Prior to the eighteenth century CHELTENHAM was like any other small-time Gloucestershire town, until the discovery of a spring in 1716 transformed it into Britain’s most popular spa. During Cheltenham’s heyday, a century or so later, the royal, the rich and the famous descended in droves to take the waters, which were said to cure anything from constipation to worms. These days, the town has a lively, bustling atmosphere, lots of good restaurants and some of England’s best-preserved Regency architecture. The town is also a thriving arts centre, famous for its festivals of folk (Feb), jazz (April/May), science (June), classical music (July) and literature (Oct) and, of course, the races.
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Cheltenham racecourse, on the north side of town, a ten-minute walk from Pittville Park at the foot of Cleeve Hill, is Britain’s main steeplechasing venue. The principal event of the season, the three-day National Hunt Festival in March, attracts 40,000 people a day; it’s essential to buy tickets in advance. Other meetings take place in January, April, October, November and December: a list of fixtures is posted at the tourist office. For the cheapest but arguably the best view, pay £8 (rising to £15 during the Festival, £25 on Gold Cup Day) for entry to the Best Mate Enclosure, as the pen in the middle is known.