Smack-bang on the Promenade in Cheltenham — one of our most elegant spa towns — No. 131 is a chic and cool hotel that oozes glamour without compromising on its original Georgian period charm, says Paula Lester.
Although I have been fortunate to go racing at the Cheltenham Festival several times, I had never — to my shame — ventured into or stayed in the town centre itself. And what a mistake that was. For, as soon as I got the chance to visit, it was easy to see why so many since 1788 — when King George III came to drink the waters — have been drawn to this Regency gem in the middle of the Cotswolds.
Perched, as its name suggests, at the top of the Promenade (so called because that’s where the town’s smartest Georgian residents used to ‘promenade’ up and down the pavement), No. 131 is in a plum spot overlooking the Imperial Gardens.
As the hotel is an amalgamation of three graceful white townhouses that have been reimagined by Julian Dunkerton, co-founder of Superdry clothing and his wife, Jade Holland Cooper, owner of her own eponymous fashion label, it’s perhaps no surprise that No. 131’s interior is more stylish, contemporary and edgy than it’s classic façade suggests. Think dark walls, modern statement artwork and a decadent gold leaf ceiling in the lavish Japanese restaurant that feels as if it could be in Paris, France.
Since the pandemic, No. 131 has benefited from the ingenious ‘tenting’ of its ample wrap-around terrace, which has transformed the previously open-air drinking and dining area into a partly alfresco bar and an enclosed brasserie restaurant.
Recommended videos for you
The hotel’s 36 (‘cosy’, ‘very good’, ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’) rooms all feature Egyptian bed linen and Bramley and Acqua Di Parma products, with either roll top baths or walk-in showers. Most — and my family room on the top floor of The King’s House was no exception — have wood panelling, tweed headboards and generous bathrooms.
In fact, as well as a separate twin bedded room, mine had a roll top bath discreetly tucked to the side of the bed, plus a vast Crittal-screened shower with two shower heads in which six of us could have easily showered in comfort. There was also a double marble-topped sink and handy bags of the toiletries we so often forget, such as toothpaste, razors and cotton wool pads. Due to the buzzing town-centre location — and the pumping tunes emanating from Gin & Juice — I wasn’t sure I’d sleep well; but, fortunately, room No 36 was blissfully quiet.
Eating and drinking
The hotel’s lively 131 Terrace Restaurant envelops the front side of the property and is cleverly segregated from the rest of the broad pavement, so you won’t be disturbed by passers by while you are dining. Open all day and most of the night, it serves brasserie-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Expect classic menu choices, from eggs’ Benedict and kedgeree to Cornish lemon sole on the bone and charcoal-grilled dry-aged ribeye steaks with fries and cherry vine tomatoes.
However, for a special occasion or an intimate date night, the in-house sushi and Asian restaurant, Yoku (which translates as ‘a desire to do things exceptionally well’), will delight all your senses. Sat in a quiet corner, looking out of the floor-to-ceiling sash windows onto the bustling Promenade beyond, I indulged in the eight-course tasting menu that began with a tuna tartare salad, followed by the chef’s selection of assorted sashimi — with wasabi, shoyu and pickled ginger — served on top of a giant clam shell, which was an absolute show-stopper in terms of looks and taste, thanks in no small part to the plumes of dry ice billowing from beneath it.
The seared Wagyu beef nigiri was velvety soft and the flavour of the black miso cod, with fried rice and green chilli, made it one of the most delectable dishes I’ve ever eaten. I also enjoyed learning about the range of sake on the drinks’ menu that were not, as I had previously thought, terrifyingly strong, and was chuffed that I managed to master the chopsticks without dropping too many delicious morsels.
How they’ll keep you busy
As it’s right on the edge of the town’s Montpellier district — with its many boutiques, jewellers and gift shops and a short walk from the sophisticated High Street, where you’ll find Whistles, Hobbs and the White Company — No.131 would be a great base for a shopping trip. If you book far enough in advance, it’s obviously also ideal for the Cheltenham Festival of National Hunt racing in mid-March and the town’s June food-and-drink festival, as well as October’s Literature Festival.
What else to do while you’re there
Bike hire and picnic hampers can be arranged for those wanting to reconnoitre the coveted Cotswolds countryside, along with horse-riding, fishing on the River Coln (above) or clay-pigeon shooting lessons with the Olympic trainer and game shot, Ian Coley.
Who is it for?
All ages, but the Mediterranean/Ibiza style-vibe of the outdoor bar and dining spaces, as well as the Gin & Juice bar, featuring DJ sets and a choice of 400-plus types of gin, beneath the hotel, make it more suited to a younger audience.
What gives it the ‘wow’ factor?
Apart from the appeal of the considerately refurbished rooms and the grandeur of the buildings’ period details — the curved wooden bannister leading up the stairs to my room in The King’s House is a thing of beauty — the seductive opulence of the hotel’s sleek Bar Tokyo and Japanese restaurant, Yoku, is a tour de force.
With deep black walls, cherry red accents and a curvaceous bar, not to mention the waiting staff’s expert knowledge of each exquisitely presented and flavoursome dish (there’s nothing that Malaney, the exceptional Restaurant Manager, does not know) all served under glistening chandeliers, this is fine Asian dining at its theatrical best.
The one thing we’d change
Although my family room in The King’s House was utterly spoiling, especially for a solo traveller, I would have loved to have been able to open a window. I expect they were sealed shut for health and safety reasons, but I cannot be alone in preferring some fresh (as opposed to air-conditioned) air, particularly overnight.
Rooms at No.131 from £135 a night, including breakfast. Call 01242 822939 or book direct at www.no131.com