On a sleepy, hazy July day by the River Cam, expending energy on matters scientific and academic should be far off the agenda - better instead to enjoy the sun or a spot of punting. But great luminaries must surely have swapped lounging in the warmth for the confines of the library, as Cambridge’s claims to historical fame are stronger than most.
Its university can be dated back to the 1200s, and over the centuries its halls have been the scene of the discovery of DNA and the splitting of the atom, no less. Naturally, in a very English way Cambridge wears all this lightly - and besides, its stunning college buildings, attractive streets and bustling atmosphere are a winning combination for a short summer break.
From South Yorkshire, Cambridge is a two-hour drive down the A1, and our hotel, the four-star Hotel Felix, was pleasingly easy to find. It’s an independently-owned venture, run in an extended Victorian villa built in 1852. The Felix is restful and spacious - too large to fit its claim to be a ‘boutique’ hotel, but the owners have put their own stamp on the place by displaying interesting artworks on the walls.
Room sizes range from standard to penthouse, and our superior room was more than adequate - massive bed, luxury bathroom and the rest.
The hotel is a five minute drive or taxi ride away from the city centre, which equates to a 25-minute walk - a little far, admittedly, but guests could always bring or hire a bike and join the hordes of local cyclists.
After a pleasant pint at The Mill, which overlooks the Cam, we returned for dinner in the Felix’s own restaurant, Graffiti, which offers classic dishes with a contemporary twist.
The number of other tables occupied showed it was popular with non-residents.
Pan-fried scallops hit the mark perfectly as a starter, tempura squid to a lesser extent, but among the main courses the rib-eye steaks are excellent and tender lamb shoulder is served with a stickily sweet, fruity sauce.
Desserts are superb too - the cappuccino cheesecake veered towards tiramisu, which is no bad thing - and the staff are well-prepared to offer recommendations from the thoughtfully-composed wine list.
The Felix has teamed up with Cambridge punting firm Scudamore’s for a special package giving guests the chance to take guided tours of the college ‘backs’ - the best way to see King’s, Caius and the rest. So the next day, after a delicious breakfast on the hotel’s outdoor terrace, we boarded a punt for an informative 45-minute trip, past the alma maters of Steven Hawking and Charles Darwin, beside the manicured lawns and under the delightful stone bridges.
We had it on good authority that no visit to Cambridge was complete without calling in to the Fitzbillies cafe and cake shop, saved from closure four years ago and renowned for its Chelsea buns.
Our initial scepticism - they’re normally solid but unspectacular teatime confections - was overcome once we actually sampled the justifiably lauded buns, which were large, almost pastry-like and positively soaked in moreish cinnamon syrup.
The only regret as we headed home was not buying more... or bribing the baker for the recipe.
Hotel Felix in Cambridge’s ‘Messing about on the River’ package costs from £160 per room/£80 pp – based on two sharing – including a punting tour, full English breakfast, three-course dinner, parking and WiFi. Valid for stays from July 24 to September 6. Call 01223 277 977 or visit www.hotelfelix.co.uk to book.