Shropshire Star

Travel review: Luxury with a bit of literature

Tradition and innovation are the hallmarks of the university city of Cambridge, a venerable and beautiful seat of learning that is also a pioneering centre of excellence and research into science and technology.

Last updated
Established in 1834 as a coaching inn on Regent Street, the University Arms is Cambridge’s leading luxury hotel

That formidable combination of old and new is reflected at the University Arms. Established in 1834 as a coaching inn on Regent Street, it is the city’s leading luxury hotel.

Just a short walk from the centre of Cambridge, with its magnificent college architecture along the River Cam and opportunity to go punting on its serene waters, the hotel was reconfigured in the late Victorian era and remodelled again in the 21st century.

The historic hotel was damaged by a fire in 2013 that started on the top floor. This negative was turned into a positive by the owners who invested £80 million in a complete transformation that saw the hotel close for four years.

Much more than a mere refurbishment, this was a bold re-imagining of the building by architect John Simpson and interior designer Martin Brudnizki. Lesser 20th century additions were removed but they retained many of its best surviving features, such as stained glass windows, grand fireplaces, a sprung-floor ballroom (used for meetings and banquets), and in a nod to the iconic pillars that once fronted the premises, a magnificent carriage porch.

It is here that the luxury experience begins as the concierge arranges for a valet driver to take your vehicle to the car park hidden in the hotel basement.

The marble-floored lobby with its timber panelling and Cambridge blue colour scheme – the university’s pale blue signature colour is reflected throughout – is impressive and there is a palpable sense of Edwardian style and heritage, despite this largely being a brand new hotel within the old hotel’s footprint.

There are 192 rooms and suites, the latter named after famous University of Cambridge alumni, from Stephen Hawking to Virginia Woolf, reached by corridors festooned with vintage posters and photographs of pre-World War One students.

My suite was the Charles Darwin, very apt for a Salopian. A spacious room, it overlooks Parker’s Piece, an area of parkland popular with picnicking students and tourists where it is said that football was first played under the Cambridge Rules later codified by the Football Association. An underwhelming statue commemorates this. Reflecting the refinement of old academia, the room included a comfortable sofa and chair with writing desk and a curated library of books which, given the Darwin name plaque, centred on botany, the natural world and exploration. Apparently every room also has a copy of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, another Cambridge graduate, and Tom Sharpe’s university satire Porterhouse Blue.

There was a huge bed and two large televisions with computer access, enhanced by the hotel’s fast wi-fi. The room also included a wardrobe, fridge, kettle, Krups coffee machine, tea and coffee, and the hotel’s bespoke china crockery. The bathroom was pure indulgent elegance with its gleaming white tiles and brass fittings, twin washbasins with huge mirror, a walk-in shower and standalone bath mounted on gilded eagle claw-like feet. Heaven, especially when combined with the D.R. Harris & Co toiletries and fluffy white towels and bathrobe.

The bookish theme continues in the hotel’s Library lounge and the large comfortable Parker’s Tavern bar stocked with a huge array of fine wines and spirits. The drinks menu includes such signature cocktails as The Beetle Collector, a Darwin-dedicated concoction involving quality tequila and gin with chilli liqueur, pink grapefruit, lime, sugar and Parker’s Tavern pale ale. The Parker’s Tavern restaurant in style suggests a college dining room though you will be pleased to know there is no sitting on benches under the beady eye of Dons sat at the top table. At the helm is chef director Tristan Welch, so perhaps no surprise that it has been nominated as Cambridge Restaurant of the Year 2019. Welch trained under Gary Rhodes, Michel Roux Jr and Gordon Ramsay, taking on the role as head chef at Ramsay’s prestigious Petrus at The Berkeley, which was awarded two Michelin stars in 2007. He then ran his own restaurant, Launceston Place, before heading to the Caribbean to cook for royals and A-list celebrities in Mustique.

The chef has returned home to Cambridge and presents a contemporary take on classic British dishes using, where possible, ingredients from East Anglia. The Honey and Thyme Slow Roasted Norfolk Duck was divine and do try a Duke of Cambridge Tart, candied citrus and brown sugar reduced to a delicious liquorice goo in buttery pastry.

In short, the University Arms, part of the Marriott hotels Autograph Collection, is a combination of classic British style and quality service. With prices starting from £143 per night, it is perhaps for a special occasion, but you can rest assured that it is special.

For further details see or call 1223 606066, look at their social media Twitter @University_Arms or Facebook/universityarms1834 or Instagram @University_Arms.