There’s no denying it: you’ve come to the Cotswolds for honey-hued villages, so by Bourton-on-the-Water, we’re going to give them to you. But among all that set-in-stone splendour, you’ll find honeypot hamlets which double as foraging grounds for foodies and hip hotels that lure weekending creatives.
To understand the perennial appeal of this area, set off on the 100-mile Cotswolds Way. You can tackle the long-distance walking route either in manageable sections (with a pub at the end) or over a number of days (with several pubs at the end). Your stylish starting point is the Farncombe Estate near Chipping Campden, home to a trio of hotels: the Fish and its new shepherd’s huts; refined sister Dormy House, renowned for its spa; and private-home-style Foxhill Manor for a treat before setting off. Break up the boot-to-bar journey at Cowley Manor, a suitably spoiling stay, then march on to the Pig near Bath to truffle your way through the entire field-to-fork menu at the end of the route.
If it’s good enough for Prince Charles, it’s good enough for us. The royally approved village of Tetbury is home to the 18th-century Highgrove House, official residence of the heir apparent and site of resplendent Cotswolds gardens which any old folk can visit. In the idyllic village itself, you’ll find the Highgrove Shop, with products inspired by the estate, and antiques rummaging aplenty at outlets such as Brownrigg and Lorfords. On the edge of town, there’s also Westonbirt Arboretum, plotted with 18,000 trees that bristle at their brightest in spring and autumn. Our nightly nod here goes to the Close in the heart of Tetbury, or the Rectory, 10 minutes’ away, both of which have hidden gardens of their own plus rooms that continue the botanical theme.
From London, the easiest and most accessible corner of the Cotswolds is Oxfordshire’s portion, where Burford acts as a gateway to the area’s wisteria-draped majesty. Golden-stone buildings line a thriving high street of art galleries and antiques shops and rippling green hills tuffet the horizon. Nearby Blenheim Palace – Sir Winston Churchill’s birthplace – is not to be missed. But if you want to add a little edge to the area’s chocolate-box perfection, check-in to the Artist Residence – a hotel that resides in a so-far, so-traditional 16th-century inn, but opens up to reveal neon-lit walls, worldly fabrics and take-me-home art. The real triumph is the downstairs Mason Arms pub and restaurant, styled in collaboration with the Connor Brothers, AKA punk artists James Golding and Mike Snelle. London’s creatives can’t keep away…
The Cotswolds’ foodie scene congregates around Kingham, thanks to the village’s proximity to Chipping Norton’s infamous media ‘set’. In town, the award-winning Wild Rabbit showcases produce from local farmers, while the Kingham Plough has a crowded mantlepiece thanks to ex-Fat Duck chef Emily Watkins – named National Dining Pub of the Year in 2019, no less. To transport the Cotswolds’ larder back home, visit Stroud Farmers’ Market to find the producers in one place every Saturday or Lady Bamford’s celebrated Daylesford organic farm and shop, on an estate that also hosts a cookery school, horticultural workshops and the Haybarn spa. Nearby Slaughters Manor House is the place to rest your head.
Kodak moments don’t come more quintessential than Bourton-on-the-Water, a thimble-sized village that sits either side of the swan-graced River Windrush. Sure, it gets busy in summer, but grabbing an ice cream and dangling your legs into the water from low-lying bridges is one of the Cotswolds’ simple pleasures. Stay out of the village itself at the Wheatsheaf Inn, 10 minutes away in Northleach, which marries the perfect pub downstairs with boutique rooms and slipper baths above.
Speaking of pubs, they’re essential to the Cotswolds’ experience, with hundreds of places to hunker down for a pint – from the King’s Head Inn near Kingham to the Swan at Southrop and the Potting Shed Pub in Crudwell. But a great place to combine sipping with staying is the village of Broadway, where the Lygon Arms has gone through centuries of guises to evolve from coaching inn to period-packed boutique retreat today. Everyone from Charles I to Oliver Cromwell, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, have passed through the age-old doors, imbibed in the bar and gathered around its stone fireplaces. But only modern-day guests get the benefit of the palatial indoor pool, eucalyptus-scented steam room and cosseting spa. Cromwell’s missing out.
You’ve toured the best villages, but don’t overlook Cheltenham. The Regency town may be bigger than Burford or Bourton, but with that comes the cultural trappings of a year-round festival programme: from jazz in May to science in June, music in July and literature in October. The season kicks off with the Cheltenham Festival – a major horse-racing event, centred around the Gold Cup, in March. For a race-side seat, check-in to Ellenborough Park, which overlooks the course and transports guests to the gallops in chauffeur-driven cars via a private drive during race meetings. To check-in with the town’s creative crowd, head to No 131, where rooms showcase artworks by Peter Blake and Banksy, and the late-night scene at the newly launched Gin & Juice bar is the place to continue the party.
Tour the rest of our great British boutique hotel collection at Mr & Mrs Smith…