A Modern Way Of Exploring Old Town
22nd August 2008
WHEN it comes to providing a cheap, no-thrills base from which to explore a city or town, budget hotels are often a sensible choice.
So for a weekend break in Cheltenham, a Regency town I'd only visited briefly before, The Big Sleep Hotel seemed to tick all the right boxes thanks to its central location and reasonable rates.
With Hollywood actor John Malkovich among its backers and founded by Cosmo Fry — a descendant of the Fry's chocolate family — I'd heard about the buzz surrounding its opening.
Fresh, simple and ultra modern, The Big Sleep certainly opened my eyes, not only to the charms of the Gloucestershire spa town, but also to just how bland much other budget accommodation seemed in comparison.
Tucked away down a back street off the inner ring road, from the outside the 62-bedroom self-styled 'designer budget' hotel looked more like an unobtrusive office block as we approached.
But once inside the lobby, the minimalist decor, which was offset by painted wall art, green shag pile carpet and bold, bright furniture, lifted our spirits.
As did the sight of the bar nestled in the reception area.
Our room was slightly less dazzling than downstairs, with a soft grey and light blue colour scheme and an ice-white bathroom.
With a flat-screen television, phone, hairdryer, tea and coffee making facilities, and Wi-Fi available on demand, our room had everything we needed.
After a quick change, we were back downstairs to take advantage of the bar's happy hour — which runs between 4pm and 7pm every day — before making the short walk to the town centre.
We made a beeline for the attractive Montpellier area which has a superb selection of reasonably priced restaurants and some lively bars and pubs.
After having some food and a few drinks we returned to the hotel for a nightcap at the bar, which is open 24 hours.
The next morning, we discussed our plans for the day while sitting in the brightly coloured breakfast room. It was decided we would hit the shops first of all.
Ranging from The Promenade shopping area, with its big-name stores, to the designer boutiques and gift shops in Montpellier, Cheltenham offers a good mix of shops to satisfy those in need of retail therapy.
After a spot of lunch we headed to Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. In addition to a regularly changing programme of art exhibitions, there is a comprehensive permanent collection of fine art, jewellery, furniture and local history.
Allow at least an hour to explore the free museum.
That evening we walked the short distance from the hotel to the Everyman Theatre for a performance of Spies, a funny, touching and compelling play about dark secrets during the Second World War.
Guests of the hotel can get vouchers for discounted tickets to some performances at the impressive 19th century theatre, which has a packed programme of drama, ballet, opera, dance, comedy and music events.
The next morning it was time to check out of the hotel and I found myself reflecting on a weekend that had not only made me look afresh at Cheltenham but also the culture of budget hotels.