With over 25 annual international events, the charming town of Cheltenham in the Cotswolds is a city of festivals; an ideal destination all year round. And while Bath is probably best known for its 18th-century architecture, Cheltenham is actually known as the Regency’s fullest town. It was the first choice for 18th century holidays thanks to Henry Skillicorne who unearthed its beneficent thermal waters. Today, Cheltenham is a less traveled but equally satisfying city break option as Bath or Oxford.
Annual festivals include the oldest literary festival in the world, the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the Cheltenham Music Festival, the Jazz and Science Festivals. And of course, the Cheltenham Festival, the most prestigious show jumping event of the year, with the legendary Gold Cup in the grand finale.
Where to stay
No. 131, on the Town’s Grand Promenade, is one of Cheltenham’s top hotels for good reason. Traditional Georgian architecture meets eclectic modern design, with a lively restaurant and bar. And the location is superb. No.131 is just opposite a lovely park and very close to Montpellier’s historic district, Cheltenham, with its lovely shops, bars and cafes.
Original details, period bathrooms, antiques and thoughtful modern touches are featured in each of the boutique hotel’s 36 guest rooms. Bold prints, original artwork, plus Bramley and Acqua di Parma toiletries are added attractions. Partner hotel # 38 The Park is another great accommodation choice, especially if you plan to visit the famous racecourse nearby. Also a Georgian town hotel, No. 38 is equally well appointed, with 13 individually designed rooms, each with its own quirky touches.
Where to eat, drink and shop
Cheltenham is full of excellent restaurants, cafes and bars, including Michelin-starred David Everitt Matthias’ Le Champignon Sauvage, bustling # 131 and an outpost of The Ivy. No 131, clearly one of the city’s most popular restaurants, is open all day. Monday evenings are like a Saturday night in the large restaurant which currently spans the covered outdoor patio in front of the hotel. The Japanese-influenced menu includes well-executed dishes like tempura soft shell crab, a superb sashimi platter, and a plentiful poke bowl topped with miso salmon or teriyaki chicken. Before or after dinner, have a cocktail at the hotel’s outdoor Gin and Juice bar where you’ll find a fun atmosphere and great music. This lively bar offers over 350 gins and a creative range of cocktails.
Victoria’s, in the Queen’s Hotel, is a great choice for lunch or afternoon tea. The Queens Hotel has been a hotel since 1838 and was named in honor of Queen Victoria whose coronation fell that same year. The large, bright dining room and outdoor terrace provide the perfect setting for a decadent lunch or dinner. Victoria’s showcases the best of British cuisine, sourcing only the highest quality ingredients from artisan producers and local farms. Expect classic dishes like kiev chicken, hake and fries or lamb pie, all carefully prepared and beautifully presented. Desserts are also a delight, including iconic British fare, molasses pie and the glory of the knickerbocker.
Cheltenham has five main shopping areas: The Promenade, Montpellier, The Suffolks, Tivoli and Bath Road with many shops housed in beautiful Regency buildings. The new Holland Cooper clothing store, which opened last month, offers a wide range of British-made bespoke jackets, coats, equestrian clothing and more.
The Suffolks, a pretty street with a cafe and a second-hand designer clothes shop, is also worth a visit. L’Orangerie, an antique shop that offers a wide range of vintage items, including a pretty chest hand-painted by local artist Zoe Carter.