Ellenborough Park: a winning country house hotel

Come to Ellenborough Park for the horse racing, stay for the fine dining, says Matthew Partridge

They say that you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, and Cheltenham race-goers have much to be thankful for in the town’s long association with horses. For over two centuries the Gloucestershire town has been running regular races, with the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the culmination of the internationally famous Cheltenham Festival, on a par with Ascot and the Grand National. However, it also runs regular racing from autumn until spring, including evening racing.

The 67,500 capacity racecourse has three enclosures – Club, Tattersalls and Best Mate. The first two (which were combined on the day I attended) offer the best range of facilities, including access to the pre-parade paddock, paddock and winner’s enclosure. However, depending on the exact layout of the race, the Best Mate enclosure enables you to get close to the action as the horses make their final dash for the winning post.

A destination for music and history buffs

Cheltenham also has other claims to fame. For example, it is noted for its Regency-era architecture, especially the promenade in the town centre, the neoclassical Pittville Pump Room, and the proud villas near the river. Music fans also flock to Cheltenham for the jazz festival in the spring, as well as the broader music festival, which takes place in July.

Fans of both music and architecture will definitely want to visit the Holst Victorian House. The birthplace of Gustav Holst, who composed The Planets suite, “it is the only Victorian house in the area that is open to the public”, says the house’s learning and administration coordinator, Lucy Moriarty. Not only does it provide a glimpse into the composer’s childhood, it also shows what life would have been like for the other household members.

Cheltenham Racecourse

Cheltenham Racecourse is only a half-hour stroll away

© Matthew Partridge

A five-star stay fit for the Earl of Ellenborough

The five-star Ellenborough Park is one hotel that encapsulates both sides of Cheltenham. Devotees of the turf will appreciate that it is only a half-hour walk from the racecourse, which can be seen from the lawn, while those who appreciate history and architecture cannot help but admire the elegance of the former stately home, which dates from the 16th century. The house was at one point the seat of Edward Law, the first Earl of Ellenborough, the 19th-century politician who played a pivotal part in the development of British rule in India.

The hotel’s 61 rooms are divided between the main house and the rest of the estate, with the outer buildings elegantly arranged in a series of cloisters. Each of the rooms has its own personality, and they are essentially suites. Every amenity that you could require is included, and many rooms come with their own patio or garden, ideal if you just want to spend a moment sitting outside, breathing in the fresh Cotswolds air. The staff are attentive with the turndown service, ensuring that you can quickly slip beneath the inviting sheets at night.

Ellenborough Park also functions as a spa, offering a variety of treatments, ranging from hot stone massages to salt scrubs. It also has a Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. However, what really sets it apart is the outdoor swimming pool. While initially sceptical about how well this would work given the late April weather, the gentle heating meant that I could comfortably lounge around, doing the occasional width, while admiring how the crenellations on the roof of the main house were framed by the glow of the evening sun.

Al fresco dining whatever the weather

The outdoor experience doesn’t stop there, as the hotel offers pod-like “dining carriages” that allow patrons to eat in the garden whatever the weather. However, I chose to dine in the main dining room, with its own special atmosphere. 

I enjoyed a starter of butternut squash soup, followed by Cotswold white chicken supreme, with barley, onion and chorizo, with a warm banana and chocolate cake, caramel custard and dark chocolate ice cream for dessert. On the advice of the waiter, I chose a glass of chardonnay from Chile’s Leyda Valley, followed by a glass of Taittinger Champagne. 

Staying at Ellenborough Park was a magical experience. And from the looks on the faces of the hotel guests, I was not the only one who felt that way.

Matthew was a guest at Ellenborough Park. Nightly rates start from £299 inclusive of VAT and breakfast, based on a Cosy Double room sleeping two people. For more information, visit ellenboroughpark.com

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