No stretch of England is more romanticized than the Cotswolds. An afternoon’s drive from London, there is barely time for a bar of Cadbury Fruit & Nut before you’re zooming through low-slung limestone villages and rolling green. The region encompasses some of the prettiest shires in the country, a halcyon jumble of bridleways and farmland. As the road turns through downy hills, you’ll see game birds in the hedges and pedestrians with walking sticks. A sudden need for beer and a cheese and pickle sandwich strikes hard. Your Instagram followers, if they are like mine, will begin asking if you are in Hobbiton. You have arrived.
Where to Stay:
The idyllic village of Southrop is home to this large estate, well known for its excellent cookery school. Bedrooms are quiet and sumptuous, and rates include a generous breakfast served every morning in a converted tithe barn. The land around the property is made for long walks, whether it’s a ramble along the River Leach or foraging for mushrooms with the in-house expert. The owners have a superb pub down the road, The Swan at Southrop, which uses meat and produce from the Thyme farm and gardens. In the evenings, the village is so dark that guests are given lanterns for the short walk between the hotel and the pub, a pleasingly romantic utility. These thoughtful extras abound. When you return to your room in the evening, you might find a carafe of homemade limoncello and two glasses. As you get under the covers, a hot-water bottle is there to warm your feet. It’s all a tidy conspiracy so that you won’t want to leave, and it works a treat.
The newest club in the Soho House stable is a rustic stunner and perpetually full. A sprawling property located next to the sleepy village of Great Tew (don’t miss the Falkland Arms pub), the air here smells pleasantly of wood smoke and the staff are uniformly friendly. Accommodations are in cabins and cottages, and outfitted with fireplaces and pedestal tubs (some of these located daringly outside), 7-foot-wide beds, and well-stocked kitchenettes. There are several excellent restaurants on-site (my favorite is the Fancy Farm, particularly if beef Wellington is on the menu) and zippy, delicious room service. The Cowshed Spa is a predictably indulgent operation, offering pedicures from deep green armchairs and mud treatment rooms big enough for two. Before your massage, try booking a “soak”—a 30-minute dip in an enormous bath, enjoyed with a glass of champagne. You’ll wonder why it never occurred to you to pregame the spa before. Cheers to that.
The beautiful farm shop at Daylesford Organic is a well-known temple to local produce, and easily the most stylish place in the Cotswolds for a wedge of Double Gloucester cheese and freshly baked sourdough. The cottages are self-catering, and located either next to the farm shop (convenient if you forgot the biscuits) or in the nearby village of Daylesford. The immaculate decor favors natural colors and materials, with stone walls and linen armchairs, eggshell-colored kitchens and log-burning fires. There are well-paved walking paths from the cottages, which will take you around the farm or out into the woodland, where you can spot roe deer and otters. Also close at hand is the splendid Bamford Haybarn Spa, with its airy fitness studio (it is worth going out of your way to book one of the terrific yoga classes) and extensive treatment rooms. Build in time before and after your massage to relax in the spa’s Lavender Room, where you can enjoy bottomless pots of the signature lemongrass and nettle tea while looking out over the countryside.
The Honey Pot Cottage
In a tiny village just north of picturesque Burford, The Honey Pot is a luxurious, honey-colored stone cottage just large enough for two people. There is a wood-burning fireplace, a bright kitchen with an expansive farm sink and Aga stove, and a tasteful flat-screen in the living room with Netflix access (marvelous idea—let all self-catering properties follow this example, please). After a grocery run, you might want to kick off your boots and settle in for the week. At the back of the cottage is a shady table for meals outdoors and a barbeque for hamburgers in the summer. The surrounding countryside is easily accessible, and begs for long morning walks through open pasture. For couples searching for something more private than a traditional hotel, this is a lovely option.
A renowned gardener once owned this country home turned hotel, and her influence is still felt in the charming grounds. The property borders a dairy farm, and there is something agreeably pastoral about having coffee on the manicured lawn and listening to the cows bellow. I am partial to the bedrooms in the main house, each bright and spacious but distinct, shaped by the unique length of the residence that they occupy. Ample tubs and inviting beds are in abundance, and rooms often have large windows overlooking the countryside. There is a very good spa on the estate and an in-house restaurant, The Potager, which draws many locals celebrating special occasions. The food is fantastic and refined, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients and local provenance. The hotel also owns a more casual establishment a few hundred yards away, The Village Pub, which offers heartier fare like beer-battered fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding.
Where to Eat:
The Wheatsheaf Inn
On any night of the week, the handsome bar at the Wheatsheaf Inn will be stuffed with locals (and quite a few of their dogs), partaking of the constantly changing beers on tap and notably excellent wine list. The restaurant is one of the best in the Cotswolds, blending sophisticated ingredients with familiar preparations, like lamb shank with chorizo and saffron, or ox cheek, rib, and oyster pie. The so-called side orders, which are plates of vegetables such as braised red cabbage with golden raisins and pine nuts, or purple sprouting broccoli with Stilton hollandaise, are inventive and wonderful.
The Horse and Groom
At the top of Bourton-on-the-Hill sits this sunny Georgian pub, well situated for walks to nearby Sezincote and the Batsford Arboretum. The interior has wide-planked wood floors and a snapping fireplace at either end, with a chalkboard on the wall displaying the day’s offerings. Everything is skillfully done, and it is rewarding to stay for dessert—they do an extremely good Eton Mess.
The Wild Rabbit
This fashionable pub is owned by the same proprietors as Daylesford Organic, which is evident in the gorgeous interior design. There are open fires and roomy armchairs, lots of natural light, and appropriately rustic furniture. It is always a pleasure to come here, but the best time is for Sunday lunch, when they prepare roasted meats with all of the fixings (Yorkshire pudding, fried potatoes, parsnip mash, homemade horseradish sauce—heaven).
When you arrive at Buckland Manor, the resident Labrador will trot outside with interest, lightening any perceived formality around this stately hotel and restaurant. The dining room is as elegant as the rest of the house, with rows of casement windows and starched white tablecloths. The set menu, a terrific value, is well conceived and delicious, and the wine pairings are a worthwhile addition. Moderate your appetite to experience the optional cheese course, comprised of products from several local dairies and absolutely decadent.
The Bell at Sapperton
You can ride your horse to the Bell at Sapperton and tie him up outside, which would make this pub a favorite even if the food weren’t exciting. Fortunately, it delivers beautifully executed, comforting dishes like coq au vin and shepherd’s pie, served at scrubbed wooden tables next to a roaring fire. The proper way to conclude your meal is with a towering knickerbocker glory, spooned up slowly and washed down with tea.
Lords of the Manor
The restaurant at Lords of the Manor hotel is one of the few Michelin-starred establishments in the Cotswolds, which makes it a popular choice for celebratory evenings out. The food is unsurprisingly accomplished and the restaurant offers a first-rate vegetarian tasting menu. Service is polished and warm, and though the dining room and bar could use some gentle refreshing, the outstanding cuisine is worth the trip.
What to Do:
Exploring the villages of the Cotswolds is a simple and virtually endless pleasure. Wherever you happen to be staying, there are likely several towns within a short distance that merit a walk down the high street. A few that I like to revisit are Stanton (The Mount Inn is very good for lunch and a walk on the Cotswold Way trail afterward), Broadway (The Broadway Deli is excellent for coffee and a quick bite, or to pick up groceries for later), Snowshill, Burford, Bibury, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Kingham (where The Wild Rabbit pub, above, is located) and—in the farthest southern reaches of the Cotswolds—Castle Combe.
There are wonderful public walking paths veined throughout the Cotswolds, so bring comfortable shoes and the least-cumbersome folding umbrella you can find. The best routes take in a variety of scenery, winding over hills, through valleys and woodland, and past stately homes. The National Trust is a terrific resource for plotting journeys, and good country pubs will often have maps and recommended walking trails from their doors.
Antique dealers are enormously prevalent in the Cotswolds, and the quality of the goods on offer is sometimes exceptionally high. The town of Tetbury is peculiarly rich in antique shops, including the rabbit warren that is Long Street Antiques and my favorite, Lorfords. Nose around the villages for uncharted finds; those with any commerce at all will likely have an antique shop or two.
The post A Complete Guide to a Weekend (Or a Week) Away in England’s Cotswolds appeared first on Vogue.