We’re backing Ellenborough Park as our next Gold Cup winner. This is an educated bet: the sports-loving hotel has thoroughbred good looks (courtesy of designer Nina Campbell), 90 gorgeous green acres of National Trust land, and a herd of indulgent extras. Keen flutterers will enjoy the views, too – rooms overlook the finishing line at Cheltenham Racecourse.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of red or white wine – sommelier’s choice – to take home
11am. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £135.14, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast (buffet and Full English) and use of the spa.
Keep an eye out for the magnificent, hand-painted staircase in the main house – it's adorned with pictures of stags, gambolling in the Cotswolds countryside.
At the hotel
Spa with seven treatment rooms, sauna, gardens, gun room, boot room, fitness suite, and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, minibar and 100 Acre bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The Arkle suite is surprisingly light and airy, considering that it’s kitted out from top-to-toe in oak panelling. It has a lucky streak, too: named after Arkle the racehorse (who notched up 14 big wins in just two years), and is a favourite with visiting jockeys. They probably love it for its princely four-poster. Or its striking original fireplace. Or its vast bathroom with a roll-top tub and shower. The Istabraq suite, set in the eaves of the Great Hall, doesn’t skimp on drama, with its soaring dark Tudor beams and glittering split-level bathroom with under-floor heating, twin basins, roll-top bath and palatial shower. Another of our favourites is the Kauto Star suite: feminine, light and airy, it's the perfect choice for brides (or a romantic weekend).
The outdoor pool, flanked by white-cushioned wooden sun loungers, is kept at a deliciously warm 30 degrees all year round. It's positioned near the hotel’s newest block of rooms, Woodland Court.
Hit the spa for a pampering session in one of their six treatment rooms; we’d plump for an algae wrap or Nemaste of India: body brush, scalp, hair and full-body massage. There's a jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, relaxation room and juice bar, too.
Don’t weigh your case down with binoculars for spying on the horses/race-goers, the hotel has telescopes for this purpose, and you can keep snug and dry with their stash of Dubarry wellies and coats from the boot room. Ladies/gents yearning for a smooth mane can request hair straighteners from reception; phone chargers, dental kits and spare tights are also available. Prestbury is supposedly Britain’s most haunted village: bring your preferred method of protection against the undead – garlic, black salt or holy water, perhaps?
Bring your dog too, for £25 a night. Canine companions are welcome in reception, the country pub, the Horse Box and the Atrium. Not all rooms are pet-friendly so get in touch with our Smith24 team to check. See more pet-friendly hotels in Cotswolds.
Cots are free, extra beds are £30 (this includes breakfast), and babysitting with a local, Ofsted-registered nanny can be arranged for £15 to £20 an hour. The hotel reckons that when it comes to young uns, it’s best suited to juniors and teens.
Juniors, and older children who will be confident in the pool and grounds.
The Traditional rooms are adult-only, as are most of the Classic rooms, and Tower rooms aren’t suited for children either. Opt for a Luxury room for the most space.
Outside in the grounds, there’s plenty here to keep little Smiths entertained – croquet kit, outdoor swimming pool, gorgeous grounds, links to the local polo club, and so on.
The outdoor pool has a shallow end, but it isn’t monitored, so swimmers must be accompanied by an adult guardian.
Little Smiths are welcome in the The Horse Box at any time, and can dine in the Restaurant after 7pm. Staff will make packed lunches, heat up baby milk and baby food, and provide high chairs.
The hotel can arrange for an Ofsted-registered local nanny to watch your children for £15 an hour on weekdays, £20 an hour on weekends and bank holidays. This service must be booked at least a week in advance.
Cold? Snuggle up by the fire. Hot? Sit outside and enjoy the breeze. Ardent sports fans should sit closest to the TV in the Horse Box bar, which screens all the big sporting events.
An equine equation: white shirts + cashmere + tan leather accents. Spruce up for the Restaurant; T-shirts and chinos are fine for the Horse Box.
There are two: the Restaurant is the bigger, and more formal, with original Tudor fireplaces, stained glass Oriel windows, and fine dining to match; the Horse Box serves burgers and British classics in a cosy, sports-themed setting. Both have outdoor seating, so when the weather's fine, sit on the terrace for gorgeous views of the grounds. Afternoon tea is served every day from 2.30pm to 5pm. The Restaurant is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Fans of whisky and cigars will love the bar area (where both are on tap), tucked away in the Horse Box. It'd be rude not to try Ellenborough Park's own gin, and the barmen mix up a mean Lady Ellenborough: cucumber, Hendrick's Gin, Chase Elderflower, lime juice, sugar syrup and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne.
The Restaurant serves breakfast (7am to 10am on weekdays and 8am to 11am at weekends), dinner Wednesday to Sunday from 6.30pm to 9pm, and Sunday lunch from 12.30pm to 2.30pm. The Horse Box is open daily for lunch (noon to 3pm) and dinner (6pm to 9.30pm).
The room service menu is thorough (soups, salads, sandwiches and mains), and available 24-hours a day.
Birmingham airport is less than 60 miles away, with connections from Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Jersey. International hub Heathrow Airport (www.heathrowairport.com) is roughly a two-hour drive from the hotel.
Cheltenham Spa is just two miles away, with services connecting to London, Bristol and the South West (www.nationalrail.co.uk). A taxi should cost around £6 each way.
Cheltenham Spa is a 10-minute drive away. Ellenborough Park has plenty of free parking for guests.
Worth getting out of bed for
Start with what’s right in front of you: borrow a pair of Ellenborough socks and green Hunter boots (or brown Dubarry hiking boots, if they’re more your style), then set off for a foray in the countryside. Bring your own shotgun (or ask about borrowing one from the Ian Coley shooting school) for a spot of clay-pigeon shooting. If you’re keen to use the spa, book a treatment in advance – it’s small (just seven treatment rooms) and very popular. The hotel hosts wine tastings in an area behind the atrium; it also works closely with a Longdole Polo Club – request a lesson or two. There’s also a stash of balls, hoops and mallets for keen croquet players. If you’ve any time left, venture into Cheltenham for the elegant shops, bars and restaurants, lay some bets at the racecourse, or go on a drive around the Cotswolds countryside, stopping off for a hearty pub lunch or elegant cream tea. The hotel can also arrange archery, picnics, Cotswolds tours, fishing trips, golf lessons, hiking, horse racing and riding and helicopter tours.
The elegant Lumière on Clarence Parade serves modern ‘global’ cuisine and always looks lively, but if it’s a flawless French feast you’re after, book a table at the incomparable Le Champignon Sauvage on Suffolk Road. For Indian meals with a twist, Prithvi's menu of slow-cooked duck, cinnamon-spiced beef and coriander-laced naan isn't to be missed. And the Find is a local favourite for its hearty brunches, its afternoon tea (laden with brownies, madeleines, friands and other sweet treats) and an indulgent hot chocolate.
Get your alfresco fix in the Imperial Square gardens, where an open-air bar dispenses liquid refreshments during summer. For a quirky coffee run, pop into the Scandinavian Coffee Pod in Cheltenham: a daffodil-hued box where you can grab an ethically sourced roast or Born Wild tea.
Montpellier Wine Bar in Cheltenham has a lively atmosphere, and an alfresco dining patch that’s perfect for sunny afternoons (the kind that spill langorously into evenings).
Oh to have met Lady Jane Digby, the most notorious Lady Ellenborough. What a colourful Mrs Smith she would have made. Briefly the lady of this Cotswold house, one wonders what she would make of her grand once-marital home now hosting loved-up weekend awayers? I am confident the 1807-born aristocrat – who in her time eloped with an Austrian prince, married a Bedoin sheikh and a German baron, and had affairs with an Albanian brigand general and the King of Bavaria – would thoroughly approve...
A distinguished vignette greets us at the Cotswold-stone hotel for our arrival: cornflower-blue sky and a Kermit-green lawn that stretches to wild fields that roll down to the edge of Cheltenham’s groomed racetrack. Sunshine alchemised the crenallated towers and centuries-old stonework to pure gold. We couldn’t help but be curious about this property’s heritage. (Especially when Mr Smith scrutinised the bricks and pointed out sections clearly added in different eras.) But what should prove a most memorable part of our recent stay at the new luxury Cheltenham hotel? When someone recommended a copy of Lady Jane’s biography by Mary S Lovell. (A gentle enquiry into the history of the house from a sweet member of staff had her disappearing off, and moments later, cheerily popping a copy of this very paperback into my paws.)
Architecture buffs will recognise the property as an anomaly. Thomas Goodman's construction of Southam House, as it was known until the Seventies, first began in 1500; eventually the estate passed to Richard de la Bere who was the first person to come over all Grand Designs on it – in a 17th-century kind of way. By 1833 it was the first Earl of Ellenborough's; then in the 20th century it hosted a private girls school and a hotel. But nothing in the league of its latest incarnation. 2007 marked the dawn of a new era when asset managers got their mitts on the property; after four years of extravagant remodelling a very new beast emerged.
And so, to these two Smith turning up at this TripAdvisor high-ranker – a day early. After a few blank looks from the friendly receptionists and a little gentle head-shaking, we unnervingly discover there is no record of our booking. Oh no. Turns out we’ve committed the ultimate hotel-reviewing faux pas: I got our dates jumbled. Smiling throughout, the receptionist graciously finds us a room quick-smart (despite Ellenborough Park being almost fully booked), and we're invited to take tea in the Great Hall while they get our suite readied. It is betwixt the centuries-old carved stone fireplace, and delicate stained-glass windows, under huge Tudor portraits, that we learn about the scandalising Lady Ellenbrough.
Just-baked scones, Earl Grey and tales of yore devoured, and we’re steered to our luxury double bedroom in the new wing. With our hotel-critic heads on we weigh up this newly created hotel decked out in Nina Campbell interior design; hmm, not a big fan of brass name badges, but since the staff are so friendly, it is nice to know their names. Electronic photo frames with a loop of brochure-type shots? Slightly dubious. But such corporate details are soon forgotten when our chaperone steers us into a boot room and invites us to borrow wellies. Fun.
Being in the purpose-built Woodland Court rather than the hotel’s more historic main house sees our door opening to a super high-quality, stylish modern-classic bedroom. It could be a Four Seasons showroom: huge, inviting bed clearly clad in top-notch freshly starched linens, resplendent marble ensuite bathroom, big desk with information folders, and a whopping widescreen with a hotel video of guests having a whale of a time in a hot tub. No, no – it’s not a steamy adult channel, but a corporate film of Ellenborough Park’s marvelous facilities in full glory.
And boy, are there facilities. Fans of shooting, polo and golf will like it here, but we’ve booked in for my personal pastime favourite: the spa. Steered into the juice bar (although, disappointingly as it’s a Sunday no one offers to rustle us up anything freshly squeezed), we wait for our therapists. Spa snobs, take note, the Discovery Prescription Facial is a winner. As I lie there taking in the classical music in my candlelit cubby, soaking up the Babor oils, it’s impossible to conceive that there is in fact a wedding going on right below in De la Bere Court.
From pampering to pigging out – via an elegant aperitif. It’s a Lady Ellenborough cocktail for me (Hendrick's gin, champagne and elderflower cordial) and a classic martini for Mr Smith, in the minstrel’s gallery overlooking that harp-boasting history-steeped hall. There is a more traditional hotel watering hole which doubles as a brasserie, the Brasserie bar – but tonight it is commandeered by the wedding party. No worry, we prefer this spot anyway to the more conventional bar that is a tad masculine for my taste. (Racing enthusiasts will find the whisky-toting, cigar-selling Brasserie bar a must-visit though when it comes to eavesdropping for tip-offs from visiting jockeys and horse trainers.)
For us, it is the Beaufort Dining Room where Ellenborough truly wows. The Italian maitre d’ Sandro is the first agent in transporting us from country-house-hotel to sophisticated gastronome’s paradise, eased along with excellent advice from sommelier Tobias Brauweiler. It’s an exciting Modern British menu laced with every epicurean indulgence (foie gras, lobster – you name it.) A few bites of the quality ingredients and you are likely to consider the £60 price tag for four courses perfectly reasonable.
A bracing* dip in the slate-lined outdoor pool the next morning washes away any traces of Tobias’ expert wine-matching. (*It is heated, but this is England after all.) We then make the most of our near-town location with a wander into Cheltenham itself. (If I’m to be brutal dear reader, we miss out on a true bank holiday lie-in due to our previous guests setting the alarm in our room for 5.55am. Thankfully the pastry-, fruit- and charcuterie-laden breakfast table is a magnificent incentive to get us out of that fine-linened cloud of a bed.)
After a day of poking our noses into cute delis, galleries and boutiques in the Montpellier district, we’re happy to be relaxing in the Great Hall again with another afternoon tea. Peering over that chic specially commissioned bone china, we observe two couples canoodling in different cosy corners of the reception room. My, my, what would Lady Ellenborough make of it all? I have no doubt: she would be very, very proud.