Octavia Pollock takes a trip to Cheltenham to experience the best that this equestrian retreat has to offer.
From the lawns in front of Ellenborough Park, we could look directly down to the finishing straight of Cheltenham Racecourse and its looming grandstand. Far beyond, the round bulk of May Hill, with its distinctive clump of trees atop, rose above the church spires of Cheltenham.
A classic Cotswold-stone country house, the hotel is enlivened by clever modern touches, such as the glass entranceway and light-filled atrium. The double-height hall of 1485, with its roaring fire and sofas was tempting on a grey afternoon; bring a book or grab a board game and it’s a perfect place for a post-racing sojourn.
It’s all about the horses here. An equestrian sculpture stands on the lawn, our room was named Arkle and the pub, where we enjoyed a G&T with local gin before dinner in the grand main restaurant, appropriately named Horse Box.
As the hotel’s grounds back directly onto the course, racegoers are whisked straight into the action in a chauffeur-driven Bentley – surely the ultimate luxury amid the usual traffic snarl-up.
If you lose more than you win, fret not, a squishy stress horse awaits you in your room and, if that doesn’t relax you, a spa treatment will.
From £209 per night, including use of the spa. Racing packages, with transfers to the course, start at £309. Find out more at www.ellenboroughpark.com.
Food and drink
If you’re lucky enough to find snails on your menu – from a farm in Herefordshire – do try them. Chef David Williams, who has worked with Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, has an exquisite touch.
Things to do
Ask for a tour from the experienced porter, who will tell you the tale of the bulletholes in the ancient front door; point out the unicorn that symbolises the virtuous marriage of tenant farmer Thomas Goodman, who first built a house on this spot; and reveal how the headmaster of Oriel High School for Girls (in situ 1947–72) made his study at the top of the highest tower to exacerbate the girls’ nerves when they were summoned to his presence.
Take advantage of the fully stocked boot room for a walk up Cleeve Hill behind the hotel. There are plenty of warm coats and Dubarry and Hunter boots for everyone.
Or explore the 90-acre grounds, complete with croquet lawns, warm outdoor pool, secret passages (sadly blocked up) and an Indian memorial erected by the Earl of Ellenborough, who served as Governor-General of India from 1842 to 1844, when he was recalled after his mission to bring ‘Peace in Asia’ failed. Bring your dog along, too – canines are more than welcome.
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