Cambridge is like a little London,” said the concierge, and indeed it is – magnificent historical buildings, fabulous shops, lots of great places to eat at and, at long last, a truly luxury landmark hotel with a destination restaurant.
Opened in 1834, University Arms has undergone a two-year, £80 million transformation under new ownership, and opened this summer.
Situated in the heart of the city, overlooking Parker’s Piece, it has 192 beautiful bedrooms (including 12 suites named after Cambridge alumni), a magnificent bar, a cosy library, a great British brasserie and wonderful function rooms. Every element of the building has been designed to reflect the literary and academic spirit of Cambridge, while ensuring it appeals to business and leisure visitors alike.
The interiors are by Martin Brudnizki, who did The Ivy, and each suite has a private library curated by Heywood Hill, the Mayfair bookshop. Parker’s Tavern, the brasserie, combines the feel of a Cambridge college dining hall with Ivy Café décor and ambience.
City breaks are generally about dumping your bags and setting off on foot to explore, but on a dark, drizzly November afternoon, the lure of the cosy library with its book-lined shelves and huge original marble fireplace was just too great. We ordered scones and were told that there might be a wait as a new batch was just going into the oven. You can’t get more fresh than that! Twenty minutes later, we were served the largest, best-tasting and finest textured scones we’ve ever eaten.
Our sumptuous suite was another reason not to leave the building. Decorated in a calming muted colour palette with statement lights, it had a soft velvet sofa and armchairs, a magnificent bespoke bookcase to house the huge TVs (yes, plural) and carefully-chosen books. The bathroom boasted stunning Edwardian-style fixtures and fittings, bespoke marble washstand, D.R. Harris toiletries and the most efficient underfloor heating I’ve come across. I feared that after a soak in the clawfoot bath and a snuggle down in the thick towelling robe I’d be tempted to order room service for dinner, but the buzzy 65-seat bar with its striking marble-patterned wallpaper (chosen to represent antique book covers) was calling with the promise of a glass of English sparkling wine.
Dinner at Parker’s Tavern is a treat. Chef Tristan Welch had a dream to create an affordable destination restaurant serving locally-sourced, seasonal food, with every dish designed to be a whimsical reimagining of a British classic – and he has absolutely pulled it off. We feasted on slow-cooked truffled duck egg on toast, tempura courgettes with honey, nut brown buttered sole and honey and thyme duck with silky mash – comfort food with a modern edge. Dessert was a classic Duke of Cambridge tart (candied citrus and brown sugar) and a super-indulgent Valrhona dark chocolate bar.
Breakfast in Parker’s Tavern is buffet style – all manner of breads, pastries, smoked salmon, cheeses, fresh fruit, yoghurts and muesli. When people ask me what the difference is between Oxford and Cambridge, I finally feel qualified to answer. They both have a university, but only Cambridge has a University Arms.
Rooms from £205, www.universityarms.com
Other winter weekend hotspots
The Angel & Blue Pig, Lymington
In the picturesque Georgian market town of Lymington, The Angel & Blue Pig is a quirky pub with 12 bedrooms boasting understated elegance and charm. Guests can enjoy a warm fire and delicious home-made food in the evenings after a day exploring the romantic landscapes and pretty coastal paths in and around the New Forest.
Rooms from £90, www.angel-lymington.com
The Wheatsheaf Inn, Cotswolds
In the historic market town of Northleach in the Cotswolds, The Wheatsheaf Inn blends a 17th-century coaching inn with modern luxuries. There are 14 beautifully decorated rooms with fabulous power showers, clawfoot baths and wonderfully comfortable beds. It’s really cosy with open fires and rugs covering the flagstone floors. The property has stunning tiered cottage gardens and the menus feature great quality simple, rustic food.
Rooms from £85, www.theluckyonion.com
The Devonshire Arms Pilsley, Derbyshire
This cosy bijou pub in a village on the Chatsworth estate has rooms (some with four-poster beds) featuring chintz fabrics, antique furniture and beautiful bathrooms. Good food and a decent wine list complete the offering. The Chatsworth farm shop is just a few minutes’ walk away, while the magnificent Chatsworth House is a short drive (or a long walk). Guests can also check out the Wedgwood afternoon tea at Chatsworth House.
Rooms from £99, www.devonshirepilsley.co.uk
The Mash Inn, High Wycombe
This charming pub in the picturesque hamlet of Radnage is a foodie’s paradise, with an open kitchen and a large extended dining room that is almost Scandi in feel. The six bedrooms are simply furnished with black and white décor, and breakfast is served in bed, making this the perfect indulgent winter treat. Hughenden Manor, Benjamin Disraeli’s former country residence, is a 15-minute drive away.
Rooms from £110, https://themashinn.com
The White Hart, Ford
This Grade II listed coaching inn in Ford, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, is a traditional 16th century building with 11 stylish rooms. The place is packed with original features and overlooks a picturesque trout stream. Surrounded by some of England’s most scenic landscapes, this is a true British bolthole. You can expect great food and crafted cocktails, plus White Company products and Nespresso machines in the bedrooms.
Rooms from £99, https://whitehart-ford.com
Lime Wood, Hampshire
This boutique country house in the New Forest National Park is laid-back luxury at its best. Chef Angela Hartnett and Lime Wood’s Luke Holder do the cooking, pulling together both of their much-admired signature styles, in the hotel’s relaxed and stylish Italian restaurant. The award-winning spa is dedicated to natural well-being and is inspired by its forest surroundings. Cosy on down!
Rooms from £385. January/February offers from £299, www.limewoodhotel.co.uk
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- Winter dining supplement
- Wining Dining / Going Out supplement
- Going Out supplement
- University Arms
- Parker’s Piece
- Martin Brudnizki
- Heywood Hill
- Ivy Café
- D.R. Harris
- The Angel & Blue Pig
- The Wheatsheaf Inn
- The Devonshire Arms Pilsley
- The Mash Inn
- High Wycombe
- The White Hart
By Joe Millis