24-hour room service: The Varsity Hotel, Cambridge

As the seat of an ancient university, Cambridge is not an obviously welcoming place for modern style. Those dreaming spires and grizzled dons create an atmosphere more conducive to old-fashioned grandeur than cool comfort, a mood as manifest in the city’s hotels as anything else. Few are likely to have Philippe Starck quaking in his boots.

Into that mix (or lack of it) comes the Varsity Hotel, a boutique establishment that feels quite unlike anything else the city has to offer – without sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s in a new development on the bank of the Cam, a block originally intended for residential use that was repurposed as a hotel when its Cambridge-alumnus owner realised that the housing market wasn’t likely to bounce back any time soon. The results of that change of plan make it seem like a sensible decision.

If the entrance and lobby are slightly underwhelming, from the moment you get to your room it’s plain that a seductive, contemporary sensibility has been brought to bear on the design.

Still, the design isn’t the only thing to distinguish the Varsity. It benefits from a decent restaurant, The River Bar Steakhouse & Grill (about £50 for two excluding wine) and there’s also access to the hotel's luxurious spa, if you want to pamper yourself without leaving the premises.

Chief among the hotel’s selling points, though, is surely its extraordinary roof garden, offering a stunning panorama of the city. It’s a unique, exclusive-feeling vantage point of the beautiful town centre, and a fine way to get your bearings before striking out to get a closer look. It can get a bit windy, but it’s hard to think of a nicer place to drink a cocktail on a sunny afternoon – or, if you prefer, to take part in an early morning yoga class. Either activity might feel a little incongruous in Cambridge – but then that’s the point.

Location

Part of what you pay for at the Varsity is prime real estate. In a city centre festooned with colleges at the expense of almost everything else, and hotels in particular, it’s a rare privilege to sleep so close to the city’s main attractions. You’re a five-minute stroll from Trinity College and King’s Parade, and since the centre’s so compact just about everything is in easy walking distance. From the train station it’s a bus ride to the top of town, then a short walk, or you can get a taxi to the entrance in around 10 minutes. The only drawback is the rather unprepossessing entrance itself, perched on an anonymous side street in such a low-key fashion that you might easily walk past it.

Comfort

By and large, the accommodation is calm and spare, and it’s a lovely place to return to after a wander. It’s a shame, then, that there are a few surprising missteps – self-consciously fashionable wallpaper that wouldn't feel out of place in a Laurence Llewelyn Bowen TV makeover programme, for instance, or bubble-based lamps hampered by a similarly anxious sense of urgent style.

Like the hackneyed practice of naming the rooms after Oxbridge colleges, these make you feel the place isn’t quite as sophisticated as it would like you to think. The 48 rooms are listed in an equally cringeworthy series of academic levels, from the “Graduates” doubles at the bottom to the grandeur of the “Masters” penthouse suite. However, if you can stretch to one of the suites on the hotel’s higher floors, you’re in for a treat, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a vista nearly as spectacular as the one from the roof. The service was uniformly excellent – and what’s more there is free Wi-Fi, as well as Nintendo Wii consoles and iPads available for use if you ask for them. I told you this place was modern.

The Varsity Hotel, Thompson’s Lane, Cambridge, CB5 8AQ (01223 306 030; thevarsityhotel.co.uk)

Rooms 4 stars
Value 4 stars
Service 4 stars

Doubles from £139, including breakfast.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'