With broad tree lined streets and rows of neat Regency houses, Cheltenham is both instagram cat-nip and a interesting town to explore. A few weekends ago, I was invited to experience Cheltenham as the guest of Visit Cheltenham. I spent the day exploring by bike and on foot. Starting with the green Honey Bourne Line and then scouting out the best places for shopping, with a slight interiors leaning.
Short on time, one of the best ways to explore somewhere new is by bicycle. Bikes allow you to cover more ground and, as in my case, introduce you to places you might not otherwise of found.
My Cheltenham tour started on the saddle of hired bike from The Bicycle Hub. Conveniently, over the road from Cheltenham Spa station it’s in the perfect spot to pick up a bike and explore the town. Download the Compass Holidays app and search for the Regency Cheltenham Cycle Trail, which takes you on an largely off-road tour of the city. I love cycling. Slow enough to take in surrounds, easy to hop off and lock up. We cycled the Honeybourne line, an old railway line that takes an off-road and peace path through the town up to Pittville Park, an beyond. Places I would not have otherwise discovered without the bike.
A Victorian ornamental park, originally designed for promenading. It is home to the Grand Pump Room where, when open, you can still take the Cheltenham spa waters. Pillville Park has lakes and established trees, laid out by its Victorian designers. I’d say Pittville Park has something for everyone. There is a modern, imaginative play area with bird aviaries. Older children will love the skating/BMX/scooting area. The cafe hires out rowing boats and pitch-and-putt kit, alongside, hot drinks, cakes, and ice creams.
The Paint Festival
Cheltenham isn’t all classic architecture. A recent development is the Paint Festival bringing vibrant street art to the spaces across the city, worth looking out for as you explore the town.
Cheltenham famously hosts a Literature, Jazz, Science and Music festivals. Attracting a host of lauded speakers. It is worth becoming a member to get first dibs on tickets, or at least plan ahead as all these events are popular. The town gets busy, it’s worth booking accommodation early.
I really enjoyed exploring the shopping areas. There is a mix of independent in quiet back streets and everything high street in busy pedestrianised areas.
For familiar brands take a walk through the traffic-free high street. Opening in Autumn 2018 a brand new John Lewis. On the Promenade Cavendish House offers under-one-roof department store shopping.
Shaded by trees with pavement cafes, the shops along the Promenade are the type that require a little more flexibility in funds. If your credit card can stretch, amongst others there’s a branch of TOAST and Space NK.
With the high street behind you continue up from the Promenade and you’ll reach Montpellier. You’ll know when you’ve arrived, as the facades of Montpellier Walk are lined with ‘Caryatids’. Greek style statues of ‘armless ladies’. Here there are rows of up-market shops and restaurants. The Union Project sells achingly stylish homeware and apothecary. On Rotunda Terrace, for interior demons, like me, find Upstairs Downstairs interiors which sell a range of fabrics. A few doors along is the glorious Pink Vintage selling vintage homeware and cakes; the perfect combination.
Set in roads of beautiful Regency terraces, The Suffolks is a few streets of indie shops, cafes and vintage stores. I peered into the window of The House Clearance shop on Suffolk Road, it was closed but it seemed to be chock full of interesting vintage items.
If simple Scandi design ticks your home box, then Skandic Has on Suffolk Parade will make your heart skip a beat. Amongst other brands there is bright, bold Marimekko home goods and a corner dedicated to all things Moomins.
The Suffolks is the sort of place to just wander and discover. There are a variety of pubs and cafes to stop if your feet begin to ache. I stopped at the Cafe Boho on Great Norwood Street, I had a mug of hot tea and a perfect millionaire shortbread. It was a calming space after exploring the frenetic shopping district. The Suffolks is a quiet criss-cross of streets and my kind of shopping experience, a patch of linking roads, amongst residential streets with interesting finds.
For a distinctly local feel and a choice of chip shops, pubs and cafes, head to the Bath Road. Five o’clock on a Saturday evening the Bath Road beers was packed with those stopping for a drink and buying take-outs. It is an off-licence come bar. Stocking a range of indie-beers, ciders, and wine. The staff were helpful and I bought locally brewed .
Eating and Drinking
Places that caught my eye: On a corner of Montpellier Avenue John Gordons; floor to ceiling gin, wines, and whiskey. On Saturday afternoon it was packed with groups of friends enjoying a glass or two and looked very inviting.
Nearer to the centre of town; The Swallow Bakery on Imperial Square. Homemade cakes and pastries, for breakfast and lunch. I just couldn’t face the queue, but a queue suggests it’s good. Around the corner The Milk Bar heart-stopping artisan ice creams and crepes.
Cheltenham is well worth a weekend visit, if not longer. If you are shopped out, there are museums and regular festivals. The town offers easy access to the Cotswolds with its pretty villages and walks including the Cotswold Way. I visited with a group of bloggers and we were invited for lunch at the Cotswold Grange Hotel. Close to Pittville Park and a short walk from the shopping areas. The hotel has stylish interiors, echos of it’s Regency past with classic features, modernised with stylish interior twists. We ate lunch and toured the rooms, each with an individual feel and luxe on-suite facilities. Run by a wife and husband team, the feel was very welcoming and comfortable. The hotel would make a great place to relax and as a base to explore all the Cheltenham has to offer.
Disclosure: I was invited to visit Cheltenham as a guest of Visit Cheltenham. All words and opinions are my own.