The Cotswolds is a quite preposterously pretty part of the world at any time of year. There’s an extraordinary number of smart country-house hotels; and the country pubs are the kind you dream of stumbling across, and plenty of them, serving hearty local fare and artisan ale by roaring fires. Stretching across the counties of Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Somerset, the Cotswolds is fairly heaving with A-listers with country retreats – though don’t assume you will see any of them – there is plenty of space to hide between the rolling hills and creamy-stone villages full of fabulous antiques stores and cheese shops.
Where To Stay
Barnsley, Cirencester, the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire (01285 740000)
The ultimate English country-house hotel in a classic Cotswolds mansion. Ever since the owners of Calcot Manor swooped in and saved it from glitterball kitsch, Barnsley House has blossomed. The mood is gentle. The interiors have been beautifully renovated (stone fireplaces, wooden floors, lots of mirrors). The sitting rooms are wonderfully snug, and there’s a cinema with Sunday-night screenings. Home-grown vegetables are served in the newly revamped Potager Restaurant. And shining above all else is the spa, which has drystone walls and bunches of herbs hanging from the beams and all treatments use natural, essential-oil-based Aromatherapy Associates products. The grounds are a lovely mix of formal lawns, sun-trap terraces and kitchen gardens, where chickens strut about and you’ll spot the chefs picking fresh vegetables. In the summer, ask about The Temple, where supper is served in the gardens.
Bruern, nr Burford, Oxfordshire(+44 19 9383 0415)
Judy Astor, with the help of some exquisite family antiques and her sister Jocasta Innes, has created holiday cottages by which all other should be measured. There can be few in England that compare in terms of decoration, service, location and charm. There is an indoor pool, and a spa where treatments can be arranged. Weir House sleeps 10 and is immaculate.
Buckland near Broadway, Warwickshire(+44 13 8685 2626)
This Relais & Chateaux property (always a sign of good quality) dates back to the 13th century, although you wouldn’t believe it when you see the colourful rooms, which are cosy, opulent and comfortable. The restaurant serves English fare with European influences, and makes use of the manor’s very own herb garden. The wine list contains 490 bottles, including some from England.
Near Tetbury, Gloucestershire(+44 16 6689 0391)
This place is as comforting and life-enforcing as being enveloped in the warm embrace of a best friend. From the outside, Calcot Manor looks just like any other pretty Gloucestershire manor house, but, as you walk through the front door, you will be greeted by rooms with a minimalist’s take on medieval interiors. There are 35 rooms and suites at Calcot, all with luxurious en-suite bathrooms and period features in the form of exposed beams or stone wall posters. The Conservatory Restaurant’s menu features modern Mediterranean classics, and the Calcot Spa has a fantastic pool.
Cotswold House Hotel
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire(+44 13 8684 0330)
If Stow is the sherry trifle of the Cotswolds then Chipping Campden is the summer pudding. This hotel, in a Regency townhouse on the pretty high street, is refined. Even if not staying it’s worth eating at The Cotswolds Grill for anything from rib-eye steaks to afternoon tea.
Kemps Lane, Painswick, Gloucestershire(+44 14 5281 3688)
The 18-room creation opened after a £2 million refurbishment of what had formerly been the Painswick Hotel in 2007. Within the walls of a Palladian manor, bold animal and psychedelic prints are juxtaposed with retro furniture and grand fireplaces, stone mullions with Murano glass, lilac faux-leather and snakeskin. In the Juniper restaurant, chef Matthew Pierce’s short but self-assured menu showcases organic local produce – game being especially good – but with unexpectedly delightful Asian and tropical twists. The hotel caters only for a very stylish set who don’t mind paying for equally stylish extravagance.
What To Do
DISCOVER TOWNS AND VILLAGES
The self-proclaimed capital of the Cotwolds is a beautiful town, and it was the second most important town in Roman Britain. The Roman amphitheatre on the outskirts has not been fully excavated, but several remains from Roman, Norman and Saxon times can be found at the Corinium Mueseum on Park Street (01285 655611; www.cotswold.gov.uk) where you can also dress up like a Roman soldier and find out what the Saxons really looked like. Cirencester’s parish church, the beautiful St John the Baptist, shouldn’t be missed either, although it is currently closed for repairs.
This is a typically picturesque Cotswold village, with honey-coloured stone cottages dating back to the 17th century. 19th-century artist and socialist William Morris thought it was the most beautiful village in England – you will most likely agree.
Burford, in the northwest of the Cotwolds, is a quaint town with plenty of pubs and restaurants. The Burford Garden Company is well known, even beyond the Cotswold’s borders, and makes the town a must for gardening aficionados – including locals Kate Moss, Liz Hurley and Kate Winslet.
Not far from Burford lies Swinbrook, another sweet-looking village where the church is worth a visit for its Fettiplace monuments. Swinbrook, however, is most famous for its connection with the Mitford sisters, who grew up near the village. Their former home, Asthall Manor, is a must for literature fans.
A RAILWAY EXPERIENCE
The Railway Station, Toddington, Gloucestershire (01242 621405; www.gwsr.com). The GWR is an all-volunteer steam and diesel heritage railway that has operated the short stretches between Toddington, Winchcombe and Cheltenham since 1981. The scheduled service is listed on the GWSR’s website.