The Design Hunter guide to Cheltenham
In the first post of a new occasional series exploring some of the UK towns and cities from a design lover's perspective, local resident Anna McKittrick highlights what to do if you have 24 hours to discover Cheltenham.
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Lying in the heart of the West Country, Cheltenham is known as the gateway to the Cotswolds. The elegant spa town is brimming with beautiful examples of Regency architecture but there's much more to it if you scratch below its surface.
Where to stay
The Montpellier Chapter - For a relaxing and indulgent night's sleep check in to one of Cheltenham's most stylish boutique hotels. Housed in a stunning Grade II listed Victorian building, The Montpellier Chapter (above) opened in 2010 after an extensive renovation project that transformed the existing hotel into a contemporary and design-led restaurant and hotel. Its central location makes it the ideal base for exploring the town, but if you want to stay close to home then head to the restaurant, which serves delicious food and offers a lovely afternoon tea menu that can be enjoyed in the wonderful surroundings of the lounge area or stunning Victorian conservatory. Opt for full on indulgence and spoil yourself with a treatment at the on-site REN spa. It is a weekend break after all.
The Montpellier Chapter
Chapel Cottage - Thirty Two, one of Cheltenham's other boutique hotel offerings, is currently closed while it relocates to larger premises. In the mean time you can stay at their charming two-bedroom cottage rental located in The Suffolks area of town. The kitchen gives you the option of self-catering but if you don't want to cook on a weekend away then there are plenty of restaurants on your doorstep.
Eating & Drinking
Moka Coffee House - Enjoy taking five in the bustling café or order a takeaway and head to the nearby Montpellier Gardens for an alfresco lunch. Makes some of the tastiest sandwiches in town.
The Tavern - This lively restaurant is the perfect choice for a relaxed evening meal or bar snack. The interesting menu draws heavily on American and Asian influences, including a delicious salt and pepper squid served with Asian slaw. If you still have room for dessert the decadent cara-maca cheesecake is worth the indulgence! The décor has an industrial feel to it with metro tiles, old school chairs and exposed brickwork setting it apart from some of the more classic eateries in the town. The Tavern has live music on the last Thursday of every month so make sure to check out the website for details.
The Daffodil - You can't help being swept up in the glamour of this restaurant that's housed in a former picture house in The Suffolks area of Cheltenham. Once you've got over the wonderful tiled entrance that welcomes you and the impressive Art Deco interiors you'll realise that the menu, serving delicious classic British cuisine, is pretty special as well. Start your evening in style with a cocktail upstairs at the Circle Bar or take a seat and enjoy the live jazz performances that take place on Monday evenings and Saturday lunchtimes.
The Suffolk Kitchen - Just down the road from The Daffodil you'll find one of the more recent additions to the Cheltenham restaurant scene. Run by the owners of Moka Coffee House, The Suffolk Kitchen serves up an inviting menu inspired by seasonal British food and locally sourced ingredients.
Foundation - The Montpellier area of Cheltenham has lots of independent boutiques that are worth visiting and Foundation is definitely one of them. Featuring a handpicked selection of interesting clothes, accessories and homeware, with the emphasis on showcasing up-and-coming designers, it's the perfect place to find something unique to take home with you.
Toast - The Promenade is Cheltenham's main shopping street and features a variety of upmarket shops from Whistles to Reiss, Russell and Bromley to LK Bennett. Among the sea of high street shops is Cheltenham's branch of Toast, which is spread over four floors of a Regency building. The shop features a beautifully curated selection of fashion and homeware in their signature pared down style.
Olive Clothing - Located on Pittville Street just off the main High Street is this quirky vinage inspired clothing emporium selling many one off pieces.
Places to visit and things to see or do
Festivals - Cheltenham is known for its festivals that are held throughout the year and attract well known names to this corner of the south west. Next up is the Literature Festival that takes place from 4-13 October with Emma Thompson, John Bishop and Jennifer Saunders some of the many speakers confirmed for this year's line up. Other dates for your diary include the Jazz Festival (30 April - 5 May 2014), the Science Festival (3-8 June 2014) and the Music Festival (2-13 July). Keep an eye out for details of the next instalment of Cheltenham Design Festival in Spring 2014.
Gold Cup - Arguably the biggest event on the Cheltenham calendar takes place every March and sees the population of the town swell during the four-day horseracing meet. If you're a fan of racing the Cheltenham Festival is a lot of fun, but if you want a relaxing short break then it's best to avoid visiting at this time. Hotel prices go through the roof and rooms are hard to come by so if you do plan to visit then it's best to book ahead. There are smaller fixtures throughout the year but The Festival is the main event and takes place from 11-14 March 2014.
Pittville Pump Room
Sandford Park Lido - If you visit during the spring and summer then a dip in the lido, which dates from 1935, is obligatory. The outdoor swimming complex features a 50 metre pool, a children's pool and slides making it the perfect place for all the family to spend a sunny afternoon.
Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum - Due to reopen on 5 October after a two year makeover, the collections will now be housed in a newly designed four floor space that brings together three centuries of architecture. Visit to view collections and find out more about the history of Cheltenham and local hero and Antarctic explorer Edward Wilson. The museum will also encompass the tourist office and if you're after a vantage point of the town then head up to the rooftop terrace.
Park & gardens - Whether you want to enjoy a picnic or relax with the Sunday papers there are plenty of parks to tempt you out of your hotel room. Up towards the racecourse you'll find Pittville Park, which houses the Pump Room, one of the finest examples of Regency architecture in Cheltenham and where you can still sample the spa water. There's a small lake in the park and you can hire rowing boats or if you've got children with you there's a playground and the aviary should keep little ones occupied for a while. Back in the centre of town head to the beer garden in the manicured setting of the Imperial Gardens, which is the ideal spot to enjoy a pre-dinner drink.
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