Take all those glorious ‘bucolic England’ clichés of winding country lanes, rolling green hills, patchwork fields and golden-stone waterside villages; mash them all together, and you’ll end up with the Cotswolds. As well suited to a sun-dappled weekend staycation as a longer summer holiday, this network of honey-hued villages and rolling pastures is as traditional as they come. To make sure you hit the fields running, we’ve put together a collection of Cotswolds tips to give you the low-down on the best restaurants, shops and hillside rambles – and of course, where to stay while you’re in the Shires.
If you’re staying at The Wheatsheaf Inn in Northleach, you’re in luck: it has one of the area’s best pubs (and the steaks aren’t to be missed). The Chequers in Churchill is owned by the same group, and its Sunday roasts are the stuff of legend. Head to the Bakery on the Water in Bourton-on-the-Water for just-baked, floury baps filled with roast chicken, salad and mustard, and the best shortbread in town. If you’re a member, drop by Soho Farmhouse near Great Tew for dinner at Japanese grill Pen Yen or the cosy Main Barn.
The English countryside might not seem like shopping central, but prepare to be surprised: the Cotswolds has a fair few boutiques to stretch your credit limit. For farm-fresh produce, cashmere stoles, fragrantly scented candles and everything in between, the flagship Daylesford near Kingham is unbeatable. The Highgrove Shop in Tetbury (a five-minute walk away for guests of The Close hotel) sells all kinds of tidbits, courtesy of Prince Charles; we’re particularly fond of the perfectly tangy lemon curd. Garden-lovers, head to Cotswolds Lavender near Broadway, ideally placed for Dormy House dwellers, where over 90 acres of lilac blooms are turned into bath salts, tea and even chocolate. Of course, the most upmarket shops are located in larger towns like Cirencester (ideal for those staying at the Kings Head Hotel) and Cheltenham, where No 131 is within strolling distance of the chic Montpellier district.
Come rain or shine, country mice throw on their Barbours and head out for a walk. Cotswold Way, a 102-mile long footpath from Bath to Chipping Camden, offers nature-filled rambles of varying lengths. If you’re near Bibury, set out along the River Coln for Winson, a picturesque village around an hour away. Those staying at The Fish Hotel or Foxhill Manor should stroll for half an hour from the village of Broadway to Broadway Tower, the second-highest point in the Cotswolds and once William Morris’ holiday home. The Winchcombe Way takes in Guiting Wood, Dumbleton Hill and Sudeley Castle, and would suit those booked in to Ellenborough Park in nearby Southam. Strike out across the Southrop Estate (easy for those staying at Thyme right next door) and walk the two hours to Kelmscott Manor, former seat of William Morris. If you’re bunking up at Barnsley House, you won’t even need to leave the grounds for glorious, nature-packed rambles: the hotel’s grounds are extensive, and designed by former owner and gardening icon Rosemary Verey.
Pop by the Duke of Marlborough’s country pile, Blenheim Palace, a rare but exceptional example of English Baroque style – it’s minutes from Woodstock and Oxford, so if you’re coming from London, it’ll be on your way. Those keen to try country pursuits should head to Ian Coley Sporting to shoot some clays and the Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre for a hack or two (both are in easy reach of Cowley Manor). If you’d rather watch the horses than ride them, Ellenborough Park has views of Cheltenham Racecourse from most bedrooms. Make sure you swing by the Corn Hall in Cirencester for its daily markets, and try out a few of the festivals in Cheltenham; the musically minded should book for early July, and literary buffs for October – stay at No 38 The Park, just outside the town centre.
Featured image is the Oak Suite at Foxhill Manor hotel