University Arms

by Nathan Rollinson

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It’s always so nice to come back to Cambridge and get a chance to see my family who live close by. I spent a lot of time here during my childhood, for example, my christening, primary school, family gatherings and practising punting on the river in my late teens – where I did actually beat my Dad! It was also a regular treat for me to go to an adorable tea shop with my grandparents when I was a kid, so eager to eat a big, big cream cake, digging my little fingers in to whip the cream out, while they patiently put the serviette on my lap. Cambridge has always been a treasure and brings back fondest memories.



Recently, I have heard about a new happening in Cambridge, which has attracted my attention. The oldest hotel in Cambridge has undergone a huge refurbishment after a two-year closure and a £80 million injection – the rebuilt hotel has just re-opened in August 2018. I did wonder how come I had never heard of this hotel before, this is the opportunity to find out more about The University Arms, a grand hotel of all in Cambridge. I can easily remember my way to Cambridge from the train station – only about 15 minutes’ walk or 5 minutes by taxi to the hotel. My friend Victoria urged me try the bus for a change, a different fun way to travel, allowing you a completely different perspective of the city. The hotel stands a little way from the historic centre, overlooking Parker’s Piece with its main entrance on Regent Street. John Simpson has created a handsome porte-cochère, a coach gate or carriage porch, that now heralds the hotel and graciously invites overnight guests and locals through one of three handsome front doors. A dashing porter guy collects this sophisticated Away suitcase in forest green and ushers us inside this immaculate Georgian styled lobby covered in almost sage-like green tones with antique gold accents. It already feels truly luxurious without having to look further!



Once I have settled in, I always like to wander around the property and take in my surroundings and each hotel’s unique atmosphere. On this occasion, I have opted for a cup of English Breakfast tea in The Library to relax and to do just that. A masterpiece interior designer, Martin Brudnizki’s aim when designing this new £80 million hotel has been to echo the famous colleges of Cambridge University in both learning and looks. The Library has a brilliant collection of browse-able books, curated by Hayward Hill, on its shelves, the wall covered in an antique dark wood panelled, along with numerous of colourful accents of chairs and there is a historic fireplace which has also been restored.



The style of the interior has blended throughout the whole property, including the dining room, bar, bedrooms and the ballroom, which leaves a very whimsical look. I take a walk down the long corridor that still gives off a slight, but not unpleasant, the whiff of fresh paint on the walls and my feet enjoy the newness of a carpet that has hardly been walked on. Brudnizki hits his stride in the bedrooms, painted in specially mixed shades of Cambridge blue depending on the natural light. The room has a suitably studious, eclectic feel, with books and learning to the fore. There are specially made retro desks and bookshelves, an artistic array of flowers by Anna Taylor Florist, absorbing pictures and posters hanging on chains from picture rails and hardbacks to add a touch of old-school charm with a private terrace overlooking Parker’s Piece. The tale of Wind in the Willows, Hillaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales and a Tom Sharpe novel is supplied in each room, while the 12 suites have Hayward Hill curated libraries built around the Cambridge-associated characters after which they are named. The Hawking Suite is the largest, with a sweep of windows.



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Now, I have to say that this is one of the most picturesque bathrooms I have ever seen. There is a  white tiled wall with Cambridge blue paint contrasting with black and white floors, gold accessories made by Lefroy Brooks and a claw-foot bath bringing the most luxurious touch to the turret-style room with views over Parker’s Piece. Offering a rare opportunity of watching the world go by as you sink into a hot bath and unwind with some premium British accessories by Dr.Harris of London such as shower gel, bath salt and more.



Time for some exploring around the city, but before I go ahead with the itinerary… Cambridge has many universities for you to visit and explore – and of course pretend to be an academic for the day, just like I did. Cambridge is a city on the River Cam in eastern England, home to the prestigious University of Cambridge, dating back to 1209. University colleges include King’s, famed for its choir and towering Gothic chapel, as well as Trinity, founded by Henry VIII, and St John’s, with its 16th-century Great Gate. University museums have exhibits on archaeology and anthropology, polar exploration, the history of science and zoology. University Arms have their own personalised Dutch bicycles and make a great way of seeing Cambridge, undergraduate style.



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There’s something for everyone when it comes to entertainment in Cambridge. A choice of galleries showcases an impressive range of art, from the contemporary to the classic, plus a buzzing theatre and performance scene presenting drama, dance and family shows. You can go punting on the River Cam, enjoy a picnic in the park, join a walking tour of the city or explore further afield from the seat of a bicycle, following the excellent network of cycle paths in and around the city. A 20-minute stroll will take you to the colleges and market square, the glorious Cambridge University Botanical Gardens sitting further along the road with the Fitzwilliam Museum nearby, and a leafy route along the River Cam brings you into the heart of town. There are so many things to do in Cambridge if you are staying overnight or even longer. The ultimate bucket list for Cambridge tourists includes King’s College, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and Wandlebury Country Park.









Fitzwilliam Museum

Recently voted the East of England’s most popular free attraction, you can visit this spectacular building and see the more than half a million artworks in its collection – for nothing! The Trumpington Street museum contains some remarkable collections from the ancient world.

The Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RB









Cambridge University Botanic Garden

 More than 8,000 different plant species are displayed in 40 acres of beautiful landscape in the city centre. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic or a stroll and the attraction includes a lake, glasshouses, chronological bed, rock gardens and a collection of mature trees. It’s only a short walk from the station and the city centre.

Cambridge University Botanic Garden, 1 Brookside, Cambridge CB2 1JE









Cambridge University Colleges

 There are more than 30 colleges in Cambridge so if you want to learn more about the university, or see beautiful architecture, then you have plenty to choose from. Each college has a different policy on admitting members of the public so check out the list of Cambridge University college opening times and which ones let you in for free. Double check individual college entry details on their websites as the rules can change. Or you can book an Official Guided Walking Tour of Cambridge that will show you several colleges.











The Chelsea Buns at Fitzbillies are world famous. If you haven’t tried these sticky treats then you’re seriously missing out. Fitzbillies also offers dinner service, a full menu of tasty dishes and other amazing cakes. It’s one of my favourite places to eat out or simply call in just for coffee and watch the world go by.

Fitzbillies is on Bridge Street and Trumpington Street, Cambridge.











River Cam Punting

It’s not always easy to get around the city centre when it’s packed with crowds.

One of the nicest ways to see the sights is by the punt. Whether you get a tour or self-punt, you can see the beautiful backs from the river.  If punting is not your thing, you could try one of the many boat tours near the Plough pub or you could opt for a canoe to Grantchester.

You can pre-book a punt, or just grab one in town at the Boatyard, Granta Place or Quayside, Magdelene Street.







The Eagle Pub

If you fancy a short break and a pint, or a glass of prosecco during your sightseeing, then the Eagle is the one for you. Interesting fact: this was the place where Francis Crick announced that he and James Watson had discovered DNA (and they were right!)

The large old pub also has an RAF bar with the graffiti of Second World War airmen covering the ceiling and walls – so much fascinating history within its walls and they do serve delicious, hearty British foods.

The Eagle, 9 Benet Street, Cambridge CB2 3QN











If you fancy a walk in the countryside, then Grantchester village is only a mile or so away from the city centre. The meadows are a perfect place for a lazy Sunday walk. And if you fancy a bite to eat, there’s a good selection of pubs to choose from, such as The Red Lion or The Rupert Brooke. If it’s a sunny day, Orchard Tea Gardens is well worth a visit as it’s one of the nicest places to enjoy afternoon tea in the city.












King’s College Chapel

The chapel is a very popular tourist spot and one of the most recognisable buildings in Cambridge. The English Gothic structure was built between 1446 and 1515. A trip to the historic building is well worth the admission fee and it’s truly awesome with its beautiful interior and its many tinted glass windows.

King’s College Chapel, King’s Parade, Cambridge CB2 1ST




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After a long day exploring, there are still a few more hidden gems tucked away – a good reason to come back again soon. Arriving back at this idyllic hotel when the sky is painted with perfect pastel hues, illuminating pink, orange and baby blue, I reflect again that this is one of my favourite times of the day. While the sky is still beautiful, it’s time to change into evening attire, popping open a bottle of Gusbourne champagne and to celebrate my wonderful day in Cambridge and the opening of University Arms.



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At the beginning of the day, the bar area is filled with all its tea and coffee clientele, whereas now, it is suddenly totally transformed into a cool, sophisticated cocktail and champagne venue. The lights are dimmed, tea light candles flicker on the table and it is buzzing with best-dressed people; it’s as if the fanciest London hot spot has been transported to Cambridge – a wonderful sight to see with a glorious view of Parker’s Piece ground. The dining room continues with the interior theme; Parker’s Tavern is Brudnizki’s clever and charming evocation of a college dining hall, graced by an equally clever and charming menu, from talented chef Tristan Welch. The choice of menu brings a quirky list of British dishes, filling me with anticipation and eagerness to sample it for myself.



The most delicious risotto I have ever tasted comes with truffle and Berkswell cheese, and it’s heavenly. No matter how filling it can be, I could so easily ask for a second helping, honestly! We move on to the main course and I order roast suckling pig while my colleague has Denham Castle Lamb paired with a matching wine. These two dishes have given us the most mind-blowing dinner experience we have had in ages. But what about dessert? Do we have any more room for it? Oh, sure, why not! We are given a three-tier cake stand covered with all different assortments, including the one I especially have my eye on – the Sir Isaac Newton’s Apple cake. The story goes that Newton’s theory of gravity took shape when an apple fell on his head as he walked through the grounds of Trinity College. Scholars have debated the accuracy of this account, but both Trinity College and the Cambridge Botanic Gardens claim to have descendants of the original apple tree that inspired Newton. This fruity treat in the scientist’s honour is a glazed apple mousse with a centre of compote. I hope (in vain) that I might have the mind like that of Sir Isaac Newton one day.



So it’s time to return to the bedroom with visions of just how comfy the bed will be after a long day of exploring and eating. When the light goes out, I ask myself if we can do this all over again tomorrow? University Arms has it all and gives me a perfect reason to come back to the town of my childhood with my family next time. Now it’s your turn to experience it all.


Photos by Victoria Metaxas 

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