Stephanie Holmes checks into the University Arms Hotel, Cambridge, England, a historic hotel gaining new acclaim.
I was visiting the UK to see family and friends and had been staying with my mum in Ely, close to Cambridge. We got the bus into the city — an easy journey from the park-and-ride station — then walked the less-than-10-minute journey from there to the elegant entrance of the University Arms Hotel.
If you're arriving in Cambridge by train, the hotel is less than 10 minutes' taxi from the station, or an easy, flat, 20-minute walk.
Location: This historic hotel is on the city-side edge of Parker's Piece, a 25-acre stretch of green space, once owned by Cambridge University's Trinity College, but gifted to the city in 1613.
Parker's Piece is a place of historic significance — in 1838 it was the site of a feast for 15,000 people to celebrate the coronation of Queen Victoria, and in the 1860s it's where the rules of soccer were established.
The hotel is close to Cambridge city centre, the university's colleges, and there are lots of cafes, bars and great shopping nearby.
History: Opened in 1834 as a 15-room coach inn, the University Arms was the first hotel in Cambridge. It was extended and modernised over the years — in 1891 it became Cambridge's first hotel to get electric lighting and in 1960 a new building was added to the front of the hotel. I remember it from when I lived in Cambridge years ago — it was a horrible, ugly concrete block.
Thanks to an £80 million, two-year complete refurbishment, it's now a stunning grand hotel. The new look is at the hands of architect John Simpson (who has worked on Buckingham and Kensington Palace, Eton College, Royal College of Music and University of Notre Dame) and interior designer Martin Brudnizki (Swedish born, New York and London based, who has designed Soho Beach House Miami, Scott's and The Ivy in London).
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The hotel reopened in August 2018 and since then has been getting a lot of love from media worldwide — it was named on Conde Nast Traveler's 2019 Hot List, and last month was included in Time magazine's 100 Greatest Places of 2019.
Check-in experience: Professional and helpful. Arriving early, our bags were stored for us, then delivered to the room when it was ready.
Room: Actually, a suite - one of 12 in the hotel (plus 180 rooms). The suites are all named after notable Cambridge figures. We were in Hawking, inspired by former Cambridge University student and professor Stephen Hawking.
The suite was huge, with a hallway leading to a huge living area, with a large bookcase in the middle to section off the bedroom. Also off the hallway was a dressing room, leading to an extra-large bathroom (see below).
The decor was beautiful — an Edwardian feel with modern touches, such as a pop-art print of Hawking next to the bed, and splashes of rich colour in the heavy, plush curtains, couches and cushions. The main colour throughout the hotel is "Cambridge Blue", the colour commonly used by sports teams from the University.
Books were everywhere, but not light, fluffy bedtime reading — we're talking A Brief History of Time and Special Relativity and Classical Field Theory by Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman, to name but a few.
Price: Suites start from £419 a night.
The bed: Mum and I shared, but I barely knew she was there, there was so much space.
View: Down to Parker's Piece, and all the Cambridge comings and goings — students, cyclists, cricket games. Ahhh, England.
Bathroom: Black-and-white-tiled floors and white-tiled walls, free-standing, claw-foot bathtub, huge shower, twin sinks — the perfect place for some extended pampering.
Toiletries: Were from D. R. Harris & Co — a brand established in 1790 in London's St James's, and which holds royal warrants as the oldest pharmacy in London.
Food and drink: Downstairs is Parker's Tavern, a tavern-style restaurant with executive chef Tristan Welch at the helm. He has worked under Gary Rhodes, Michel Roux Jr, and at the three Michelin-starred Paris vegetarian restaurant L'Arpege. We had an excellent three-course dinner and enjoyed a buffet-style breakfast the next morning. There's also a very welcoming bar, and a library where you can take afternoon tea.
Look out for:
In the toilets off the lobby, there is no piped music — instead you'll hear audiobook recordings of classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows.
Wi-Fi: Free, unlimited. Fast enough to stream Netflix to the in-room smart TV.
Noise: A little late-night revellery out on Parker's Piece, but with the windows closed we slept soundly.
Exercise facilities: The basement gym is designed to look like a 1930s locker room, but the equipment is state of the art.
The bottomline: A modern classic that retains and celebrates its grand history.