ede, a former curator of the Tate Gallery in London, and his wife Helen is a must. Pared back in aesthetic, Ede’s collection of artworks, by Barbara Hepworth, David Jones, Ben and Winifred Nicholson among others, is positioned beside natural objects, ceramics and glassware. Then there’s The Fitzwilliam Museum – where you’ll find “Rembrandt and the Nude” as one of the current feature exhibitions. As for shopping, University Arms is directly opposite Farrow & Ball and a huge John Lewis, in addition to many quirky boutiques.
As a former student I always love a walk over Clare Bridge, one of the prettiest in my view, and if you want to feel and look like a student the hotel will loan smart bicycles to circumnavigate the cobbled streets. Then it’s back to the hotel library to enjoy the Historical Cambridge Afternoon Tea in front of a roaring fire, and the excellent selection of books (also curated by Heywood Hill).
Rates from £143 per room per night. Suites start from £419. www.universityarms.com
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