With overseas holidays still a precarious consideration, there’s never been a better time to rediscover the UK. And although it’s invariably the Cornish coast or the rugged Scottish highlands that are getting all the airtime right now, we’re making a case for city swapping. With this in mind, we left our beloved London behind, swapping it for 48-hours in the delightfully foodie-friendly embrace of Cheltenham.
Part of The Lucky Onion group, we based ourselves at The George. It’s the first hotel within the Cult Hotels collection, however, we hear there are big plans to open more in other neighbourhoods across the UK, so watch this space. The notorious hotel and restaurant group are well known throughout Cheltenham and beyond for their collection of award-winning hotels, pubs and restaurants in the Cotswolds which include No.131 and The Wheatsheaf to name just a few.
Staying at The George is all about living like a local. It’s the hotel to book if you’re looking for a stylish but fairly priced base from which to properly explore the area. Rather helpfully, it’s also been designed with social-distancing in mind: think automated check-ins, no reception queues and a drop-and-go check-out for those that would rather not hang about. We were staying in one of the ‘Culture’ rooms which was very large, complete with floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the street below. As with the rest of the hotel, walls are painted in a deep navy blue (Farrow & Ball Hague Blue if we were to guess) with black and white photos on the walls, monochrome cushions on the bed and Penguin classics lining the shelf.
Don’t expect in-room kettles or individual minibars. Instead, a pantry behind the check-in desk contains everything you could ever need for your stay, with beautiful glassware in your room for whatever takes your fancy. Gorgeous teal tiling, all black fittings and a huge, powerful double shower make the bathroom a luxurious experience (despite the lack of bath). Full-size products are courtesy of Norwegian skincare brand Sprekenhus which are all rich in argan oil (we spent way too long applying body lotion but we just couldn’t get enough).
There’s no dedicated restaurant or communal area at The George (however with No.131 just around the corner, who needs one?) but The Diner is there for weary heads come morning. Serving super strong coffee in proper mugs, this basement breakfast spot serves everything from super simple continental for when all you fancy is a slice of sourdough, through to doorstep wedge breakfast sarnies when you’ve gone hard the night before.
To book a room visit: culthotels.com
Now you know where to stay, here’s our pick of the best places to eat, drink and things to do, in and around Cheltenham…
EAT, DRINK AND DO
Ask any local where they’d recommend for lunch and we bet you a fiver, The Coconut Tree will be suggested. With tequila cocktails, authentic spicy small plates and a super relaxed but buzzy vibe, it’s easy to see why. Not only is it utterly delicious it’s also a complete and utter steal. If you can’t decide, leave it to the super friendly staff to sort you out with 5 dishes for just £20 a head. Still not convinced? Food critic Jay Rayner gave it an almighty thumbs up. Don’t leave without trying the slow-cooked goat curry, chicken and cheese kotthu and signature egg hopper.
With a dedicated Gin & Juice bar, outdoor grill and cosy Rum & Fizz den you could legit spend all night at No.131 without moving more than a few feet. This elegant stretch of Georgian townhouses is also the prettiest spot on the Promenade so make sure you leave plenty of time to explore properly. If the weather’s nice, we’d recommend enjoying one of the many, many gin & tonic combos alfresco where you’ll also get a great view of the picturesque Cheltenham Ladies College. Aperitivo drunk, head inside to No.131 where perfectly romantic, candlelit nooks beckon. Although mainly ‘modern European’ the menu has a few surprising Asian dishes such as the yellowfin tuna tartare and tempura softshell crab Californian sushi roll. Continuing in the same vein we’d recommend the crispy aromatic duck in soy and sesame sauce if you’re in the mood for something decadent or the fresh risotto verde alle erbe with seasonal asparagus, peas, courgette, ricotta, mint and lemon if you’re after something lighter. Whatever you order, the parmesan & parsley truffle fries are an essential side dish. To finish, pavlova with English strawberries and plenty of whipped cream is the quintessential Cotswolds dessert. Head downstairs to Rum & Fizz for a nightcap – you can’t go wrong with a Pina Colada Old Fashioned.
An ivy-clad bolthole in the 500-year old market town of Northleach, The Wheatsheaf is about a 30-minute drive out of Cheltenham and well worth the effort, for a relaxed but impressive lunch. So much more than your average pub, the wood-panelled dining room complete with exposed worn stonework and roaring fires, all creates a far more impressive scene than any local boozer had the pleasure of frequenting. No visit would be complete without trying their signature twice-baked cheddar soufflé served with spinach & grain mustard cream sauce – utter heaven. No less decadent and just as divine was the chopped beef tartare, studded with capers, shallots & finished with a splodge of charcoal mayonnaise. Hearty mains include the likes of Cotswold spatchcock wood pigeon, Cornish cod with rainbow chard and saffron mayonnaise or equally local Cotswold lamb rack. An oozing ginger sticky toffee pudding rounds things off nicely, putting us in a firm food coma for the short journey home.
The wine list is exquisite, albeit a touch overwhelming. The Berry Bros Good Ordinary Claret is always a sure-fire bet, otherwise, we’d be confident leaving it in the capable hands of friendly staff.
After all that decadence, Sixways Wine Bar provides the perfect light relief. Swapping three courses for a simple mixed board of charcuterie and cheese between two, we took our time devouring that and the extensive wine list. Piled high with crackers, grapes, bread, chutney and pickles, this is another absolute steal, priced at £18, the board will easily serve two greedy people.
Originally intended to take place in the rural Cotswolds countryside, like so many events this year, Soul Circus festival was sadly cancelled. Not to be deterred, this yoga and wellness festival has set up a summer garden version of events in Cheltenham’s Montpellier district, complete with a daily wellness schedule, consisting of yoga, meditation, breathwork, fitness, arts and crafts sessions, kids activities, reiki treatments, delicious street food and drink, special DJ guests, comedy club, community arts & loads more besides! It’s completely free to walk in too so we’d recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of the Green Fields at Glastonbury.
For more information on the Lucky Onion Group and things to do in Cheltenham, head to: theluckyonion.com