As restrictions ease, all eyes are on cooler shores, especially for the expats, and England is the perfect destination for a late summer break.
Whether you’re planning to visit for a long weekend, or longer, with family, friends or as a couple, there’s one English destination that tops everyone’s summer staycation bucket list: The Cotswolds.
Around 2-2.5hrs from London, The Costwolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is exactly that – it’s breathtakingly beautiful. This is true whatever time of the year you visit not just when the grass is green, and the sun casts a honey-hued glow over the quaint Cotswold stone buildings. In winter, it’s truly magical. Spindly church spires pierce snow-topped hills like icicles and roaring fires in cosy countryside pubs make whiling away an afternoon here, one of life’s pleasures.
The Cotswolds is often mistaken for a small area of countryside just outside of Oxfordshire when in fact, it’s vast – 800 square miles to be precise, and extends through five whole counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. This is why it’s almost impossible to enjoy the best of the Cotswolds over just one weekend. Take five days or more to explore, or split your visit into north and south and plan a repeat trip.
Whether arriving by train or car, you’ll know when you’ve arrived. There’s no subtly to its beauty. Gorgeous stone buildings line narrow roads, traditional market towns are alive with festivities, rolling hills run as far as the eye can see and everything suddenly feels just that little more relaxed. Civilised even. There’s a reason the Cotswolds are a popular escape for monied Londoners looking to escape the humdrum of daily city life.
If you’re the active type of prefer to recharge a more sedate way, the Cotswolds offers it all. There’s over 3,000 miles of footpaths and bridleways to walk, ancient woodlands and the most stunning wildflower meadows to meander through, but there’s also some of the best spas in England for you to unwind in.
In addition to being an instagrammers dream destination, the region rather unsurprisingly, is a gastronomical superstar. With a rich harvest, feast on local cheeses, meats and drinks at one of the many gastro pubs, inns, riverside cafes and fine dining restaurants that are scattered across the region. You can even take up residence in many of them for the duration of your stay.
Accommodation options are wide-ranging however, summertime is extremely busy in the Cotswolds so book in advance or adopt patience for last-minute cancellations. Lavish country house hotels such as The Slaughter’s Manor House offer a touch of luxury, whilst fashionable offerings such as Soho Farmhouse from the world-renowned Soho House Group offer a great option for a spa break – just make sure you know someone who’s “in-the-know” to secure a reservation. For the more active, Feldon Valley Lodges offers a unique stay on one of the best golf courses in the region, and there’s a wealth of charming B&Bs (can you get anymore English than this?) in the villages and towns themselves that make the ideal base for exploration. You can even rent your own Cotswolds cottage with Airbnb, perfect for those looking for a touch more privacy.
However, our hearts lie with a true hidden gem. Not so secret among Cotswolds residents however. Nestled in Kingham, a tiny picturesqure village in the heart of the Cotswolds, a Cotswold-stone’s throw from celebrity-packed Chipping Norton, The Kingham Plough is about as English a weekend break as it’s possible to have here.
It feels off the beaten track whilst still being central to all the key places you’ll want to visit. A gorgeous public house of honey-coloured Cotswold stone, what it lacks in size it sure makes up for in character. Kingham itself is postcard-pretty with dainty houses dotted around a perfectly manicured village green – also home to The Kingham Plough. It does, however, have a mainline railway station which makes it an attractive destination for travel to and from London – the station is just a 15-minute stroll from the pub.
As you’d expect from a quintessential Cotswold country pub it’s as handsome as a 17th-century coaching in would be, and attracts a mix of local residents and wealthy out-of-towners who are looking for a quiet escape from their daily lives. Through an impossibly narrow carriage archway (those with wide cars beware), you’ll find a lovely outdoor terrace to the front of the car park, just perfect for long summer evenings, although the inside is just as charming. There’s a proper bar (always a good start) and a small dimly-lit dining room with exposed-stone walls and a grand, roaring fireplace. Furnishings are eclectic and the atmosphere is one of friendly, relaxed chatter from locals and lovers alike.
There’s just six bedrooms available here, nearly almost always full, but each as characterful and cosy as the next. Four of which are located in the main building and the other two in a separate annexe which are slightly larger. However, this is not a place where you’ll be looking for space, it’s about cosiness, intimate tete-a-tetes over a glass of something deliciously fruity, evening strolls in the surrounding countryside before retreating back to your snug sanctuary for the most blissful of slumbers.
But just because this is a public house, don’t expect anything other than paired back luxury. Each room is en-suite, decorated in a country chic style that looks like it comes straight out of an interiors magazine – antiques and vintage finds included. Duck down duvets, Egyptian cotton sheets, mohair throws, digital radios and Bramley bath products add to the luxurious feel. Two of the bathrooms even feature freestanding rolltop baths. Our pick is Room 4 with it’s super-king bed, tasteful neutral furnishings and oversized gilt mirror.
But whilst The Kingham Plough is a notable place to stay, where it really comes alive is in the kitchen. Renowned as serving some of the very best fare in the entire Cotswold region, it’s a gastro pub of impeccable standards. From the expertly crafted seasonal cocktails and craft local ales to generous dishes of the very best fresh, local produce on the daily-changing menu full of British classics, you certainly won’t go unsatisfied.
The quality of the ingredients here really stands out and dishes are exactly what you want from a British countryside pub with a reputation for excellent cuisine. The menu is unfussy but not simplistic, as Head Chef, Jonny Pons champions local artisan products and the finest fresh, local ingredients for his daily-changing a la carte menu.
Start your feast – and it is a feast, with a selection of nibbles. ‘Mark’s Sourdough’ with farmhouse butter is a great place to start, accompanied by a Paddock Farm Pork Pie with spicy tomato chutney.
Starters worthy of a mention include Wood Fired Scallop in Half Shell with Creamy Garlic Butter and the delectable Chicken Liver Parfait with a Red Wine Shallot & Mint Relish. Mains consist of a selection of classics – Fish and Chips and a Ploughman’s Board nonetheless, and also a good-sized selection of fancier fare. The Cepe marinated Pork Tenderloin, Pork Belly, Baby Carrots and Leeks with Jus was a stand-out favourite from neighbouring diners, whilst the Woodfired Giant Tiger Prawns with Garlic & Parsley Butter and House Fries is an enormous, deliciously satisfying dish that we can’t recommend enough. For the carnivores among you, there’s steak galore – the 8oz Hereford Rib Eye Steak drizzled in Bernaise sauce another stand out dish for quality, portion size and that all-important presentation. If you get carried away (note: we did), then treat yourself to the ultimate side indulgence of Truffle Mac & Cheese – you won’t be disappointed. If you can manage desert after all this, and we urge you to try, the Black Forest Gateau with Tonka Bean Chantilly Cream and Cherry will tantilise your taste buds into sensory-heaven. Of course, there’s plenty for vegetarians and children as well making The Kingham Plough a great all-rounder, worthy of a dinner-party conversation or two.
If you can tear yourself away from the fantastic food here, there’s a few Cotswold hotspots we urge you to visit during your stay. Cotswold Lavender Farm is a glorious location for an afternoon spent wandering the striking lavender fields with their vibrant purple hue – if the weather plays ball. With over 40 different varieties of lavender and some 140 miles of lavender rows its one for peak summer sunshine, camera in hand and your prettiest outfit. The farm shop also sells a variety of Lavender scented products from essential oils to home fragrance.
If visiting one of the Cotswolds charming towns is more your thing, then Stow-on-the-Wold is an excellent place to start. A smallish market town is great to browse fine antique shops, art galleries and purchase gifts. It’s one of the most well-known of Cotswolds towns so don’t expect to find it undiscovered – parking can be tricky in the middle of the day. There’s a great choice of tearooms for a scone-packed pit stop and there’s a fantastic farmers market every second Thursday of the month if it happens to coincide with your stay. One of the town’s touristic gems is the historic St Edward’s Church with its mystical doorway that looks like it’s come straight from Lord of the Rings.
Another great destination to visit, and perhaps even more popular than Stow-on-the-Wold with visitors is Bourton-on-the-Water. This is a great spot for families with attractions such as Birdland, Model Village and the Dragonfly Maze. Dubbed “Venice of the Cotswolds” for the shallow river than runs through the middle, it’s a beautiful village that makes for a great place to explore, ice-cream in hand.
Two more spots that cannot go without mention include Lower Slaughter – a teeny, tiny village that boasts some of the prettiest scenery in the Cotswolds and is worth a stop. The minute River Eye runs through its core and makes for a lovely wander. Be sure to visit The Old Mill Museum to learn more about its local history too – the mill is recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Neighbouring Upper Slaughter is just as attractive.
Finally, on your tour of the Cotswolds, we suggest a stop in “the most beautiful village in England” according to William Morris, the quaint village of Bibury. Arlington Row is an iconic street lined with weaver’s cottages that makes for a pretty picture and Bibury Trout Farm is a fun place to stop to catch you “catch of the day”.
So vast is the Cotwolds that it’s almost impossible to document all its wonders in one piece. Larger towns of Cheltenham, Cirencester and Bath to the South also deserve a mention. The Cotswolds is one of those internationally known destinations that manages to seem like you’ve just stumbled upon somewhere that no-one else in the world knows about, such is its beauty. Walking its rich countryside is impossibly romantic and for the ultimate English escape from it all break, you just can’t beat it.