Undisputedly one of the most picturesque areas of England, the Cotswolds are the ideal destination for a country escape. Tucked amongst the rolling hills (the eponymous ‘Wolds’) lie honey-coloured villages galore all inviting you to explore the gourmet food scene, ramble in the beautiful countryside and cosy up in the local pub. Here’s our guide to spending a perfect long weekend in this slice of quintessential England.
Spanning an area of almost 800 square miles, there are countless great options for where to base yourself for your Cotswolds weekend away. Wherever you decide you can guarantee that you will be in the vicinity of a fantastic country pub. So, dump your bags, get settled and venture out on your first Cotswolds evening to pay a visit to a cosy establishment for a drink and, more often than not, cracking food and the company of friendly locals. A couple of particularly fantastic examples are The Red Lion at Long Compton and The Woolpack at Slad, the village where writer Laurie Lee used to live and is buried.
Take advantage of the weekday lull (well, as much of a lull as you get in the Cotswolds) and explore some of the more popular villages before the real crowds descend at the weekend.
Start your day of exploration at arguably the most chocolate-box village of them all, Stow-on-the-Wold. First things first, call in at the New England Coffee House and find a cosy nook in this quirky cafe for your morning caffeine fix and a slice of homemade cake. Spend the rest of your morning hunting for hidden treasure in the myriad of brilliant antique shops, browsing tomes at Evergreen Livres, and sampling the unbelievably good local cheeses at The Cotswold Cheese Company.
Drive 10 minutes down the road to Bourton-on-the-Water and find a parking space to leave the car for a few hours. Walking away from the town centre (don’t worry, we’re coming back!), track down the Coach and Horses pub on the A429, opposite which you’ll find a signed path heading out into the open meadows towards the Slaughters. Follow this well-marked route and you’ll enjoy a beautiful afternoon stroll along the River Eye which will lead you through pastures and past striking manor houses to the picture-perfect villages of Lower, then Upper Slaughter. Make sure to catch your breath and rehydrate at The Slaughters Country Inn nestled right on the river in the lower village.
Once you’ve made it back to Bourton-on-the-Water head to the centre, where low bridges crisscross the River Windrush, which is lined with honey-coloured buildings, made from the famous local Cotswolds stone, and weeping willows that drape the water's edge.
After all that walking and basking in the surrounding beauty you’ll have worked up an appetite. The Mousetrap Inn serves up exceptional food and offers comfy chairs aplenty to rest weary feet.
Time for some local history. The Cotswolds boasts some of the most beautiful and well-maintained historic homes and gardens in the country. Batsford Arboretum is stunning year-round and has the added interest of once being the home of the infamous Mitford family, who gained widespread attention in the 1930s for their lavish lifestyle and controversial political ties. Nearby Snowshill Manor and Garden also gets our vote. This National Trust property has much to offer to visitors, including a beautifully restored manor house and glorious English country gardens.
If your hunger pangs aren’t too debilitating, make a pit stop at Chipping Campden to admire the listed Market Hall before reaching the town of Broadway, where lunch awaits in the Broadway Deli. This independent delicatessen and cafe serves up unbelievably good homemade food and the adjoining shop and deli counter are a fantastic place to buy a few treats. If it’s nice weather, sitting outside in the kitchen garden is particularly enjoyable.
Now, time to walk off all that delicious food! Follow the Cotswold Way for just over a mile out of town to Broadway Tower. This magical 18th-century landmark is the brainchild of famed landscape designer ‘Capability Brown’ and renowned architect James Wyatt, and sits atop the Cotswolds escarpment offering incredible views of the surrounding countryside.
Time for a treat after all that exploration, and it is Saturday night after all. Broadway has no shortage of excellent watering holes, but, based in an old coaching inn, The Lygon Arms offers a little bit of luxury. With a cocktail bar, wine bar, lounges, grill and a stunning outdoor courtyard, there’s sure to be something that takes your fancy.
There’s nothing like a Sunday morning walk to blow the cobwebs away, and the Rollright Stones are an enchanting setting for your morning stroll, with parts of the site dating back to the early Neolithic times. Legend tells that the stones were once a king and his conquering army who were petrified by a witch, hence their names: the King’s Stone, the King’s Men and the Whispering Knights. Try walking around the King’s Men and counting the stones; legend also says that whoever gets the same number three times will be granted a wish by the witch. Regardless of whether you think magic holds sway or not, you’ll be hard-pressed to deny the eerie beauty of the place when you can’t count the same number three times in a row!
Time for one last stop: nip over to nearby Whichford and pay a visit to Whichford Pottery. After browsing the gorgeous ceramics in their showroom and picking up some last-minute gifts, check out the real star of the show: The Straw Kitchen, an on-site sustainable cafe serving up delicious local dishes. With a seasonal menu including brunches, fresh salads, sandwiches and soups, and a vast array of homemade drinks, cakes and ice cream, the most difficult choice of your day will be deciding which to try first and what to take for the journey home.