We can’t remember when we’ve been to the Cotswolds for the first time. At the time of writing we have both been living in London for more than ten years and intend to stay for good, it’s now our chosen home town, but it took us at least 3 years or so before we discovered the very best local weekend trip destination just an hour and a half away from London Paddington by train (hop off at Moreton-in-Marsh) and a similar amount of time by car.
The Cotswolds are usually considered to stretch from Stratford-upon-Avon in the north-east to Bath in the south-west about 145km away from Stratford, covering a strip of land about 45 to 90km wide (roughly between Cheltenham/Gloucester and Oxford) belonging to six English counties: mainly Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, as well as parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The highest point of the hilly region is Cleeve Hill at 330 m.
The area is dominated by rolling hills with grazing sheep (the so-called Cotswolds lions), little walls and hedges, streams with reed-covered banks adorned by willow-trees. Nearly all villages have been built centuries ago from the local warm yellow-colored lime stone.
Our favorite place to stay at is Windy Ridge near Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, even though at around £110 to £140 per night it’s rather pricey for a bed-and-breakfast. But what a bed-and-breakfast it is! The building was built by the father of the current owner, who still operates the business, and it is built in the style of a medieval mansion, with nice gardens around it.
A few times we also stayed in bed-and-breakfasts in Bourton-on-the-Water (don’t miss the annual water football competition if you happen to be around on that weekend, and say hi to Birdland’s penguins), which has the advantage that you don’t have to walk or take the car to be in the next village.
A couple of times we decided to take the train to Redditch via Birmingham to hire one of the vintage cars from Great Escape Cars (we’re not receiving any favor from them, just really liked their service and their cars, so might as well recommend them). You’ll see a lot of vintage cars on the roads in the Cotswolds, it appears to be the place where their owners go for their fun rides.
The list of towns and villages that are worth any number of visits is endless, but our favorites must be, in descending order:
The two Slaughters (Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter)
Snowshill (some locals pronounce it Snozzle)
Stanton (you must try the slowly cooked pork belly of a Gloucestershire pot-bellied pig at the Mount Inn and do the round-trip hiking tour via Stanway and Snowshill)
In Bourton-on-the-Water you can also hire bicycles, including tandems, for next to nothing, or go on a two-hour guided horse-back riding tour (quite pricey but a lot of fun) which we did on more than one occasion.
Hiking is great nearly everywhere in the Cotswolds and there are many well-marked paths, the most famous one being the Cotswolds Way. We try to do a 2 to 5h hiking tour every day, while we’re there.
Sezincote House is a curiosity you might want to check out, if you’re nearby. It was built two hundred years ago, in a style that was popular in India in the 16th century (think ‘Taj Mahal’), by an English gentleman who had just returned from India with a bit of spare cash.
Another highlight of every trip to the Cotswolds is the great food. You need to shop around a bit and check the reviews, there are a few tourist traps and a few places that simply can’t cook, but if you do, you’re bound to have a perfect culinary experience. They like their venison and pheasants, the latter being our favourite dish during the season from early October until end of January, we won’t miss it.
We’d easily get carried away, if we’d attempt to draw up a list of great restaurants, so will limit ourselves to the #1 place: the Horse & Groom near the top of the hill, where you get the best England has to offer on a plate for just over a tenner, we’ve been there many times, including with friends and family, and it was never short of pure bliss.
We find that the bed-and-breakfast prices vary more in this area than in most, so if you can, try to avoid the main bank holiday weekends.