There’s so much green space and floral life it’s easy to see why Cheltenham has been called ‘a town within a park’.
Your first sip is salty and unpleasant. The second is worse. The third sip is a relief – because it’s the last. When you taste the famous spa water in Cheltenham, you’re drinking in history and that’s the important thing. King George III was a huge fan in the late 1700s but as I gulped it down, urged on by my walking tour guide, I was more refreshed – and happily distracted – by the beautiful surroundings. Even by Cheltenham standards, the Pittville Pump Room is a Regency gem. Set in the soothing environs of Pittville Park, you’ll soon forget the little piece of the past you found so hard to swallow.
The arts, crafts and afternoon tea
The opportunity for quiet contemplation provided by beautiful buildings and perfect parkland allows me to turn my thoughts to the annual Cheltenham Literature Festival. I’m not so sure if Cheltenham has changed since the event began in 1949: sitting in the iconic Queen’s Hotel (www.accorhotels.com) on The Promenade I’m struck by how this particular institution appears to have changed very little in that time. Even if you’ve not booked a room here, it’s worth making time to have a look around, enjoy a cocktail in the Gold Cup Bar or an indulgent afternoon tea in the lounge.
Away from the literati, fans of the arts and crafts movement will find a lot to like at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum without even stepping inside, thanks to the striking ironwork above the entrance.
If you’re in the mood for shopping there’s plenty on the main high street, but for local colour head to the Montpellier and The Suffolk districts. Tucked between the lovely houses are small boutiques and antique shops. You can easily spend a day – and a fortune – here. My mind soon turned to ‘The Great Gatsby’, as I walked past the sensational Daffodil restaurant – it still looks glamorous, a throwback to the 1920s when it was a movie palace.
The town is a great base if you plan on exploring the Cotswolds. Many enticing villages are a short drive away, most of them on the so-called Romantic Road, a 75-mile round trip from Cheltenham taking in most of the best Cotswolds stops from Winchcombe to Upper and Lower Slaughter. Although, unless you’re going to avoid sampling the local beers or well-chosen wines, you’ll need buses from Royal Wells station or to be driven around for the day by ACS Executive Car Service (www.driveacs.com). Our tip? Choose the latter and travel in style.
Just outside the centre of town is this art deco wonder. Its time as a cinema ended in the 1970s, but the building has been restored to its 1920s prime and caters to discerning diners. There’s live jazz on Mondays, and the set lunchtime/early evening menus from £10 are superb value.
18-20 Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham, GL50 2AE (01242 700 055, www.thedaffodil.com). Two courses with wine from £13.50.
Where to stay
The Big Sleep
This is perhaps the biggest accommodation bargain in Cheltenham. You won’t get the luxury or history provided by the likes of the Hotel du Vin or The Queen’s, but this ‘budget designer’ hotel is well located, modern and clean, with a breakfast buffet.