Until the eighteenth century CHELTENHAM was like any other Cotswold town, but then 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, particularly along the majestic Promenade. It is also a thriving arts centre, famous for its festivals of folk (Feb), jazz (April/May), science (June), classicalmusic (July) and literature (April & Oct) – see Web: www.cheltenhamfestivals.co.uk – and, of course, the races.
The domed Pump Room (Mon & Wed– Sun 10am–4pm) in the Pittville district is a lovely Classical structure with an imposing colonnaded facade. It is now used as a concert hall, but you can still sample the spa waters from the marble fountain in the main auditorium for free – and very pungent they are too.