The Idealist

Idealist City Shopping Guide: Cheltenham

Known to many as the ‘western gateway to the Cotswolds,’ the regency spa town of Cheltenham beams with the old-world charm of its eighteenth century heyday. Certainly, its history as to how as to how it became the famous spa town it is makes for a fascinating little read. In 1716, Henry Skilicorne, Captain and retired ‘master mariner’ discovered the mineral springs and aimed to develop a spa around it. By 1738, he outfitted his spa with a pump, an elaborate well house, and billiard and ballrooms to ensure that his wealthy patrons were entertained during their stay. The town’s iconic, tree-lined promenades were also a notable Skilicorne initiative, conjuring up poetic and inspiring spaces for his rich and well-travelled guests to navigate through. The 1788 visit from King George III, the queen and the royal princess gave Cheltenham the royal seal of approval, firmly establishing the town as one of the fashionable haunts in the health and fashion vernacular of the wealthy.

Certainly, Cheltenham’s spa legacy is by no means a thing of the past- the town’s ever-healing waters can still be sampled at the Pitville Pump Room.  However, Cheltenham is so much more than just this. Names affiliated with the city include the likes of legendary novelist Lewis Carroll and composer Gustav Holtz. Of late, Cheltenham has also become a culture hub, having hosted of literary, dramatic and jazz festivals; certainly, the town’s newfound vitality has not gone unnoticed with the New York Times having remarked on its recent cultural renaissance. What the tour guides forget to mention, however, is that Cheltenham’s fair streets and many lanes are adorned with a treasure trove of boutiques that can do wonders for your home. We inspect the town with a fine toothcomb, and in the process, establish out just why Cheltenham should on your radar for your next city break.

Shopping

Few things can top the charm and unpredictable excitement of an authentic market experience – and Cheltenham Market offers exactly that. Cheltenham Market, at 252 Bath Road, is a mosaic of stalls offering everything from new and vintage furniture (check out House@252 for this in particular), home décor, accessories, jewellery, bric-a-brac, clothes, toys – and almost anything, really. With the roster of stalls changing on a weekly basis, it is impossible to predict what one can find at any given time, which, I suppose, is the beauty of it all. We’re confident you will find that wildcard curiosity or that just special something you will simple fall in love with.

Since opening its doors in 1929, Winnens has always been a distinctly Cheltenham based, family run establishment. Winnens’ larger, Tewkesbury Road showroom, which the company moved into in 2014, displays the breadth of the company’s home and interior inventory, featuring distinguished brands like Amtico, Harlequin, Karndean and Stressless Global. Winnens stock a brilliantly wide range of styles, particularly excelling in contemporary, mid-century and minimalist traditions in addition to their beautiful, classically styled pieces. You’ll be sure to find something to inspire new life into your home here.

Wesley-Barrell has its roots in Witney, Oxfordshire, going as far back as 1895. Today, the company still produces both contemporary and traditionally styled using artisan techniques honed over 120 years of manufacturing. Their hand-upholstered sofas and armchairs honour British design and demonstrate their deep commitment to the highest levels of craftsmanship. Wesley-Barrell produces and stocks furniture for any room in the house, including pieces for dining rooms, bedrooms and living areas. For beautiful furniture that is both conceptualised and brought to life within these shores, Wesley-Barrell’s reputation is certainly amongst the best out there.

Innovative, experienced, proactive. These three terms are the words chosen by Paragon to describe the way they operate. The commercial art gallery, found at Four Rotunda Terrace, Montpellier Street, work closely with both the client and their artists, nurturing and promoting their talent whilst offering a price fair to both parties. The gallery is a tremendously exciting place, with a wide diversity of art composed across a variety of mediums, styles and by artists sourced locally and from across the world. There is always new work on show, meaning that no two trips will be the same. Paragon is a dynamic gallery and one that is driven by a genuine passion to support and foster outstanding art.

For high quality antiques in a beautiful setting, visit The Triton Gallery on Suffolk Parade, which specialises in mirrors and lighting. As well as chandeliers and other breathtaking lighting features, owner Lorenzo Bianco also sells garden furniture and smaller pieces such as vintage crockery in this small but cosy store. And it’s no wonder the pieces are all so unique and well-curated – Lorenzo travels all over Europe to find the treasures himself! Open Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm, or by appointment.

Curious City Print Shop Cheltenham

For something a bit more modern, check out the Curious City Print Shop, which produces a quirky selection of limited edition prints inspired by the people and places that make up the city of Cheltenham. Bring home a colourful memory of the places you’ve seen during your stay, like Sandford Parks Lido, Montpellier Gardens and Cheltenham College, or a local event you’ve attended, such as Gold Cup Day, the Literature Festival and more.

Let’s Eat

Cheltenham’s restaurants exhibit the variety and diversity seen in its boutiques in much the same fashion. Offering everything from posh nosh to humble pie, local and international, the town’s many eateries have a little something for everyone.

Lumiere is a 3AA Rosette winning restaurant that has a reputation for excellence when it comes to offering the very best in British cooking, drawing its inspiration from the seasonal produce found at its doorstep. Chef John Howe’s contemporary three-course lunch, five-course tasting and five-course dinner, nine-course tasting menus all focus on fresh, seasonal produce sourced from local farms, markets and suppliers that the restaurant work closely with. From this, John’s culinary alchemy extracts bold flavours and gorgeous textures, all immaculately and imaginatively presented on the plate. Helen Howe, John’s wife, is charge of the restaurant’s famed hospitality, and heads the knowledgeable team that that aim to offer you the best dining experience. One would need to make a reservation so as to avoid disappointment.

With an ancient Sanskrit name meaning ‘earth, or mother earth,’ Prithvi firmly believe that ‘a memorable dining experience is not only about the food and wine. It is an emotional experience – every little detail matters.’ It is expressly by this that their modus operandi is composed. Prithvi reimagines Indian cuisine, offering it in a modern and inventive style that breaks from the stereotypes and conventions that has worn and somewhat cheapened the country’s culinary traditions.  The restaurant re-establishes Indian cuisine to its art form status, offering dynamic and innovatively formed courses that captures the complexity and delicateness of the cuisine. The service is smart, insightful and knowledgeable- it’s no wonder that The Telegraph gave it the number two spot when ranking the best Indian restaurants across the country.

Tucked inside a beautiful twenties cinema on the beautiful Suffolk Parade, The Daffodil guarantee a high-end culinary experience. Their carefully sourced ingredients are treated with respect they deserve, the sum of which culminating in artistically composed plates of food. The Daffodil sports a large cellar of wines to match your meal. Their extensive collection features a selection of: reds, whites, roses and champagnes, available by the glass or bottle. With the interiors composed by Laurence Llewellyn Bowen and influenced by the art-deco grandeur of Hollywood’s golden age, The Daffodil aims to offer a glamorously unforgettable dining experience.

Getting Here & Hotels

One of the perks that come with the territory of being the capital is that London has outstanding connections with other cities across the country, with Cheltenham being one of these. If you don’t fancy the drive, regular services from London Paddington will see you arriving at Cheltenham Spa in just over two hours. However, to really make the most of what the town has to offer it is imperative you look beyond the daytrip –and- when it comes to hotels, we just might know a place or two that have a reputation for being particularly brilliant at doing what they do.

No. 131 is one of those places that are just effortlessly cool. The Grade II listed Georgian property was unoccupied for years prior to receiving the breath taking renovation that brought No.131 to life. The hotel, restaurant and bar is the brainchild of Sam and Georgina Pearman, boasting eleven rooms that gorgeously marry vintage and contemporary elements. A hushed tonal palette, paired with earthy woods and industrial metals really captures a metropolitan Parisian or New Yorker vibe, packing character in spades.  Room service by a friendly and attentive staff, a fantastic restaurant and bar, complementary Wi-Fi and parking cover your basic needs whilst staying in their beautifully composed rooms.


Perhaps a rural retreat might be something a touch more your style, and for that, few hotels come better qualified than Ellenborough House. Situated just two miles away from the city centre, the hotel perfectly walks the line between proximity to all the action and the notably green look of a countryside getaway. The ninety acres of estate within which the hotel sits certainly makes sure of that. Pulling up to the hotel, the core of which dates back to the 1500’s you’re sure to feel like you’re stepped into a time machine and that iPhone in your hand will most definitely seem anachronistic in such a space.

The building was formerly the home of the De la Bere family and the eponymous Earl of Ellenborough, prior to it being converted into a hotel in the seventies. Composed by Nina Campbell, the rooms capture a country look whilst still remaining defiantly upmarket. A medley of warm tones, richly veneered and exposed-grain wooden furniture and space illuminated by swathes of natural light give these rooms a gorgeously elegant air. On top of all your basic needs, saunas, spas and faculties for leisure sports such as golf might actually make you forget about much else and might make leaving the hotel quite difficult- don’t say we didn’t warn you.

For those seeking something with a slightly more contemporary flavor whilst still wanting to be surrounded by oodles of greenery, Cowley Manor might just be what you’re after. The Italianate country house brings zesty tones and elegant uncomplicatedness of Mediterranean style right to the heart of the Cotswolds. The hotel sits on fifty-five acres of parklands, and is just 10 minutes away from the centre of town. The rooms are styled very much in accordance with the clients’ needs but all boast the funky tonal and stylistic touches that pack so much character into the hotel. On top of the basics, the hotel crème de la crème is it spa and two swimming pools to really ensure that relaxation is the name of the game during your stay here.

Rounding Off

As a town Cheltenham has plenty to offer, be it its lengthy and chaptered history, ties with historically significant novelists and composers or just the fresh-faced, cultural hub for the arts it has become today. Certainly, by way of its exclusive boutique hotels, restaurants and astoundingly beautiful surrounding, Cheltenham is certainly no slouch when it comes to fashioning itself as a place for rest and recuperation – after all, the town has built a bit of a historic reputation for being just that. However, what must not be overlooked are the town’s many home and interior boutiques, antiques dealers, and art galleries. In much the same way Cheltenham may leave you feeling refreshed and beaming with a fresh vigour, the town may just do the same to your home also.

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All photos courtesy of respective locations.

  • Nigel is a writer and journalist living in London. He loves music, literature and architecture. Since moving to London to study, he’s yet to kick his honeymoon phase with the city, and when not working, can consequently be found making the most of what London has to offer. He maintains that Billy Joel is one of the greatest and most critically misunderstood singer-songwriters of our time. So far, he has found 3 other people that agree with him.

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