What is it? The Varsity Hotel is a boutique riverside property right in the centre of Cambridge, a five-minute pedal or punt from the heart of the British university city and 40 minutes from London by train.
Shall we start with drinks in the lobby? The reception area is compact and feels crowded at busy times but space is at a premium in England’s fastest growing city. Besides, you haven’t come to Cambridge to lounge in the lobby. Let the bowler-hatted doorman take your bags and valet park your car while you race up to the sixth floor.
Whoa, what’s the hurry? Six Restaurant (above), the recently opened all-day eatery, that’s what. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide commanding views of spires, colleges and the River Cam. Tuck into an avant-garde kimchi, blue cheese and chives pizza or opt for the free-range spit-roasted chicken with mustard mash. G&T connoisseurs may drool over a menu featuring 30 gins paired with eight tonics. If you’re still steady on your feet, wander up to the open-air roof garden (below) and enjoy a sightseeing tour without leaving the comfort of your wicker chair.
And if I want to work off my meal? Cambridge is geared up for two-wheeled transport, so rent a bike on nearby Park Street. Cycle lanes are almost as wide as the roads but that doesn’t stop students attempting to knock down the odd dawdling tourist. Next head to The Backs, a scenic stretch of green space where several colleges back on to the River Cam. Hire a punt and steer your way serenely past the Wren Library at Trinity College, the King’s College Chapel and the Bridge of Sighs. Don’t expect to have the gorgeous waterway to yourself, though.
Is Cambridge a hit with Chinese visitors? The city is a must-see for mainland tourists, who whiz around the sights in matching Cambridge University sweatshirts, and proud parents attending college open days with their high-achieving offspring in tow. Poetry pilgrims gravitate to a granite stone that commemorates an evocative farewell-to-Cambridge poem written by Chinese scholar Xu Zhimo, who attended King’s College in the 1920s. Then there are punters of a different kind. Estate agents Savills estimate that in the past year, 5 per cent of new-build homes in the city and surrounding villages have been snapped up by Chinese buyers.
Enough pedalling and punting, my energy levels are dipping. Well, then, moor up outside the Varsity’s Elemis Spa and take your pick from a range of rejuvenating therapies that will recharge batteries and balance body and mind. There’s a sauna and steam room and jacuzzi overlooking the river. Membership to the health club and spa is complimentary for hotel guests.
Can I see my room now? Why not? The 48 individually designed rooms and suites are named after Cambridge colleges and come with Nespresso machines, iPod docking stations, underfloor heating and monsoon wet rooms. There are floor-to-ceiling windows in most rooms making it “a crime against viewpoints not to go as high up the hotel as possible”, according to boutique hotel directory Mr & Mrs Smith, through which this reviewer’s stay was organised.
What’s the bottom line? Rates start from HK$1,300 a night. For more information, visit Mr & Mrs Smith.