While I don’t like to live life mired by a sense of regret, I do wish I’d seen more of the UK when I lived there. Sadly, so obsessed was I with the pocket of London I inhabited, that I very rarely left – other than for occasional weekends at my parents, to visit one of my sisters in Salisbury, or for my bi-annual trip to Yorkshire, where my Uncle Rory lives. Consequently, there are a wealth of towns and cities with literary links and bustling book festivals that I’m yet to visit on British soil – most notably the likes of Edinburgh and Hay. Thus, whenever I’m back in the UK, I have a tendency to pack as much in as I possibly can, including trips to unchartered towns with belletristic connections.
The much-loved Cheltenham Literary Festival has been on my radar for a number of years now, and while my recent overseas trip didn’t coincide with the book fair’s dates, I was lucky enough to spend my last night in the UK in this stylish spa town with my mum. It was the rare sort of summer’s day that made the notion of leaving the UK harder than usual; the sky was the brightest of blues, laced with a sultry haze as we drove through the rolling hills in our approach the cultural hub of the Cotswolds.
A well-heeled regency spa town that’s known for its intricate ironwork balconies, fashionable facades and year-round line-up of festivals, Cheltenham is a vibrant and cosmopolitan destination with the sort of outdoor cafe-culture more associated with larger cities. Located on the edge of Cheltenham’s achingly hip Montpellier neighbourhood, No. 131 sits opposite the town’s elegant Imperial Gardens, and offers would-be guests a picture perfect people-watching spot.
The hotel features 11 bedrooms, all of which are individually styled and rich with beautiful decor. Our room was wonderfully spacious in size, and included everything from a feature roll-top bathtub with views of the Imperial Gardens, a retro phone, writing desk, plush velvet sofa and a double shower more than big enough for two. With a stylishly-tiled bathroom, turn down service and oversized bed, it’s the type of room I could easily have lived in for a week.
Food and drink
One of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in a long while, the food and drink offering at No. 131 is as resplendent as it is varied. There’s a resident gin bar, as well as the Crazy Eights long bar on the floor below; the main restaurant sits just to the right of the hotel lobby while the outside eating area overlooks the Imperial Gardens. We took advantage of the warmer climes by dining outside, and enjoyed a feast of black cod, mussels, buttered greens and wilted spinach, all washed down with crisp Rosini Bellinis; the perfect thirst-quencher following an afternoon in the sun. Breakfast, too, was a regal affair, with bottles of prosecco on offer for anyone partial to an early-morning tipple, while the generous spread included fresh fruits, pastries and cereals, with a hot menu also on offer for those in want of a plated breakfast.
As well as the location of boutique hotel lending itself perfectly to one of the literary world’s hottest calendar moments, there too is a chic library onsite, complete with an impressive novel selection. Located just behind the check-in desk, guests will find glass cabinets filled with everything from well-thumbed penguin classics to heavy coffee-table tomes, perfect for flicking through over a cup of coffee of a cocktail in the hotel’s buzzing restaurant.
Worth staying in bed for
As the UK’s largest area of outstanding natural beauty, The Cotswolds boasts many a bookish gem set among the honey-coloured streets for which its best known. But for readers looking for a tome specifically set in its cultural hub, The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude is one of his best-loved crime fiction novels. A classic example of how the British-born author builds a sense of drama within a very specific location, here the regal splendour of Cheltenham provides the perfect setting for a story in which appearances are certainly deceiving.
Just a short walk from No. 131, you’ll find independent bookshop, The Suffolk Anthology. Run by former GP, Helen Hewett, as a family business with her two children, she was inspired to open The Suffolk Anthology in a grade II listed building after a life-long affair with reading. Located in the stylish Suffolks area of Cheltenham, this bookstore-cafe has a diverse range of books to browse, as well as home made cakes and excellent coffee.
Useful information about No. 131
131 Promenade, Cheltenham, GL50 1NW
Flanked by the Cheltenham Ladies’ College and overlooking the manicured Imperial Gardens, No 131 is on a broad boutique-lined avenue leading down to the town’s high street.
Rooms at No, 131 start at £185 per night.
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