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Inverted snob finds Cambridge an education

PUBLISHED: 15:23 11 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:23 11 October 2019

The Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge                 Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

The Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

Photographer: Paul Winch-Furness

It's not easy to shake off inverted snobbery.

The Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge                 Photo: Paul Winch-FurnessThe Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

Years of bitterness creates a colourful cocktail of loathing, envy and spite - all aimed at the nebulous target of "posh" people.

Cambridge is a place that can bring all of that to the boil, evoking thoughts of boaters, punting, privilege, the oh-so-smug Footlights, silver spoons, colleges and David Starkey.

Goodbye to all that, though (if only Robert Graves had graduated from Cambridge, not Oxford) - for we are in an age when it should be ok to be anything you choose to be, even posh.

So, leaving my shoulder-chips at home, my partner and I headed to this historical city to complete my re-education.

The Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge                 Photo: Paul Winch-FurnessThe Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

It is a place that is notoriously a bit of a pain in the derriere for drivers: narrow streets rammed with cars, buses and millions - nay, billions - of cyclists. There's no way I'd be able to drive for long without collecting a couple of pedallers on my bonnet.

Time for a welcome newsflash: you don't need to take a car. In fact, you'd be a fool to do so.

There are direct trains from Norwich to Cambridge, taking just over an hour. And often they are the new carriages, which are most pleasant.

Once there, it's maybe a 15-minute walk to the city centre - including our superb hotel.

The Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge                 Photo: Paul Winch-FurnessThe Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

The Varsity Hotel and Spa is about as well-placed as it is possible to be without being on the Trinity College lawn. A left turn out of the front entrance and a 50m walk, and you're beside the Cam and in the hubbub of the punt operators, having a punt at getting people on the water.

No thanks - I've seen too many comedy punting incidents to put myself at risk.

Back to the hotel, my first recommendation is to not get lift unless you have to. For the walls of the corridors and staircases are adorned with quirky and colourful artworks that give the hotel real character. Allow extra time for the journey.

The sixth floor is a spectacular bar and restaurant with 360-degree views of the spires, towers and terraces of Cambridge. We enjoyed a cocktail and a stare.

The Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge        Photo: Paul Winch-FurnessThe Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

Another flight of stairs takes you to a large roof terrace with a bar - great for city centre sun-soaking away from cyclists and groups of tourists.

Our room had a four-poster - and very comfortable - bed. I need not go on, for I'm easily dazzled by anything that levels up from a bunk bed or a sleeping bag.

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For the sake of detail, I should also mention the two showers, the bath, a huge wooden wardrobe, a TV with plenty of channels, a mini bar, an ironing board and iron, and a large sofa and coffee table at the foot of the bed (it is an ambition of my partner to have enough room for a sofa at the foot of the bed - the definition of having arrived).

Steven Downes and his partner at the Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge   Photo: Steven DownesSteven Downes and his partner at the Varsity Hotel and Spa, Cambridge Photo: Steven Downes

An excellent continental breakfast is included in the price of all rooms, and there is enough bread, meat, yoghurt, fruit, cheese, cold meat, granola, fruit juice, coffee and tea to fuel you for a day of tourism.

For, though the professors and undergraduates may sniff, Cambridge is essentially a piece of living history - live tourism, with the past in the present and the characters still on stage.

Every street has a story, every building a secret: the place where the Cambridge Spies plotted; the pub where Francis Crick proclaimed his discovery of DNA; Parker's Piece, where the rules of football were drawn up. It just goes on and on.

There are also numerous free museums and other attractions.

The Fitzwilliam Museum was recently voted the best free attraction in East Anglia (deservedly so), while the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum and Library has got to be cool.

But our favourite place during our trip was the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, featuring a mind-boggling array of artefacts from down the ages and around the world. Stunning - and stunningly free.

With at least 15 more free places to visit and so much history to digest, I'll be getting the train to Cambridge again soon, if only because I don't feel I've begun to do it justice.

FACTFILE

■ All room bookings include: wifi; DVD library; continental breakfast; gym membership and classes; tablets with magazines and newspapers; complimentary hotel bicycles; sauna, steam room and spa pool, roof terrace priority access

■ The hotel has a deal with Let's Go Punting, offering discounted tickets for guests

■ Valet parking, which does not have to be pre-booked, costs £21.50 per night, per car

■ Check-in 3.30pm, check-out 11.30am

■ Contact on 01223 306030 or email info@thevarsityhotel.co.uk

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