Cheltenham is all about pleasure. Originally a spa town where wealthy Brits would spend the summer season taking the waters, going to balls, and betting at the races, the city came into its own during the Regency period in the early 19th century. And while the Prince Regent—famous for his flamboyant displays of opulence at places like the Brighton Pavilion—is no longer around, Cheltenham still is. And it is still a pleasurable place.
I traveled out to Cheltenham on Friday to indulge in a bit of hedonism, as is only fitting for such a place. Starting at London Paddington, I traveled first class on the train to Cheltenham Spa station thanks to First Great Western, who offered me a ticket on their service from the capital to the Cotswolds.
After three hours in a comfortable seat with great views of the English countryside and Gloucestershire, I arrived in the city, where a car from my accommodation was waiting for me.
A few minutes later, I arrived at the Montpellier Chapter Hotel in Cheltenham, which had offered me a night’s stay. Set in a historic building on a beautiful residential street, the hotel was contemporary, relaxed, and welcoming.
My room was enormous, with a large bed, a beautiful bathtub, a long desk, wardrobe, and TV. The bathroom was all done in black, which made it a bit hard to see in the mirror, but the REN cosmetics took good enough care of my skin that I didn’t have to worry too much about my complexion.
Downstairs the hotel had a series of comfy lounge spaces, a bar, and a beautiful glass conservatory for afternoon tea. There was also a restaurant and—this being Cheltenham—a spa.
Once I settled into my room, I set off to indulge in life in Cheltenham. First I explored the city’s abundant shopping offerings. Around the corner from my hotel, Montpellier Street had great boutiques like La De Da!, Skandic Hus, Neal’s Yard, Boutique 3, Rechercher, and Pod. From antiques to gifts and clothing, there was no shortage of things to tempt me into retail sin.
Nearby was Montpellier Walk, a colonnaded street with beautiful neoclassical sculptures between its shops, bars, and restaurants. Down the road was the Promenade, which had boutiques like Vinegar Hill as well as high street shops, all of which were housed in historic Regency buildings.
Further down was the high street, which had all of the usual shops and restaurants. Off it branched Regent Street, where I not only found the famous Everyman Theatre, but also began the next phase of my pleasure-seeking in Cheltenham: food.
On Regent Street I stumbled upon The CheeseWorks, a great little cheese shop and deli. The staff was incredibly friendly, and made me a little cheese-and-salami sandwich that I could take to the park.
That park happened to be the Imperial Gardens, a former spa garden that was planted with beautiful purple and red flowers and surrounded by Regency-style buildings with beautiful ironwork.
The weather was unseasonably warm, so I spent the afternoon indulging my appetite and reading the sequel to Wolf Hall. I cannot remember the last time I spent several hours sitting in a sunny park doing two of my favorite things. It was so luxurious that I almost felt guilty.
Back at the hotel, the decadence continued with a bubble bath and a leisurely dinner at the restaurant. I dined my way through Jerusalem artichoke soup, classic coq au vin, and a creative popcorn sundae. At the end I couldn’t resist indulging in a glass of Fonseca 10 Year Tawny Port in a nostalgic nod to my trip to Portugal’s Douro Valley in July.
As if that wasn’t hedonism enough for one day, a friend of mine traveled out from London later that evening, bringing with her a bottle of Champagne that we put to good use by toasting to her birthday at midnight.
The next morning we enjoyed a big breakfast at the hotel. From full-fat yogurt in glass jars to fresh croissants, eggs Benedict, and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, we had quite a feast.
Afterwards I indulged my inner history nerd on a tour of Regency Cheltenham that the tourism board offered me. The weekly tour, which takes place every Saturday at 11:30am, gave an overview of the city’s early 19th century history and architecture.
Our guide, Mary, took us through parks and squares, down historic streets, and inside several buildings, including a stunning decommissioned church that was converted into a restaurant. Sacrilicious.
Along the way, Mary explained that Cheltenham’s historic heyday ended when the Napoleonic wars came to an end and people seeking pleasure started traveling in Europe again.
Like them, I too had to take leave of the city and its temptations. My journey this time was back to London, but my next trip to Europe is never far off. Whether anywhere on the continent can compare to Cheltenham in its opportunities to indulge is to be seen, though.