ITS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GEORGIAN TOWN IN BRITAIN
Cheltenham is one of the most beautiful, refined and elegant Georgian towns in Britain.
It made its name as a spa town after the famous spa waters were found by pigeons and the waters curative powers harnessed by enterprising Henry Skillicorne.
Later, a visit by King George III sealed its fate when he came to take the waters. From then on it became a favourite destination for the wealthy seeking an escape from the excesses and smog of London life.
But later when royalty began to favour the seaside destinations, the interest in Cheltenham declined it lost the patronage of the aristocracy and later it became a retirement place for colonels returning from India.
Cheltenham had rather a mothballed time after that but over the last decade its being brought into the 21st century and its reputation for dusty fusty festivals, faded palm court style hotels, past their sell by date tea shops, boring museums and tourist attractions has gone with a vengeance.
The town no longer only comes alive at the famous horse racing festival but has regenerated itself and become more than genteel gardens, stucco facades, fountains and tree lines boulevards.
It’s now home to new boutique hotels and exciting food experiences, independent fashion, antiques and lifestyle boutiques that sit alongside cafes and wine bars. Festivals have evolved from classical literature and music to a plethora of different festivals from music, cricket, cheese and chilli, beer, poetry and a paint festival.
The Cheltenham Paint Festival is really something, when the town is invaded by around 120 graffiti artists from all over the world who cover 70,000 sq. ft of the town in their fantastic artworks.
There are lots of different types of accommodation in Cheltenham and the surrounding area. Our hotel The Double Tree by Hilton was situated about a 20 minute drive out of town in a beautiful quiet area.
A former private residence the impressive foyer with its black and white marbled floor, pillars and chandeliers was most welcoming.
The views of its leafy lake were really something. The spacious bar had a large terrace ideal for cocktails or even morning coffee.
Our room overlooked the lake and was very comfortable and had everything you could want including high speed internet and usb charging points.
The hotel’s Spa had a superb pool with views of the garden from its floor to ceiling windows. There was also a jacuzzi, steam room and sauna and if in need of pampering a full range of treatments including spa days and breaks.
One of the best ways to explore the town is to take a walking tour with one of the Blue Badge Tourist Guides as parking in the town is very limited and the one way system is horrendous. The tours start at the Wilson Museum, which is also well worth a visit.
The museum is home to a variety of collections including the Designated Arts and Crafts Movement Collection. It’s also home to archives relating to Antarctic explorer Edward A Wilson. You can see his clothing and personal effects and even his last letter to his wife from the doomed 1912 Scott expedition in a special exhibition.
We met Ann our guide at the museum and soon were whisked around the town at a leisurely pace.
Ann explained everything to us so vividly we could almost see the aristocracy of days gone by parading down The Promenade, now a beautiful tree lined shopping street with colourful long gardens and Neptune’s Fountain, modelled on the Trevi fountain in Rome.
We learned so much in such a short time about the town and its fascinating history Ann really enhanced our visit and took us to some off the beaten track places and her knowledge of everything was simply amazing.
Cheltenham is home to 2,600 listed buildings so on a short visit its hard to take in everything. But do take a pit stop down Montpellier with its pavement cafes and its 32 sculptured maidens inspired by the Acropolis.
One of the most famous sons of Cheltenham is Gustav Holst and the house where he was born is now a museum. Well worth a visit you can step back to Victorian life and see the piano he wrote his famous Planets symphony on.
The town is a haven for foodies – there is just so much choice. Two of the best and most contrasting eateries are the East India Café and The Coconut Tree.
The Coconut Tree is really something! It serves Sri Lankan Street Food in Tapas Style and in less than a year has won several awards. Their recipes come from their family kitchens and are an explosion of flavour and spices.
Don’t expect napkins – it’s a roll of paper towels, candles sit in coconut shells on the specially imported rough wood tables and the dishes are meats, fish and veggies all coming out when they are ready. For the ultimate addition to your meal do try their cocktails they are just unbelievable. I so loved the warm hospitality and happy feeling of this place and the food was amazing.
In direct contrast The East India Café is dining in the luxurious Raj Style. The service here is just ultra-first class and the candlelit ambience romantic and decadent.
We indulged ourselves in the Tasting Menu which was paired with drinks. This is to be recommended but be warned it takes up to two and a half hours. Everything is freshly prepared with a description of its history on the menu. Dishes included those from Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengal’s Fisherman Boat and even the Kitchen of the Indian Railway with our sweet recipe from a Temple.
Our experience at the East India Café was like no other and from someone whose travelled the world that is saying something.
Cheltenham has some unusual pubs that serve great food. The Old Courthouse is a gastro pub housed in guess what The Old Courthouse with its loos downstairs in the cells. The menu is typical gastro pub but the portions are really massive.
Slightly outside Cheltenham is a new restaurant The Looking Glass that is set on a shopping parade. Although its small and a tad badly planned inside it prides itself on its fresh, free range, foraged and organic food and the fact it produces things in house.
It’s menu choices reflect the seasons and perhaps its one of those places you need to look at the menu before you decide to visit. Perhaps The Looking Glass needs to find its own level to progress to what it wants to be.
Not all Cheltenham’s attractions are in the town. Do take a look at Pittville Park where you can find the Pittville Pump Room, the only place in the town where you can still try the spa waters.
The pretty village of Prestbury is home to the racecourse. Racing in Cheltenham dates back to the 19th century and there’s often other things other than racing take place at the course – but if you are around when the races are on then do have a flutter and a visit to the course.
If you are feeling energetic then you may like to try the Regency Cheltenham Cycle Trail. It comes with a mobile app and every bit of information you may need and you can do it at your own pace. There is 24/7 cycle hire available from the Promenade, High Street and Train Station and there are lots of lock up cycle parking stands.
Whatever way you choose to see the town, Cheltenham is literally where its all happening at the moment and certainly the perfect place for a weekend or short break.
For more information, events and accommodation details visit: visitcheltenham.com
The Double Tree by Hilton – www.doubletreecheltenham.com
The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum www.cheltenhammuseum.org.uk
The Coconut Tree – www.thecoconut-tree.com/cheltenham
East India Café – www.eastindiacafe.com
The Old Courthouse – www.brunningandprice.co.uk/oldcourthouse/
The Looking Glass – www.thelookingglasscheltenham.co.uk
Town Walks Advance Booking 01242 237431 or details from Tourist Information
Holst Museum www.holstmuseum.org.uk