Where can you live out all your Jane Austen fantasies in one place?
It would be hard to find anywhere more quintessentially English than the Cotswolds. Just an hour-and-a-half drive from London reveals a scene of bucolic bliss — the English countryside that inspired the tales of Jane Austen and Lewis Carroll.
Cotswolds is England’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it’s vast, covering over 1000 square kilometres across five counties: Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Away from the spotlight, some of the best boutique hotels and paddock-to-plate pubs in the country are attracting a new wave of weekenders seeking a first-class experience.
To visit the area’s highlights, start north and journey south — the old market town of Chipping Campden, referred to as ‘the jewel of the Cotswolds’, is a great place to begin. Arriving in its centre is like stepping onto a Shakespearean set. The High Street buildings date back to the 14th century and are constructed in the region’s characteristic stone. At its heart stands a remarkable 17th century marketplace, and its Medieval perpendicular church is a must see. Amble through the village and soak up the history, being sure to stop off for a cream tea (scones with clotted cream and jam) at one of its coffee shops.
Down the road, The Ebrington Arms is a hidden gem that is quietly causing a stir in the culinary world. The pub’s landlords, Jim and Claire Alexander, both left successful careers in London’s music business to fulfil their dream of running a country pub. On first impressions, The Ebrington Arms is a classic inn, with wonky walls, low beams and muddy dogs sprawled in front of roaring fires. It’s been serving the tiny village of Ebrington since the 1640s and, with its current seasonal and organic menu, it was recently named the UK’s best village inn by The Times.
A short drive takes you to the handsome village of Broadway with its exquisite houses, regal inns, manicured lawns and art galleries. Hidden deep within a sprawling 160-hectare estate overlooking Broadway, you’ll find Dormy House hotel. An old farmhouse turned boutique bolthole, it recently completed a £10 million ($18.2 million) renovation. Flagstone floors, plush sofas and grand fireplaces offer a home-from-home level of comfort. In the spa, thermal suites, lavender infusion saunas and an outdoor fireside hot tub are some of the highlights. For spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, climb a couple of miles to reach Broadway Tower. An 18th-century folly, it’s otherwise known as the Highest Little Castle in the Cotswolds with dramatic turrets, gargoyles and balconies.
THE SLAUGHTERS, BOURTON-ON-THE-WAY AND BIBURY
Journey south, and you’ll find some of the most photographed villages of the Cotswolds: The Slaughters (Upper and Lower), Bourton-on-the-Water and Bibury. The Slaughters take their name from Old English meaning ‘muddy place’, though now that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lower Slaughter is a place of perfectly proportioned cottages and window boxes bursting with bright flowers.
Barnsley House is the ultimate romantic hideaway. Tucked into the charming village of Barnsley, you can feel its history, from the exposed beams to the original windows and fireplaces. The bathrooms here are particularly fabulous, with freestanding roll top baths. The landscaped gardens were designed by Rosemary Verey (who also created the gardens of Prince Charles and Sir Elton John).
From here, the next stop is Bourton-on-the-Water, with its five bridges crossing the river which runs through its heart; and Bibury’s ancient Arlington Row — a collection of 14th-century cottages on the banks of the River Coln — is deemed so iconic that it features on the inside of British passports.
The glass-fronted lakeside villas at The Lakes by Yoo are another new addition to the area. With boating, canoeing, bird watching and wild swimming on offer, the pièce de résistance is the Barn House with interiors designed by supermodel and Cotswolds enthusiast, Kate Moss.
On your way to the Lakes, stock up on delicious produce and treats at Daylesford’s organic farm shop and cafe. A countryside institution, the majority of food is sourced from its own farm — there’s even a dairy and creamery on site.
Pack your wellies, your swimmers, and prepare to loosen your belt. There’s no better time to escape to England’s green and pleasant land.
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