BACKSTORY: The 48-room Varsity Hotel & Spa was launched in August 2010 by two Cambridge grads who reportedly came up with the idea over a cup of coffee. Since then, it has established itself as the city’s must-flop property, attracting the likes of Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz and (we are told) “the families of royal households.”
DESIGN NOTES: The hotel and spa, along with the River Bar Steakhouse & Grill, is located in a wonderfully preserved 17th-century glassworks, with bare brick walls and windows looking out on the River Cam. The overall décor, while unabashedly minimal, has its quirkier moments: elaborate swishes of wallpaper and glib reproductions of classic portraits. There are also works of local art throughout, which are for sale by the artists.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND JUST OUTSIDE: One of the highest concentrations of brainpower in the British Isles, along with the grand architecture that accommodates it: King’s College, which dates back to the 1440s, and Trinity, founded a century later. A few steps from the hotel’s rear there’s an operation offering boat tours along the Cam, providing a duck’s-eye view of the city’s ceremonial splendor.
BEST PLACE TO HANG OUT: The Varsity’s suites and premium rooms boast floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies, but it’s the roof terrace that offers the most commanding views of the surrounding spires, cupolas and sundry medieval indulgences. The terrace bar has become a hugely popular local hangout, and at sundown you’ll find yourself surrounded by people almost as lovely as the landscape.