Luxury by the racetrack at Ellenborough Park

Marc Sidwell
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IT’S hard to know which view to admire more: the grand sweep of Ellenborough Park’s main house, which began life as an sixteenth-century manor, or the view from that house of Cheltenham racecourse. The rails are so close that a decent pair of binoculars could almost save you buying a ticket to the club enclosure.

The house dates back to the 1500s, but the whole complex is newly refurbished after a three-year restoration. Its resurrection as Ellenborough Park takes its name from Lord Ellenborough, whose seat it was until his death in 1871. Ellenborough was governor-general of India in the 1840s and aspects of today’s design scheme both in the house and the hotel’s spa nod to that heritage. There’s nothing, unfortunately, on the juicier details of Ellenborough’s famously tactless and high-handed behaviour in India, which ultimately led to his recall. Still, for those in the know it is entertaining to muse over your morning eggs and bacon that when the Duke of Wellington heard Ellenborough planned to celebrate a military victory by arranging the Indian army in a giant five-pointed star, with himself on a throne in the centre, he muttered “and he ought to sit upon it in a strait-jacket”.

Happily, today’s hotel borrows Ellenborough’s name but not his taste. The rooms, like everything else, are freshly-appointed to the highest standards, and the main hall, where you can take coffee after dinner, is magnificent – vast and high-ceilinged but at the same time full of cosy corners. The main dining room is the only touch of Ellenboroughesque flamboyance: the chef favours the theatrical side of fine dining, with some dishes carved or finished at the table. The ambition sometimes over-reaches the presentation, but it is hard to quibble too much. Bold and inventive food is served alongside a truly excellent wine list in a setting dominated by a stunning original Tudor fireplace.

However, it is worth bearing in mind the hotel operates as a complex, not a single building, with the consequence that you may have a short outdoor stroll to reach the hotel’s restaurant – and the journey back to your room from the spa after one of its many blissful treatments can be a bit nippy.

This is an excellent setting for outdoor pursuits of all kinds: hiking, shooting and even polo are all well catered for. But, above all, its proximity to Cheltenham racecourse is Ellenborough Park’s crucial feature. Last year they even supplied a tipster-in-residence. If you’re planning to attend this month’s festival and want to combine the racing with a suitably luxurious place to stay, Ellenborough Park is well worth considering. Dinner, bed and breakfast from £345,