America has the Kentucky Derby, England has Cheltenham. By comparison, the derby is fast and clean, within two minutes it's over. Cheltanham on the other hand is muddy, wet and wild, it's British steeplechase-horse racing at its best. If you want to see what Brits do for fun, there is no better vacation than Cheltenham during race season.
The town may not be as much as mystery as you think. If you've ever read a Dick Francis mystery novel, then you know Cheltenham. Frances' characters in his novels often lived in the area and raced at Cheltenham. If you are more familiar with Harry Potter, then you too already know Cheltenham. Locals love to talk about where the movie was filmed in the city and just outside at Gloucester Cathedral.
While the town benefited from Francis unofficial role as the Cheltenham ambassador and from Hogwart fans, the beauty of the region speaks for itself. Part of the magic of Cheltenham is in the water, literally. A saline spring provides residents and guests with a unique alkaline water for drinking and spa therapies. For three hundred years, Cheltenham has been an attractive spot for people looking for wellness and relaxation.
If steeplechase horse races is of interest, then plan your trip during race season. Cheltenham Racecourse season begins in the fall and ends in the spring. Mid March is high season with the Gold Cup, which is usually scheduled near St. Patrick's Day (see the slideshow). One of the best ways to watch the race is from one of the restaurants in the course grounds. They offer panoramic views, great food and an insider's perspective on the race. You will need to book early to guarantee a spot, link here for information. Even if you aren't in the area during the race season, visit the grounds and the visitor's area for a bit of history. If this is your focus, it's best to stay in Prestbury to be closer to the races (see below).
Cheltenham's affluent residents means there is great shopping for visitors. The town center is lined with clothing stores, gift shops and the weekly farmer's market is a food lover's delight. Outside the city, the Cotswolds' hillsides are the perfect spot for a hike. And, if you go, visit Hidcote Gardens, built by Lawrence Johnston and how maintained by the National Trust.
Church Court Cottages
These newly renovated cottages offer every modern amenity imaginable in a charming small town setting. The luxurious cottages are made from converted stone barns, wtih full kitchens, spacious living rooms and modern appliances. The staff is very helpful for anything you may need. The cottages are in Prestbury the town closest to the Cheltenham races (see the slideshow for photos).
+44 (0) 7825 668666
Editor's Note: If you stay at Church Court, make dinner reservations at The Royal Oak. It's a gastro-pub with local menu that will change your mind about British cuisine. The beer and outlandish stories from locals are always free flowing.
The Royal Oak
+44 (0) 1242 522 344
Ellenborough Park Spa and Hotel
This historic house is original Cheltenham Racecourse estate. It's a country manor hotel and spa.
+44 (0)1242 807 182
Hotel on the Park
This luxurious hotel in the city of Cheltenham is recognized by Conde Naste for it's elegant rooms, unique character and fine dining.
+44 (0) 1242 51 8898
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