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hotel no. 38 in cheltenham in the english cotswolds
The wine trail to Sussex from Northumberland is a long one and Cheltenham in the English Cotswolds seemed a good place to break our road journey. A pretty, Georgian town with a vibrant high street, packed with small independent shops, we stumbled on its Literary Festival. What a delight, not least because among the many guest speakers was Brian Blessed, well-known veteran English actor. He sat on stage alongside the producers of the BBC television programme Who Do you Think You Are, for he had recently succumbed to the pain and joy of going back in time to discover his roots. He held court in his usual, colossal way, even managing to outdo a violent thunderstorm that settled over the marquee. “God has arrived,” he proclaimed, “But I won’t let that stop me!”
Directly opposite the gardens in which the Festival had so nicely sprung up was a hotel called No. 131. We liked the look of it; umbrellas on a shady terrace, a pleasant feeling as you walked into the lobby and a helpful receptionist. No chance of a room, though, but they could offer us a bed in their sister hotel, No. 38, just a little way out of town. We would breakfast there but dine back in big sister. Annexes can be a gamble but what the heck. It was late and Cheltenham was heaving.
A few minutes later we pulled up at a Regency villa, sparkling white in the afternoon light. A pleasant young man showed us round. Our room included a large sitting room filled with architectural and interior books, magazines, trendy sofas and chairs and a wonderful use of industrial furniture that imparted an extraordinarily classy look to the room. Three giant circular mirrors, salvaged from a ship, played centre stage on the walls and then finally the kitchen and breakfast room was a triumph of just the right use of yet more industrial and factory pieces. Breakfast couldn't come fast enough.
Meanwhile our room had a few surprises in store too. A roll top cast iron bath, languishing under the window, and a reclaimed, glazed cupboard where you not only hung your clothes, but also made a morning pot of loose leaf Earl Grey or Assam, complete with tea strainer and fresh milk, not to mention a posh coffee maker.
Back at 131 dinner was a resounding hit. Whelks (sea snails) with chickpeas and chorizo, crab on toast, cod perfectly cooked and a delicious fillet of beef. Pudding was a blueberry fool and a selection of cheeses from the Cotswolds. And our wine, a bottle of sparkling Nyetimber from one of the very English vineyards in Sussex we were heading for.
And so to bed, (one of the most comfortable we've slept in with perfect pillows) and then, at last, breakfast. You go past an cupboard full of wine and spirits, and a bank of intriguing fridges encased in yet more reclaimed cupboards, with wooden doors and metal catches that click open in a most satisfying way. They are re-found in Brazil but a clever restorer in Antwerp has brought them back to life. We chose a table near a window looking into a courtyard. A long, factory table groaned with an appetising array of smoked salmon, soft and hard cheeses, delicious fruit compotes, yogurts, plenty of cereals, bread and pastries.
Behind the breakfast bar there is an open kitchen with a chef standing by to cook whatever takes your fancy. In our case it was devilled kidneys and pancakes with maple syrup. Back in our room and getting ready to leave a phone call from reception asked if we could go downstairs. A high-flying blonde had wedged her Porsche between a wall in the car park and our car. With an inch or two to spare and a little guidance she got away but not before telling me that it was a regular stopover and she couldn't fault it. And, somehow, that pleasing roar of her 911 engine as she swept up the road into Cheltenham put a final stamp on No. 38. We will definitely hurry back.
No. 38 The Park, 38 Evesham Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL52 2AH, UK Tel: 0044 1242 822929
No. 131, 131Promenade, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire,
GL50 1NW UK Tel: 0044 1242 822939
Keith and Lynne Allan are one time BBC Radio journalists who now make audio podcasts for websites and write for a number of British newspapers and magazines on travel and food.
They also run their own concept store called The Old Dairy in Ford. It specialises in antiques, vintage and interiors and at the heart of it is a fabulous coffee shop and small bistro where they are to be found most of the time. They love to cook on an AGA cooker and have recently become AGA Ambassadors, which means they help to sell AGA cookers by organising demonstrations and cookery classes. Their open kitchen and parlour is a magnet for customers.