Heritage weekend... Cheltenham
Discover where to eat, sleep and shop in this Regency gem
Resplendent with elegant terraces adorned with painted stucco façades and intricate ironwork balconies, Cheltenham had humble beginnings as a market town before gaining status as a fashionable spa resort. Upon the uncovering of a natural spring in 1716 – thanks to the curious discovery of pigeons found pecking at salt crystals in a meadow – King George III arrived to treat his infirmities with the water’s supposed healing power in 1788, and Cheltenham Spa was born. Overlooking the sweeping lawns and ornamental lakes of Pittville Park, the Grade I-listed Pump Rooms, where you can still sample the waters, is the jewel of the town’s Regency architecture, complete with ballroom and bandstand. As for the pigeons, they live in infamy in the Coat of Arms.
The western gateway to – and a great base from which to tour – the Cotswolds, Cheltenham has an abundance of heritage features, which extend around the tree-lined avenue of the Promenade, holding pockets of treasures at every turn. Head south towards Montpellier, where Acropolis-style stone caryatids look out over the independent boutiques and pavement cafés that give these parts such a continental feel, and continue up to The Suffolks for antiques shops and quaint restaurants, including a converted Art Deco cinema. The neogothic school buildings of Cheltenham College and the Ladies’ College, built in the French-gothic style with a stunning bronze dome, overlook some of the town’s most splendid parks. Imperial Gardens is host to Cheltenham’s renowned series of festivals – from Jazz to Science and Literature; take a dip in Sandford Park’s 1930s open-air lido, and head to the famous racecourse, where the annual Gold Cup is what Cheltenham is perhaps now best known for.
The Wilson Museum & Art Gallery, named after local-born Antarctic explorer Edward Wilson, offers exhibitions as well as Arts and Crafts collections, and from comedy to concerts, the much-loved Cheltenham Town Hall, as well as the Everyman Theatre, add to the many cultural offerings. All in all, the perfect destination for a heritage weekend.
Where to eat
For alfresco café culture, whether you’re looking for a great little coffee house, charming tea room or Michelin-style cuisine, Cheltenham has it all. Find a creative menu of wonderfully fresh, sustainably caught seafood at Purslane, run by husband and wife team Gareth and Helena. Named after the seashore-foraged succulent, find fine dining in a stylish, relaxed setting. 01242 321639; purslane-restaurant.co.uk. Classic Georgian on the outside, contemporary British on the inside,
131 The Promenade is a chic restaurant with rooms, offering traditional classics and inventive European dishes using the best locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Find leather chairs mixed with timber and zinc finishes and a flash of neon, before heading downstairs to Crazy Eights for a post-dinner cocktail. 01242 822939; no131.com. And blink and you’ll miss Petit Coco, a basement French bistro providing big flavours from its intimate setting, complete with farmhouse décor and iron stove. 01242 257343; petitcoco.co.uk. ➤
Where to stay
For a home away from home, complete with an elegant yet cosy sitting room and an honesty bar,
No.38 The Park is a beautifully styled Georgian townhouse overlooking Pittville Park. Filled with antique pieces and quirky touches, find roll-top tubs and contemporary British artwork in the bespoke bedrooms, and enjoy a breakfast spread including freshly baked sourdough under the rustic dining room’s atrium. You can book out the whole house exclusively, and No.38 also has a wedding licence. From £120 per night, including continental breakfast. 01242 822929; thelucky onion.com/property/no-38-the-park.
For the comfiest of stays with a period twist, receive a warm welcome at Crossways B&B,A perfectly located Grade Ii-listed find, £95 per night for an en-suite double. 01242 527683; crossways guesthouse.com. And for old-fashioned customer service, take in the Victorian splendour of The
Bradley, a boutique B&B retaining all of its original charm. Added touches include sweet treats and Penhaligon’s toiletries in the bedrooms. From £125 per night. 01242 519077; thebradleyhotel.co.uk.
Where to shop
From high street to higher brow, find shops for all tastes. The pretty Regency area of The Suffolks offers a profusion of small specialist stores, markets – from crafts to street food – and unique restaurants in unusal venues. A vintage-inspired boutique,
Atelier 19 showcases Jan Knibbs’ intricately embroidered bridal designs and accessories, alongside a curated, eclectic mix of curios, including French brocante finds. Atelier19cheltenham.com.
In the Montpellier district, swing by Kitchener while you can – a charming Cheltenham institution soon to close its doors after providing the best in kitchen and tableware since 1972, from humble home favourites to professional tools of the trade. And for a unique selection of home and garden pieces, from antique furniture, mirrors and lighting to original art and framed prints,
Rechercher specialises in French décor, both old and new. In town, find simple, understated pieces at local, family-owned clothing brand Olive. Combining heritage with modernity, each design is ethically considered, its range including pretty accessories and jewellery. Oliveclothing.com. The Guild at 51 showcases the work of members of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen. Find ceramics, textiles, leatherwork and basketry to buy, as well as books and cards from the region’s most talented designer-makers. Guildcrafts.org.uk/the-guild-at-51-cheltenham. And on the Bath Road, Luca and Penelope design and print their own cotton to create and sell everything from cushions to peg bags at the delightful Rosa Blue. 01242 521234; rosablue.com.
left: The Neptune fountain on the Promenade is overlooked by the town’s grand municipal buildings; composer Gustav Holst was born in Cheltenham – his birthplace is open to the public as a museum; the dramatic Gothic architecture of Princess Hall at Cheltenham Ladies’ College
from left: The Pittville Pump Rooms radiate Regency refinement; book a stay at Crossways B&B; enjoy fine French food at Petit Coco; take in the famous atmosphere at the Gold Cup; stone caryatids overlook the streets of Montpellier; the grand entrance to the Pittville estate; the sitting room at The Bradley, one of the last complete historical houses in Cheltenham From above: Find a roll-top bath for two, among other chic furnishings at No.38 The Park; dine on the catch of the day in the airy neighbourhood setting of Purslane; the stunning frontage of the Grade Ii-listed Everyman Theatre
Clockwise from top: Rechercher on Montpellier offers charming French homeware; visit Atelier 19 for intricate accessories; the familiar striped canopy of Kitchener; find handmade crafts at The Guild at 51