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Montpellier Chapter Hotel

Mr. & Mrs. Hasted sample the delights of the swish new Montpellier Chapter Hotel. crack

I used to like the Kandinsky Hotel. It was quirky, eccentric and comfy. When it closed 5 years ago it left a bit of a gap in Cheltenham. It was in a beautiful building in one on the town’s grandest streets; a good place to meet for a drink or a coffee as well as to stay. However, some of its eccentricity was the bad sort of eccentricity. It became ever-so-slightly tatty, it lacked a decent restaurant and the staff were sometimes friendly to the point of being over familiar.

When the hotel was taken over by Swire Hotels it was the start of a long and complicated process that would see the hotel transformed into the sleek, modern building that is the Montpellier Chapter Hotel, the first in what is intended to be a chain of quality hotels all sharing the Chapter brand.

Montpellier Chapter Hotel opened in November last year and immediately became one of the smartest and most fashionable hotels in town. But in spite of that, it has retained the friendliness and informality although now it is tempered with discretion and respect. It is still basically in a wonderful, Grade 2 listed house and still in Bayshill Road. The lounge and the bar are still great places to meet you friends for a drink. It is also a great place to stay, whether you want a quiet, romantic break away from home and the kids or whether you have visitors that you can’t or don’t want to accommodate.

The new hotel was designed by leading architect Ken Shuttleworth who worked on the original designs for the London Gherkin. He has seamlessly blended the existing building with a smart new smoked-glass extension encircling a beautifully tranquil interior courtyard, a terrace, underground parking and all the other features expected by the discerning, modern traveller. The interior has all changed too. Gone are the dusty carpets and sagging armchairs and slightly strange oriental decorations, in are new comfortable seating, a fine collection of modern art, a new bright and airy restaurant and a luxurious, pampering spa.

The reception area gives you an inkling of what is to come. Conventional it is not. There is no desk, no phones, no files just a very large wooden ball. The sculpture, known as The Font, by Alison Crowther, serves as the front desk. It is 800kgs of solid oak and needed a small army to get it into place. When needed, a small laptop is placed on top and everything happens from there. The paperless office has finally arrived.

We were shown to our room by James and he wasn’t just there to carry the bags. The rooms are all very hi-tech and needed some explaining. There is a bed-side panel which controls the lighting and air con and in the desk there are all the terminal points and connectors you need for your computer and everything else - except perhaps a lawn sprinkler. They also, thoughtfully, provide an iPod complete with docking station linked to the room’s hi-fi so you can either play the hotel’s choice of music or your own.

The rooms in the original part of the building are possibly a bit cosier whereas the ones in the new part, The Crescent, are much slicker, shinier and modern with lots of Bath sandstone on the walls. All the beds are giant, covered in luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets and very comfortable. A common feature throughout the hotel are Villeroy & Boch Aveo bath tubs in the rooms, in fact in the new part the whole bathroom is in the room with only the loo having any privacy. This feature may not suit everybody but it is certainly intimate and allows you to watch Eastenders as you soak. Toiletries by Aromatherapy Associates are supplied along with lots of sumptuous white towels and robes so big and fluffy it would have seemed to the casual passer-by that a couple of polar bears were wandering around our room.

As soon as we settled in and unpacked we headed down to the bar. This is Garry Thompson’s domain and he ran through the list of cocktails, spirits and an eclectic choice of beers from around the world. The Honey Rose Margarita sounded too good to refuse so that’s what I had and very nice it was too lacking only a little umbrella. They also have a selection of mocktails, fabulous concoctions of fruit juices which are just as tasty as the real thing but a bit less potent.

Just as I was considering ordering another Margarita, Karen the restaurant manager and hotel duty manager arrived with a large menu and invited us in to dinner. The restaurant is a large open space with what is often called a ‘theatre kitchen’, i.e. diners can witness the kitchen staff scurrying around as they prepare food. For starters my partner chose the fresh crab with mayonnaise, lemon and grilled bruschetta. Karen offered me the special seasonal asparagus with potted shrimps. My other half chose the grilled tuna with crème fraîche on a bed of rocket salad drizzled with black olive dressing. I took the fillet of sea bass with a delicious fennel salad on a bed of leaf spinach, topped with pink grapefruit and orange slices. The acidity and sweetness of the fruit added an extra zing to the fish which was succulent.

At the next table a group of business men were served various meat dishes, all of which looked as delicious as ours. Everything that was served was beautifully presented. We chose new potatoes which were freshly cooked with the sea bass and a portion of nice crispy chips with the tuna.

For dessert my other half asked if he could have the Eton Mess from the lunch menu which was rather large when it arrived, whereas I decided on the slice of grilled pineapple with coconut sorbet. The pineapple was slightly caramelised which I loved and the lightness of the sorbet was very refreshing. We took a glass of the Merlot with the tuna and the lighter Pinot noir with my sea bass.

Karen, the restaurant manager was very attentive, not only to us but to all the diners. However, we thought there was room for improvement on the bread front. We had expected what was shown in the brochure - a delicious range of French and Italian style breads. Karen promised that the next time we came we would find breads made in-house. ‘We are working on it,’ she said.

The kitchen has been put into the capable hands of chef Tom Rains, originally from Cheltenham. He has now returned home after working in London’s Claridges and L’Escargot, among others. He has set his heart on sourcing food locally, which will be good news for the small, excellent producers in the Cotswolds I have met. The next time we eat at The Chapter we shall look forward to home-made breads at breakfast too, as well as some freshly squeezed orange juice. All the staff seem very young and at times genuine smiles from the male staff seemed slightly thin on the ground, especially at breakfast time.

I was invited to sample one of the Spa treatments. One of the side benefits of this is that for the next few weeks there is special for ‘ladies that lunch’. If they book a Spa treatment they get lunch for free.

The Spa is in the hotel’s lower ground floor. A series of rooms, some of them doubles, are dedicated to a variety of beauty treatments and aromatherapy massage. The Chapter’s partner ,Aromatherapy Associates, provide all the products. Marlena, the very pretty therapist explained that the Spa staff are trained especially for the use of the Aromatherapy Associates products which are also found in the rooms, as well as in the impeccable ladies cloakroom.

It is impossible here to list all the products and treatments Marlena pampered me with. Details of these can be found on the hotel website. Needless to say, I have never had so many products and care heaped upon me in an 80 minute session, all of which felt wonderfully soothing and relaxing. I was cleaned, exfoliated, my collagen was stimulated with a variety of oils, pomegranate and rosehip seed oil was massaged in to lessen wrinkles. Apple seed and African plum oil followed to try and renew cells. Two masks followed to hydrate my skin, one of which was of strawberry seed and frankincense to firm and plump. While these took effect my eye area was given a lymphatic massage, which, at the end of the treatment left me with noticeably brighter eyes. My whole skin felt and looked very clear and the massage had a distinct effect of removing the tensions of the face which can accumulate and create new wrinkles. A day later I can clearly see the effect of the treatment. I shall monitor the results over the next days.

One fairly major problem (I imagine other women will encounter this too) was that neither in the room, nor in the ladies, nor anywhere else in the hotel could I find a mirror or shaving mirror with sufficient light to do my make-up.

Rooms start at £125 but most of them, the feature rooms, are £240. However, there are lots of mix and match deals available combining Spa treatments or weekend specials including room and dinner starting at only £100, which sounds like a bargain to me.