I've just come back from a weekend in Cambridge. There, you don't hear that very often, do you. Bath, Oxford, York, yes. But Cambridge? Well, why not? It has much to recommend it: the elegant architecture of the university colleges, ancient and modern; the gentle landscape of the "Backs", where picnickers sit on the grassy banks of the river Cam watching the punts float by; and a compact heart of pedestrianised streets that encourages strolling at window-shopping pace.
I suspect Cambridge might have itself to blame. It doesn't seem to want to shout about its assets. Just log on to visitcambridge. org and you'll see what I mean. Yet, it's well connected to London and the Midlands and offers city amenities with easy access to rural pastures.
Surely one of the city's problems has been the lack of anywhere tempting to stay. Then Hotel Felix opened its doors a couple of years ago, putting the little city on the boutique hotel circuit with its minimalist styling, destination restaurant and access to a Conran-designed spa.
Centring on a Victorian mansion, with modern wings accommodating most of the bedrooms, the hotel is a curious architectural mix. From some angles it looks like a modern university building and inside there is an air of "institution" in its ramped corridors and around the reception counter. But step into its Victorian heart and the atmosphere is more intimate. It's a shame that this isn't the part of the building guests first encounter (the car park sits at the end of one of those modern wings), especially the lovely façade with a terrace overlooking the garden.
Just outside the city centre, off Huntingdon Road.
The comfort factor
Bedrooms come in five styles - Felix, Classic, Premier, Junior Suites and the Penthouse - spread across the original Victorian house and the modern wings. They offer generous square footage, big beds dressed in soft white linen and ample desk space. The style is minimalist but not sparse, though the colour palette is heavy on the browns, which contrasted with the predominantly white walls makes the place look plain rather than warm. Hi-tech goodies include CD player, satellite TV, pay movies, internet connections and Wi-Fi.
The tasteful slate-lined bathrooms have baths and, in some, monsoon showers. Toiletries are by The White Company.
The food and drink
Graffiti is a contemporary restaurant serving British cooking with a Mediterranean influence. Its gourmet menu is not shy of describing dishes in the kind of detail that reveals ingredients you'd be advised to store in your memory lest you receive the call from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. (Just what is sumac, or, indeed, zander?) It's solid fare with enough frills to reassure diners that they are being spoiled: baked Dover sole is accompanied by mushroom duxelle and parsley snails; risotto piperade comes with deep-fried quail's egg and air-dried vegetables. Lunch from £12.50 per head. About £35 per head for dinner without wine.
Business traffic during week (hence all that desk space in the bedrooms), lots of parents visiting their bright kids at the university, weekending couples.
All the delights mentioned above. Plus, guests receive complimentary passes to The Glassworks Health Club and Aveda Hair and Beauty Spa in the city centre.
Wheelchair access throughout. Four modified rooms available for guests with disabilities. Children and small pets welcome.
Nightly rates from £168 for a Felix King to £275 for the Penthouse, including continental breakfast, parking and taxes. Two-night breaks from £250 to £515 per room, including the above plus £30 per person towards dinner in Graffiti. Book four days in advance for discounted rooms from £99 per night. If you book online you will receive a 5 per cent discount.
Hotel Felix, Whitehouse Lane, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0LX (01223 277977; hotelfelix.co.uk).
LIKED THAT? TRY THESE:
* Give Reading a second look. Make the boutique Forbury Hotel (08000 789 789; theforburyhotel. co.uk) your base for exploring the city
* How about a weekend in Exeter? The trendy place to stay is the Alias Barcelona (01392 281000; aliashotels.com)