What is it? Somewhere new, exciting and glamorous to stay in Cheltenham. Right on the town’s main promenade, it’s like a flash of New York cool in the Cotswolds. Exposed-brick walls, pendant lights and a blue pool table blend in with marble fireplaces, cornices, antique doors and a wooden 1940s fridge from Brazil (stuffed with cold meats, bread and wine). There are framed beetles and moths, and even a headdress from Papua New Guinea. Sophisticated and fun, this is not just the best new hotel in town, but the whole area.
Behind the scenes No 131 is the latest from Sam and Georgina Pearman of the now famous Wheatsheaf in Northleach. It’s been two years in the making. The couple plundered artisans’ workshops and reclamation yards for antiques, and much of the lighting came from Belgium and Holland. There’s art by Peter Blake and David Hockney and a lot of zingy colour, for instance in the blue French workers’ jackets worn by the good-looking staff.
Sleep The 11 beautifully proportioned rooms all have lovely hand-knotted rugs, antique or bespoke furniture, and huge Hypnos beds with plump goose-down pillows. Even the snacks are far from the norm: dried-pear crisps, sherbert lemons and Mr Filbert’s rosemary almonds. Rooms at the front are brighter, with views over Imperial Gardens (where lots of festival events take place); those at the back are quiet cocoons. Bathrooms have double showers and 19th-century French or modern Japanese-style baths with a clever wooden board to rest your head on. Unusual touches include muted green and mustard Moroccan tiles.
Eat Crazy Eights (with a cool, faded-zinc bar) is the official restaurant but there are lots of places to eat, such as a brilliant indoor/outdoor courtyard with a retractable roof, and four den-like private dining rooms, including one hidden behind curtains made from Indian palace blankets and another in a little library with oversized velvet armchairs. Lunches include crayfish sandwiches and tuna tartare with sesame and avocado. The evening menu is wholesome and hearty: Brixham crab gratin; a marathon seafood platter locals swear by; 17 different cuts of steak chargrilled in a Josper oven, and decadent extras such as garlic snails, wild mushrooms, foie gras, roast bone marrow, and beef-dripping or duck-fat chips.
Who comes here? Dom Joly moved in when his house flooded last winter. And with Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Dean Close nearby, plenty of parents treat their children to the epic high tea of warm homemade sausage rolls (ridiculously good), Victoria sponge and lardy cake. Londoners appear at weekends, along with those locals up for the fun on Friday and Saturday nights, all fuelled by cool music and snazzy cocktails: try Rory the barman’s Crazy Eight Swizzle. There are plans for a members’ club at weekends.
We like Eating under a blue sky in the courtyard – such a rarity in England.
We don’t like For now parking is tricky here in the town centre, but they’re in the process of getting a hotel permit.
While you’re here There are festivals, the famous Cheltenham Races, fashion shops such as Foundation in Montpellier Walk, and a Friday farmer’s market. For a superb massage, book Ayurvedic expert Kathy Moores at Chapel Spa (+44 1242 518075). Sudeley Castle is nearby, and Giffords Circus tours the area in summer. The hotel’s sister pub, The Tavern, serves the best burger in town and a great Sunday lunch.
Address: 131 The Promenade, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Telephone: +44 1242 822939
Price: Doubles from £170