Racing enthusiasts will descend on Gloucestershire this week for the annual Cheltenham Festival – a four-day equestrian event incorporating the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday – but only the lucky ones will be staying at Thirty Two. This stylish, four-room boutique residence sells out months in advance of big race days, so forward planning is required to bag a room.
Set within a listed, four-storey Regency townhouse, Thirty Two is a chic yet unpretentious hideaway delivering home comforts with show-stopping style. Despite its obvious grandeur, it feels intimate, relaxed and refreshingly informal.
The property looks out across Imperial Square towards the spires of the renowned Ladies' College. This location puts it within a stone's throw of the town's best shopping, dining and most arresting architecture, while the natural beauty of the Cotswolds lies a little further on.
Upon arrival, guests are ushered upstairs to complete check-in formalities in the drawing room – a grand, airy space filled with quality artworks and expensive-looking furniture. In the evening, dimmed lamps, candlelight and a laid-back soundtrack lend the room a cosy air. True to the home-from-home theme, there's a well-stocked library of books and DVDs to flick through, plus a selection of fashion magazines and coffee-table hardbacks.
There's one king bedroom, two junior suites and a huge suite with a living room and a stand-alone copper bathtub in the bedroom. Common touches throughout include pocket-sprung beds, goose-down duvets and high-thread-count bedding, plus rain showers and Penhaligon's toiletries in the bathrooms. Wi-Fi is complimentary and there's private off-street parking, too.
From fresh daffodils on the table to warm milk for the coffee and a partiality for local produce, the attention to detail bestowed on breakfast is every bit as thorough as elsewhere in the house. Bircher muesli provides a healthy prelude to a full English fry-up (complete with Gloucester Old Spot pork sausages) and the Cotswolds jams and marmalades are a nice added touch. Guests can also opt for a continental option delivered to their room.
It comes as no surprise that the owners (both conveniently called Jonathan) hail from a background in interior design. They took over the rundown family house in 2006 and, says one of the Jonathans, "did all the design and most of the renovations ourselves". Many of the furnishings and objets d'art were picked up on their global travels. The third member of the team is Stanley, a friendly Dalmatian who's a big hit with the guests.
Cheltenham Racecourse (01242 513 014; cheltenham.co.uk) takes centre stage during major meets, but it's worth a visit at other times for its Hall of Fame, charting 195 years of steeplechasing history. The town has been attracting visitors for much longer than that, though, for the mineral-rich springs whose pungent, sulphurous waters were considered a tonic in the 1700-1800s. Today's visitors can get a taste of this history at the Pittville Pump Room (01242 264231; cheltenhamtownhall.org.uk/pump-room), the grandest of the town's surviving spa buildings.
Cheltenham is also noteworthy for its Regency architecture. A stroll along the Promenade to Montpellier and the Suffolks will reveal some handsome buildings. This area is also particularly good for shopping, with plenty of interesting, independent stores and a pleasant, cosmopolitan vibe.
The town also provides a handy base from which to explore the surrounding Cotswolds villages. Winchcombe (a 20-minute drive away) is particularly popular for its pretty, honey-coloured houses and historic Sudeley Castle (01242 604244; sudeleycastle.co.uk) with its award-winning gardens.
The Pit Stop
A short stroll along Montpellier Walk brings you to the Montpellier Chapter Hotel and its excellent restaurant (01242 266708, themontpellierchapterhotel.com). Seasonal ingredients are key at this modern European brasserie, where dishes such as pork and peppercorn terrine or devilled crab bruschetta are prepared in the open kitchen and served in an elegant dining room. For decadent cakes in a characterful setting, try the Well Walk Tea Room (01242 574546; wellwalktearoom.co.uk).
Thirty Two, 32 Imperial Sq uare, Cheltenham GL50 1QZ (01242 771110; hotelthirtytwo.co.uk). Doubles from £160; breakfast is £12.95pp. Minimum two-night stay at weekends.
First Great Western (08457 000125; firstgreatwestern.co.uk) operates trains to Cheltenham Spa. Advance fares from Paddington start at £9 each way.