If you are looking for a weekend getaway and fancy something a little different, I can highly recommend Cheltenham as a destination with a huge amount to offer.
A friend and I headed down to the gorgeous spa town for a weekend in November, as guests of Visit Cheltenham, the local tourist board.
With a fun packed weekend of dining and checking out some local tourist attractions, we were certainly looking forward to a fun girly break for a couple of days.
Our home for the weekend was the lavish Beaumont House.
(www.willowboutiquehotels.com), an elegant guest house just a stones throw from the centre of Cheltenham.
With a handful of luxury rooms, the guest house offers an opulent stay with all the bells and whistles of a high end hotel. We were lucky enough to have bagged the ‘Out of Asia’ room which boasts a Korean style bed with luxury Egyptian bed linen, a huge whirlpool bath, superb power shower and all the techy gadgets you could possibly need including a huge TV and dvd player, a well stocked mini fridge (very reasonably priced) and a varied selection of hot beverages. It also has an Asian style water feature perched underneath the window, perfect for relaxing and finding your inner zen!
Friday evening saw us catch a short cab ride to the Cotswold Grange Hotel (www.cotswoldgrangehotel.co.uk) to enjoy dinner in their Drawing Room restaurant. This early 19th century mansion nestles quietly on a leafy avenue close to the centre of town. This hotel would also make a great base to explore Cheltenham from, and for only a short journey east, you could be enjoying some good old Cotswold countryside. However, our visit was a culinary one, and after being welcomed warmly by the team, we were seated in a rather elegant restaurant, by a huge window.
The menu offers a modern British dinner menu of unpretentious dishes. My guest and I were really impressed with the food, a handsome portion of rich mushroom risotto topped with a perfectly poached egg for myself, and across the table a cracking piece of steak served with all the trimmings, washed down with a good slurp of Malbec from the extensive wine list.
The service was unhurried and enjoyable, the restaurant has a very relaxing ambience. Stuffed to the gills, we moved to the lounge for some extravagant cocktails to finish off our evening before heading back to Beaumont House.
After a thoroughly restful night we skipped breakfast – still full to the brim from the previous evening – and headed out on the short walk into town. We were heading for the Holst Museum (www.holstmuseum.org.uk) for a ‘Bake back in time’ experience. The Museum is a memorial to Holst, one of England’s most respected composers, best known for his work The Planets
The house was built in 1832 and is typical of the many smaller Regency terraced houses built in Cheltenham at that time. Gustav Holst was born here on 21st September 1874 and lived here until 1882, shortly after his mother died.
Visitors can learn more of Holst’s life, his music, his family and friendships, whilst being reminded of domestic life at the end of the 19th Century. All very interesting to be honest, I could be a career nosey neighbour so it was quite fun exploring the rooms and imagining the bygone goings on. Holst’s own piano takes pride of place in the lounge room, astounding really to think his most famous works were created on that very instrument!
The ‘Bake back in time’ experience was a really fun way to end our short tour of the museum. We were welcomed into the kitchen, and offered drop scones (I know them as Scotch pancakes) freshly baked on a Victorian range. These events take place throughout the year and Visitors are able to watch the demonstration and then try the dishes themselves. Tea is also served in the basement as part of the event. We loved chatting with other visitors and trying out the various offerings, taking tea with the historic cook and seeing how things were done in Victorian times.
Our next port of call was Lumiere (www.lumiere.cc), a contemporary, airy restaurant designed in rich purples and creams with modern works of art and glass, generous table sizes, crisp white tablecloths and comfortable chairs. Run by husband and wife team Jon (chef) and Helen (front of house) Howe, who have created a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
We were there to enjoy lunch, I really did not expect the treat we were in for. If creating memorable experiences and making your guests feel like the only people in the room is the challenge, this team have certainly hit the nail on the head.
As we enjoyed a drink and a moment or two to decide who was having what, we were treated to a couple of ‘snacks’. I don’t about you, but my idea of a snack is usually a hobnob, thankfully Lumiere offers something much more refined and we were presented with a substantial pork scratching with burnt apple and fennel pollen and a saffron cracker with hummus, chorizo and shallot. Oh my, if the ‘snacks’ taste this good I was elated with the thought of the next 3 courses!!
The lunch menu is concise with two starters and two mains on offer. This worked out superbly well for us as we got to try everything. My starter was Caroll’s Sharpes Express Potato with Smoked Eel, Caviar and Lemon, Samphire. Utterly delicious. Over the table and my friend was delighted with her Day Boat Cornish Plaice served Brown Shrimp, Cucumber, Fennel, and Elderflower.
The mains were even more impressive, I got stuck into a generous dish of Wiltshire pork served with a rich and fudgy black pudding, leek, a cracking potato terrine and a touch of apple. Pork is never something I am drawn to but I now feel like it is underrated!
My friend was served the Newlyn Line caught seabass with coco beans, sweetcorn, mussels and cauliflower. How do these people know to put these ingredients together?
We both agreed that our meals were up there with the best we have eaten, of course this is fine dining so we are not making unfair comparisons to other styles of restaurant, but as far as really posh (but not pretentious) dining goes, this is the bee’s knees, I only wish it were closer so I could visit more often, however, I will return to Cheltenham, if only for this restaurant.
We spent our free time that afternoon wandering around the city centre and checking out the shopping. What sets Cheltenham apart is the number and variety of independent shops and boutique retailers interspaced with the high street big hitters. Scattered throughout the districts of Bath Road, Montpellier, The Suffolks, The Promenade and The High Street, these shops are the perfect destination for your shopping trip to find one-off bargains and unique finds. We strolled along the leaf lined promenade enjoying the architectural and heritage features and the more modern redevelopments which are seeing a new generation of visitors to Cheltenham.
As the home of Festivals, Cheltenham is not only host to the annual Cheltenham Festival & Gold Cup, but also the Cheltenham Festival Series – Jazz, Music, Science and Literature – with dates already confirmed for this year. In addition, the many venues across the town, both large and small, offer an annual entertainment programme to suit every age and genre.
A quick change and freshen up back at Beaumont House and we were ready for the final installment of our adventure.
Koj (kojcheltenham.co.uk) is a Japanese ‘grazing’ restaurant, notably their hashtag is #nosushi. This suits me down to the ground, I’m all for trying things but sushi isn’t up there on my list of favourites. As soon as you enter, the sights, sounds and smells from the open kitchen are a unique part of the experience at Koj. A small, informal dining room creates the atmosphere for socialising over Japanese grazing dishes and drinks.
This was to be my first saki experience, quite possibly my last, it certainly didn’t float my boat but that said, the food was an altogether different story. Grazing dishes are similar to tapas or small plates for sharing. We enjoyed padron peppers with yuzu and salt, crispy shitake with tonkatsu mayo – this was one of my favourites, and some finger – licking steamed buns, the panko cauliflower with yuzu pickled red onion and curry mayo was belting and my guest raved about the soft shell crab with pickled fennel. The steamed buns are what I can only imagine it would be like eating a cloud full of delicious fillings!
Upstairs in Bandana Monkey bar, guests can enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail, or as we chose, retire for a nightcap. As well as an enviable list of Japanese craft beers, sake, shochu and whisky, they have created a list of Japanese-inspired cocktails, including one using their own Japanese gin, Kojin.
We really enjoyed Koj, from the walls adorned with iconic Japanese brands and the eclectic clientele, to the well paced and knowledgeable service. It’s a fun restaurant and the food is intensly good, I would be over the moon if Koj were to bring their brand of vibrant and innovative cooking, a little closer to Leeds – it’s a long taxi home from Cheltenham.
Visit www.visitcheltenham.com for more information on where to stay, eat, drink and attractions.