The late Sir Norman Wisdom will always be remembered for his unique brand of subtly sophisticated comedy. So it is only fitting that his name should appear on a blue plaque attached to the Hotel du Vin in Cheltenham, as it is a phrase that applies just as equally to the 4-star residence.
Sir Norman was billeted to the building from 1943 to 1945 while working for the Royal Corps of Signals and, although the interior has changed vastly from the war years, the imposingly beautiful Regency exterior retains the historical cosiness that pops up pretty much everywhere in Cheltenham.
Step inside the front door and you are met by a strangely relaxed reception filled with a pair of vast oak tables and a magnificent painting of the racehorse Desert Orchid. To the left is a bustling, relaxed bar serving an impressive array of drinks and which appears to be full of newspaper-rustling guests at all times of the day and night.
To the right, however, lies a big surprise: the Sinners Enclosure, a private dining room featuring a vast mural of jockeys drinking champagne and indulging in all manner of playful acts with their whips and a gaggle of women. While this may not be the best backdrop to a meal with your Nan, it is certain to be the talk of the table should you hire it out for a group of friends– as will its enormous wine glass chandelier and Regency fireplace.
With the fantastic hotel bistro being next door, you are guaranteed some great food too. The restaurant specializes in using locally sourced fare. Which, given that Cheltenham is the jewel of the Cotswolds, means just about the best produce in the country.
Whether it is tucking into some organic sausages at breakfast or some locally caught pheasant during your evening meal, the ambiance is one of relaxed elegance – largely because the design of the circular room and it’s sweeping staircase means you are never fully exposed. So, while you can sense the presence of the other diners, you always feel as if you are having an intimate meal with friends.
Yet all of this is merely window dressing for the fabulous rooms, which are large, comfy, stylish and superbly fitted out. They are also capable of literally making your jaw drop: upon entering the Veuve Clicquot suite, I was stunned to see a pair of Victorian rolltop baths resting beside the bed and underneath a TV. It took a while to get used to the idea of bathing in the main room but by the end of the day I was up to my nose in bubbles, clutching a glass of white wine and watching a Hollywood movie. Life just doesn’t get much better than that. (There was also an amazing rain shower in the bathroom too).
Step outside of the hotel and the treats continue. The vast majority of Cheltenham was built in the boom years after a natural mineral spring was discovered in 1716. Very little of this has changed since, so the result is a near-perfect Regency town centre surrounded by equally beautiful Victorian additions. Along with my wife I walked around the town for the best part of six hours and never once came across a bad area. The whole town is simply lovely.
As the hotel is situated in the trend Montpellier district it is also close to a string of boutiques and elegant bars, plus a range of top class bistros and restaurants. The town’s main shopping area is also little more than a five-minute stroll from the hotel’s front door, as are a series of parks.
Add to this the fact that Cheltenham is just a 90-minute drive from London and has the whole of the Cotswolds on its doorstep, the hotel represents the ideal place for a romantic break from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Whether you want to explore the wonderful countryside or just gaze at the Regency splendor over a coffee, you will not be disappointed.
The only strange thing is that Sir Norman Wisdom became famous for playing a clumsy, slightly innocent buffoon. To my mind, any man who can join the army in World War Two and manage to secure a billet in Cheltenham, should actually be regarded as nothing less than a genius.
Hotel Du Vin Cheltenham, Parabola Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 3AQ, telephone: 01242 588 450
by Phil Boucher