What to do in the Cotswolds: See, stay and eat
The Cotswolds are an area of outstanding history and beauty, with some of England’s most charming villages. Developed during a prosperous era for the wool trade, the stone-built villages have been preserved magnificently.
What to see
Bibury is considered one of the best examples of Cotswolds villages, and one of the most beautiful places in England (our header image). It features Arlington Row, a set of iconic cottages which were built in the 1380s as a monastic wool store, and which have been featured in multiple films, most notably Stardust and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Other scenic villages include the Slaughters (don’t be put off by the name; Lower Slaughter is home to a stunning 19th-century watermill and several quaint stone footbridges), Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold.
For lovers of ancient history, the Roman baths at Bath Spa are well worth a visit. The city, which is by the southern border, houses the preserved remains of one of the greatest religious temples of the ancient world. The site is still fed by the city’s unique thermal springs, and is one of the most visited attractions in the whole of the UK. If you visit Bath in the winter, you can witness the additional wonder of the extensive Christmas markets, full of bespoke gifts and local produce.
It’s also possible to escape civilisation completely and take a walk from Bath all the way to Chipping Campden along the 100-mile Cotswold Way. Of course, you can walk any part of the route you like, popular stops including Cleeve Common, Winchcombe and Snowshill. Stroll along winding hills and valleys and get a view of lush green scenery. If you are lucky enough you’ll see also plenty of animals: crayfish, voles and trouts are found in the area, as well as a huge variety of local birds including the striking kingfisher.
Where to stay
From small inns to pompous manors, there are options for every budget and travel style. And they all have one thing in common: you will sleep in history.
If you are looking for ease of access, Moreton-in-Marsh, the “Gateway to the Cotswolds” is on the main railway line from London Paddington, but despite being a popular destination, it has all the charm of a small market town. In terms of accommodation, you could book a night at the White Hart Royal, a historic 17th-century coaching Inn where King Charles stayed during the English Civil War.
If you want to go somewhere a bit more remote like the previously mentioned Slaughters, you could try the Slaughters Country Inn, which offers contemporary rooms and indulgent cream teas. For a more premium hotel (and a more premium price to boot), visit The Lords of the Manor, ranked among the top 200 hotels in the country.
A wonderful place to stay is the recently refurbished The Swan in Ascot under Wychwood. This 16th-century inn has re-opened just a few months ago offering a unique balance of charm, comfort and modernity. More private lodgings are also available: if you browse online you will find plenty of cottage rentals available for an authentic rural experience, and you can even book to stay in listed buildings and converted barns, schools and chapels. If you don’t want the faff of cooking your own breakfast, try a local B&B.
Where to eat
Pubs drive the food scene in the Cotswolds and some of them are considered amongst the best in the country. Kingham is the most famous area as it’s home to both the Plough and the Wild Rabbit, which feature on several lists of best gastropubs nationwide. The former is run by Emily Watkins, who worked with Heston Blumenthal, and focuses on local produce, whereas the latter is a classic – now run by chef Tim Allen (previously at Launceston Place) – that helped lead the rise of gastropubs in the UK.
Intrigued by their smart revamp, we went to try The Swan in Ascot. Their menu goes beyond the classic pub offer, without forgetting what they are. Starters include dishes such as Chopped Raw Hanger Steak; Crispy Cacklebean Egg with Jerusalem Artichoke; Scorched Cornish Mackerel and BBQ Native Prawns. For mains, we had a nicely cooked 10oz Rib Eye and a Whole Grilled Cornish Plaice, but the burgers on the table next to ours – called Triple Ham Burgers – made us feel a bit jealous. If you have a sweet tooth, there’s an ample choice of desserts on the menu (eight): we tried a delicious Treacle Tart.
Another perfect place for a good meal is Old Butchers in Stow-on-the-Wold which – contrary to the name – specialises in seafood.
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Photos: Filippo L’Astorina