It might just be us, but isn’t January a bit of a slog? The mornings are dark, the jollity of the festive season has definitely waned and everything’s just a little bit flat. Unless one has a sunny holiday booked to look forward to, it’s a tough old month to claw the way through.
Thankfully there are gems like Cambridge’s University Arms to cocoon us from the harsh truths of winter. If you’re looking for a cosy, indulgent weekend escape, this might be the one.
Located in the historic heart of the city, the hotel reopened in 2018 after a serious facelift. Since opening in 1834 it’s been through several incarnations – we’ll gloss over the monstrosity that was the facade in the 60s – but architect John Simpson and interior designer Martin Brudnizki. Have remained faithful to original look and feel of the property, whilst bringing Martin’s signature English interiors; you’ll recognise his style if you’ve ever been to one of The Ivy restaurants.
The 192 rooms and suites are bedecked with bespoke leather-padded writing desks, low ottomans and tiered chandeliers in playful colours. Each of the suites, some of which occupy the top floor with balconies looking out over Parker’s Piece, have bookshelves individually curated around their subject by Mayfair’s Heywood Hill. Staying in the Darwin suite for the night, mine was resplendent with titles on nature, evolution and the British countryside, from huge coffee table Taschen tomes full of stunning botanical illustrations, to biographies from some of the world’s most eminent explorers.
It’s certainly cosy; our suite was home to an enormous velvet sofa, a little reading corner next to windows overlooking Cambridge’s famous green space Parker’s Piece and oh, the bed! King size, mountains of pillows, crisp white sheets. I bundled into it after a post-prandial bath, wrapped in the prerequisite fluffy robe, and was convinced I would never be able to get out again. The bathroom too is a stunner; underfloor heating, the most luxurious claw foot tub with its own pot of Dr Harris bath salts and his and hers sinks (the secret, my mother once told me, to a long and happy marriage).
The little details are what make locations like this next level spectacular; the branded chocolate left out in the room for an evening nibble, the tea mugs illustrated with a stunning line drawing of the property and the handmade box in which they rested, all in the hotel’s signature shade of almost Tiffany blue. Every little part of the room was beautiful.
Brudnizki’s signature style echoes throughout the whole hotel, not just in the rooms. The library features an original carved fireplace – the perfect spot for a morning coffee with the weekend papers – while original stained glass windows depicting scenes and crests Cambridge’s colleges can be found on each floor. Breakfast is served in Parker’s Tavern, designed to mimic a University dining room with its wooden tables and paintings depicting rowing scenes; a buffet affair with a serious selection of baked goods accompanied with all the usuals and a cooked and continental spread.
Ensure there’s time for you to enjoy dinner at Parker’s Tavern. Chef Tristan Welch has developed a menu of homely British classics, with some characterful reinterpretations. Having trained in Europe’s best kitchens alongside the likes of the late Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux Jnr, he returned home to Cambridge to cook the classics of his roots. He sources not just by what’s in season, but by what’s fresh each day, not just relying on local markets but on produce from farmers he knows by name.
My dinner was sublime. A slow-cooked truffled duck egg on toast with truffle mayo and sherry vinegar, followed by a delicate nut brown buttered sole with coastal herbs and brown shrimps and a Cambridge burnt cream for pudding. Divine.
So January doesn’t need to be that bad. Aside from the fact that Cambridge is a delightful city to explore for a weekend away, with hotels like University Arms to check in to, it’s a fairly easy decision to book yourself in.
Rooms from £164 per night.
University Arms is also offering a Valentine’s Package, available to book for the night of 14th February 2020. Rates from £335 based on two people sharing, including an overnight stay, a bottle of champagne and chocolates on arrival, a three course meal for two at Parker’s Tavern and late check-out.
For more information visit www.universityarms.com/valentines-day