Pride of the Cotswolds: a country retreat fit for a spa-loving king
Centred on a 15th century manor house on the fringes of the genteel English town of Cheltenham, Ellenborough Park opened last year and has already been named Britain's 'leading country house hotel' and 'leading spa hotel' by the World Travel Awards.
Its decor, by interior designer Nina Campbell, combines an eclectic individuality with sympathy for the historic character of the building. The heart of the hotel is the Great Hall. Recently dated to 1485 it has leaded windows, a minstrel's gallery and a large open fire for cooler months. Now a lounge where drinks and afternoon cream teas are served, the room is both grand and cosy.
On the walls of the Great Hall are pictures of Katherine Parr - last wife of Henry VIII - who lived and is buried just 11 kilometres away at Sudeley Castle, and Richard Sackville, third Earl of Dorset, a notorious 17th century 'gambler and wastrel'. The latter is a warning, the hotel says, to all overeager race-goers.
This is an apt reminder: Ellenborough Park overlooks (at a distance) the Cheltenham Racecourse, home to eight meets a year, including the storied Gold Cup in March. Racing glasses are provided in the rooms and the hotel has a complimentary race-day shuttle service.
The hotel Brasserie is painted racing green and adorned with pictures of horses. The racing theme is hinted at throughout the hotel, but in a lower key. The style of the Beaufort fine dining restaurant is more traditional with the original oak panelling, stained glass and fine carved-wood 16th century fireplaces. It has an air of elegant calm.
The food is excellent too, particularly the traditional dishes. There is always fresh fish and the chateaubriand (from local farms) melts in the mouth. The cheeseboard is English - with over a dozen varieties - and the wine list well-chosen with a sommelier always on hand
There are several smaller historic dining rooms for private dinners, including the library, which has a connecting door to one of the hotel's four suites. Furnished around a four-poster bed, the suites are each named after a famous racehorse (Arkle, Kauto Star, Istabraq and Stormyfairweather). Freestanding baths and spacious walk-in showers, and under-floor heating add to the feeling of luxury.
The hotel is in the Cotswolds, in the heart of some of Britain's prettiest countryside and picture-postcard villages. For those who like walking, the hotel lends out Hunter wellies or excellent Dubarry leather boots and weather-proof jackets.
However, you won't need these to explore the Regency splendour of Cheltenham. A spa town first popularised by King George III in the late 18th century, it is a city of elegant townhouses and 'villas', boutiques and antique shops, with highly regarded annual festivals of literature, music and sport.
You can still taste the waters at the last remaining pump room, the neoclassical Pittville. As you sip, consider the poor souls sent here for their health and dosed with several pints of this ill-tasting stuff a day.
Cheltenham has a number of delightful eateries including The Daffodil, a converted 1920s art deco cinema, and the two-Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage. The decor here is unpretentious, service unfussy and the food as creative as the contemporary paintings on the walls. Chef and patron David Everitt-Matthias is constantly developing new dishes.
The Ellenborough has its own spa. Warm and sweet-smelling with a tranquil, gently Indian ambience, it has a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi and a staff of well-trained therapists. The signature four-handed aromatherapy massage is a perfect way to relax.
If you fancy something more active, the outdoor heated swimming pool is open year-round and the hotel has links with several golf clubs. Shooting, polo, falconry and hot-air ballooning can also be arranged along with almost anything you request. The staff, many of whom are local, are extremely helpful.
At the end of the day, there is nothing for it but to sink into the hotel's exceptionally comfortable beds with crisp white linen and puffy pillows made for the hotel.
To the manor drawn
Ellenborough Park Hotel, Southam Rd, Cheltenham
+44 (0)1242 807 542; ellenboroughpark.com
Two hours from London by car or train (firstgreatwestern.co.uk)
Rooms (bed and breakfast) cost from GBP210 (HK$2,600), suites from GBP820