Head back to school with a charming weekend in Cambridge

This Annabel’s inspired hotel gets a first for honouring Cambridge’s historic past

A city steeped in formidable history, both the impressive heritage and picturesque 16th century architecture of Cambridge has long attracted both scholars and tourists alike. 

Famous for the great minds that shaped its legacy, Cambridge is an obvious choice for an intellectual excursion, but thanks to its quaint pubs, bijoux bars, and an emergence of luxury, style-led hotels, it is fast becoming the destination du jour for those seeking a relaxing weekend away. 

Arriving in the city on a sunny afternoon, we made our way to the magnificent University Arms on Regent Street. Having recently undergone an £80 million makeover at the hands of architect John Simpson, the oldest hotel in Cambridge expertly combines the classic, collegiate style of its high-brow schooling with lashings of modern luxury.

With interiors designed by Martin Brudniski, the visionary behind the new iteration of Annabel’s (which houses what is probably the most Instagrammed public bathroom of 2019), the decor of University Arms is thoughtfully reimagined, with eccentric charm and clever nods to the city’s cultural roots. >>

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The generous suites here are a bibliophile’s paradise – the bookcases are lined with a variety of contemporary literature and classics to choose from, curated by Mayfair’s Heywood Hill specifically around the person after whom the suite was named. We had the pleasure of staying in the luxurious Hawking suite – in honour of one of the University’s most notable alumni, Professor Stephen Hawking – which contained many of his prized works as well as considered details of his passions and genius throughout. 

There is so much to immerse yourself in here so, understandably, it is difficult to know where to start in Cambridge. Thinking it best to line our stomachs before getting lost in the heart of the city, we opted for the hotel’s highly recommended Afternoon Tea, served in its restaurant, Parker’s Tavern.

A former coaching inn, the restaurant takes its name from adjacent Parker’s Piece, a large stretch of land widely regarded as the birthplace of the rules of modern football. The menu of this quintessentially British brasserie has been designed by Tristan Welch, who trained under heavyweights such as Gary Rhodes, Michel Roux Jnr and Gordon Ramsay. 

Our Afternoon Tea is served in the Library, along with a crisp glass of Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Réserve Champagne, with a wide choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate to choose from. Each item is as delicious as the last; savoury offerings include crayfish pastry boats, hot sausage rolls stuffed with rich pork shoulder sausage meat from Musks of Newmarket, and a trio of sandwiches, while sweets include Plum Pudding Scones with caramelised apple butter, Sir Isaac Newton’s Apple, Duke of Cambridge Tart, and Parker’s Football Truffles, crafted from dark chocolate into the shape of a football. 

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Full to the brim, we make our way to the River Cam for a spot of punting, arguably the best (and most relaxing) way to see the city’s envious architecture. We booked a tour with Cambridge Punters, and our witty and knowledgeable guide ensured it was both a pleasant and enlightening trip – however, despite hearing an informative and interesting overview of Cambridge’s history, I have to admit that my favourite anecdote was about an aggressive Swan who was evicted from the River Cam and ordered to be moved 60 miles away after he capsized many a rower. 

For dinner that evening, we headed to the riverside restaurant, SIX brasserie. Boasting unrivalled 360 views of the city, and situated in another of Cambridge’s newest hotels, The Varsity Hotel and Spa, this spot is one of the best places to eat. With generous starters to choose from, such as Burrata with Tomato Caponata, Salt & Pepper Squid, and Pan Seared Scallops, and mains on offer from the wood stone oven or grill, the restaurant is perfect for upmarket casual dining. The wine menu offers something for every palate, and opting for a Fillet Steak and Chicken Milanese, we washed it down with a glass of Malbec and a glass of Sancerre, respectively.

Afterwards, you can head up to the rooftop bar to finish your drink, or choose something new from the extensive cocktail menu; gin lovers will relish in the dedicated G&T section, featuring 30 gins which have been carefully paired with one of nine different tonics.  

Returning to our hotel, we retired to a bed big enough to not cause any accusations of bed hogging, even when sharing with the most unapologetic of starfishes, but not before I took a luxurious soak in the suite’s roll top bath, with a book in one hand and a glass of bubbly in the other. 

All things considered, Cambridge gets a first from me. 

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