Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th June 2007.
Cambridge is one of Britain's most anomalous places. Its serene heartland - the chain of colleges along the Cam from St John's to St Catherine's (great buildings, grand spaces) - is bolted, against every logic of town planning, on to a small, cramped medieval market town with an infuriating one-way system. It's one of the most-visited places in the country, yet it has never contained a hotel of note, unless you count the Garden House, whose most distinguishing feature is still that it was trashed in 1970 by undergraduates protesting against the Greek junta.
Cambridge is one of the most poular cities in the UK for tourists, but has 'no hotels to note'
So, if you want to stay in Cambridge, as we did for a wedding, you are bound to take notice of the city's "first contemporary hotel"..."with 52 luxuriously simple bedrooms", as the Felix describes itself.
But serene heartland? More like one of the city's satellite science parks. The approach to the Felix on the busy A1061, three miles from the city centre and surrounded by suburban housing and featureless playing fields, was the first disappointment, and the spacious car park only added to the feeling that we were arriving at a laboratory or a company headquarters.
The hotel's core is a 1852 mansion, built for a surgeon, with modern extensions spreading around it. As we walked down anonymous corridors and up steel-railed staircases to our rooms, the four of us debated what it most reminded us of: "posh open prison"..."modern art gallery"..."Copenhagen airport".
Our rooms, handsome and well-equipped enough but functional and heartless, did not dispel the feeling, with their obligatory dark mushroom walls, black and brown contemporary wooden furniture, steel fittings, acres of crisp white cotton on wide and comfortable bed, practical bathroom (with excellent power shower and White Company products).
Back in the main building, the bar, dining room and a small, awkwardly shaped sitting room, the last with the feel of a waiting room, create the tepid heart of the hotel. On Sunday morning, with light pouring in through large windows, we breakfasted with our friends Hallam and Lal and discussed the heartwarming events of the day before.
Breakfast was good (including four types of leaf tea) but the atmosphere in the packed room felt transient and not very soothing; in one corner a waiter was noisily chucking cutlery into a box. Later we drove into Cambridge (too far to walk) and spent an exhaustive morning being shown every last one of my husband's old undergraduate haunts, including - how people change - Garden House, where he had merrily rioted all those years ago. The Backs have a timeless beauty, but still, as we dutifully followed in his wake, the prospect of lunch back at the "airport" became an appealing one.
And appealing it was too. Suddenly, after all those old buildings, the clean modernity of the hotel's Graffiti restaurant made a pleasant contrast. And the food, served by charming Italians, was not only delicious, but at £12.50, a bargain.
Cambridge is no longer a hotel desert. There's the Felix, and from this month, there's also the latest branch of Hotel du Vin, which could be a problem for the Felix.
Whitehouse Lane, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge (01223 277977; www.hotelfelix.co.uk).
Doubles from £175 per night, including breakfast.