Review by Fiona Duncan, published 11th February 2011.
I don't often get all anticipatory about the opening of a new hotel, but I did about this one. That's because I recently stayed in another new place – Upper House in Hong Kong – operated by the same owners and was bowled over. Upper House has an equally successful sister hotel in Beijing, Opposite House. Both belong to Swire, owners of Cathay Pacific among much else, whose foray into hotels has now extended to Britain, kicking off here in Cheltenham.
Further branches of their Chapter brand are due to open in Exeter and Bristol. With their key component of affordable contemporary luxury, they are poised to become, if you follow me, the Hotels du Vin de nos jours.
The exceptional interior design of Upper House takes you on a mood-changing journey; the specially commissioned art is beautiful, the rooms sensual, the food in the animated top-floor restaurant delicious and the service Asian-impeccable, something that no British hotel can replicate.
Swire, I concluded, are creating hotels with attitude and integrity. If I can't go back to Hong Kong, at least I can go to Gloucestershire for another dose of their medicine. Diluted, of course.
But though Upper House is fearsomely expensive and Montpellier Chapter deliberately affordable, there are similarities in the calm, Zen-like approach to the design: specially commissioned art, paperless check-in (weird: staff hang around a giant nut topped by a portable computer), room information on iPod touch, huge downloadable film and music library, complimentary minibar.
A book-lined sitting room leads to a deliciously pretty Victorian conservatory, and an elegant glass-walled atrium surrounding a courtyard hides the 61 bedrooms.
The handsome 1847 building has been a hotel for many years. Existing bedrooms have been refurbished with a sober palette, with slate-grey bathrooms that left me unmoved – "luxury Novotel", I found myself thinking, waspishly.
More alluring are the 16 newbuild, open-plan Crescent rooms, all blonde wood, pale stone and creamy curtains to divide bed from bath, though passing through the bathing area first gives the odd impression of living in a bathroom with a bed in it, rather than the other way around.
And once in the bath, you have to be a performing monkey to reach the infuriatingly bolted-on shampoo and gel.
But in general, my Crescent room was much more reminiscent of Upper House in its calm and comfort, and good value for the standard and extras.
There's commitment at every turn here and if they add some bustle and soul, Montpellier Chapter will be very good.
That admirable chef, Simon Hopkinson, has had a hand in the simple, effective menu, though probably not in the decision to display the wine list on an iPad (guys, Lebannon isn't spelt like that and nor is Chili).
We liked the open-to-view kitchen, though the dining room felt a tad institutional ("a bit blank and draughty" commented my son, Alexander, "but don't put that, because I really like this hotel").
I like it too, despite certain reservations, and I think that the cities to be graced by Swire's Chapter Hotels are lucky. Montpellier is not the Upper House, but it's a highly polished addition to Britain's stock of urban places to stay.
- Bayshill Road, Montpellier (01242 527788; www.chapterhotels.com). Doubles from £140 per night, including breakfast. Adapted rooms for guests with disabilities
Cheltenham has a lovely, vibrant shopping area. There is an array of trendy boutiques in the Montpellier area of town. The famous tree-lined Promenade boasts a fabulous selection of emporia, too. There is also the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum (Clarence Street; 01242 237431; www.cheltenhamartgallery.org.uk), which houses a great selection of paintings, drawings and sculpture plus local and social history displays.
Best for lunch
The Daffodil Restaurant (18-20 Suffolk Parade; 700055;www.thedaffodil.com) does a fabulous jazz lunch on a Saturday. For a blowout meal, try Le Champignon Sauvage (24-26 Suffolk Road; 573449; www.lechampignonsauvage.co.uk), a two-star Michelin restaurant a five-minute walk from the hotel.
You could walk from the centre of Cheltenham up Leckhampton Hill (around two and a half miles). Or for something a bit more rural, drive into the Cotswolds, which are right on Cheltenham’s doorstep. There is a fabulous two-mile walk, for example, from Bourton-on-the-Water to The Slaughters.