The Cotswolds, located just 2 hours west of London, may just be one of the most scenic parts of England. This collection of 113 towns and villages surrounded by rolling green pastures is an ideal choice for those looking for a slower paced vacation in an idyllic setting.
Here are eight reasons to consider the Cotswolds for your next getaway.
1. You Can Stay In A Cozy Bed And Breakfast
While England’s big cities offer modern and high-tech hotels, the Cotswolds offers small, cozy bed and breakfast inns. Many of these got their start as coach houses hundreds of years ago. Often the inns are locally owned and operated. The internet speeds may be slow, but the hospitality is excellent. The included breakfasts are large and filling, leaving visitors well fueled for a day of exploring the region.
The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold is England’s oldest pub. One of the beams inside the pub has been carbon dated to prove that the establishment was founded in 947. Like most of the bed and breakfast inns in the area, The Porch House has been renovated to offer ensuite bathrooms and other modern amenities.
In Burford, The Highway Inn has been welcoming guests for 500 years. All the fireplaces are original and are still lit for guests every day. Some of the floors creak and others are sloped, but that just adds to the charm.
For something even more unusual, try staying in a 700-year-old monastery. Originally founded by the monks of Bruern Abbey as a hospice, The Shaven Crown in Shipton-under-Wychwood offers comfortable rooms and a central location for exploring the Cotswolds.
2. The Villages And Countryside Are Beautiful And Walkable
Dozens of trails wind through the Cotswolds. Each of them offers walkers the opportunity to see both village and farm life. Typically, trails begin in one of the Cotswold villages and then head through miles of fields. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of cows, sheep, and horses, and some trails also include historic sites like Sudeley Castle or Hailes Abbey.
The longest and best-known trail is the Cotswold Way. This 100-mile path starts in the north at Chipping Campden and ends in the south at Bath Abbey. You can join the trail at any point along the way; just select the distance most comfortable for you.
For something much shorter, consider the 14-mile Windrush Way. This path starts in Winchcombe and ends in Bourton-on-the-Water. Along the way, you’ll see the remains of medieval villages. This trail does not intersect with any villages, so be sure to pack plenty of food and water.
3. You Can Easily Take A Bike Tour Of The Region
Mountain biking has become increasingly popular in the Cotswolds. Like walking, this is an excellent way to see the countryside.
The dozens of popular cycling routes include the Infant Thames, the Burford Circular Ride, and the Winchcombe Circular Route. A list of most routes in the Cotswolds can be found here, including detailed maps and directions. Please note that while cyclists are not able to ride on pathways, they are allowed on byways and bridleways.
Bikes can be rented from several area companies, including Bainton Bikes and Hartwells Cotswold Cycle Hire. For assistance organizing a cycling vacation, check out Cotswolds Adventures or Windrush Cycle Tours.
4. You Can Explore Dozens Of Charming Villages
From the cottages made of yellow limestone to the colorful flower boxes hanging from the windows to the pubs with funny names dotting every corner, the Cotswolds could easily be a movie set for the BBC. This collection of towns and villages offers visitors endless opportunities for shopping, dining, and simply relaxing.
It’s hard to know where to begin in the Cotswolds. Here are just a few villages to consider visiting in this glorious region.
Stow-on-the-Wold was founded in 1107 as a market town. At one time this was the epicenter of the wool industry in England. In the center of town is a 14th-century cross and the original stocks where criminals were punished.
Today the town is full of boutique shops, tea houses, and pubs. Before leaving, don’t miss Saint Edward’s Church and its rear door, supposedly the inspiration for the Doors of Durin from The Lord of the Rings.
Bourton-on-the-Water is often referred to as the Venice of the Cotswolds because of the River Windrush that runs through it and the five low-lying bridges that cross the water. This town is often voted the prettiest village in England. While the general area is full of ruins dating to the Neolithic Period, the town was founded with the building of a church in the 11th century.
Today, visitors can enjoy relaxing in the open green spaces as well as exploring the surrounding shops.
Broadway, one of the larger villages in the area, offers a particularly nice selection of shops and restaurants along its gently curving High Street. It’s believed that Broadway was founded when the nearby abbey was chartered by King Edgar in 972. For much of its history, the village was a popular stop for coaches and then trains. It has since become a popular weekend getaway for Londoners.
5. You Can Wander Through Gorgeous Gardens
Visitors to the Cotswolds frequently comment on how green everything is in the countryside. But plenty of other colors can be found in the dozens of gardens available to visitors. Some are quite formal, while others are more rustic. And no matter which part of the Cotswolds you’re in, there’s bound to be a garden nearby.
The best-known garden in the Cotswolds is Hidcote Manor Garden in Chipping Campden. Named one of the 10 Great British Gardens, Hidcote features a wide range of flowers, shrubs, and trees, many of them rare varieties. Bring a picnic to enjoy in this lovely setting.
6. It’s A Paradise For History Buffs
History buffs will not be disappointed in the Cotswolds. The region offers opportunities to explore history dating as far back as 5,000 years.
For a glimpse of Neolithic history, head to the Avebury Ring. Located in the medieval town of Avebury, this stone circle was probably constructed between 2850 and 2200 B.C. Originally the site was made of 100 stones. After Christianity came to England, stone circles were considered remnants of paganism and were often destroyed. Today, some of the original stones remain, while smaller pillars are used as placeholders for the ones that no longer exist.
Near Winchcombe is the 15th-century Sudeley Castle. This was once the home of Catherine Parr, one of the wives of King Henry VIII. Visitors can explore the ruins of a previous castle, tour the current castle, and appreciate the award-winning gardens.
Also located near Winchcombe are the Hailes Abbey ruins. Founded in 1246 by the Earl of Cornwall, the abbey became an important Catholic pilgrimage site; however, it was destroyed in 1539 at the direction of King Henry VIII.
7. There Are Plenty Of Pubs With Personality
No visit to the Cotswolds would be complete without a stop at a local pub. Fortunately, pubs aren’t hard to find. Most villages offer at least one pub, while the larger towns have dozens of choices. And within the region are many pubs that offer a bit of history along with a pint.
The Fountain Inn in Gloucester has a history dating back to 1216. Eight Bells Inn in Chipping Campden originally housed the stonemasons building the nearby Saint James’s Church in the 14th century. And The Salutation Inn near Castle Combe was once the toll gate for travelers crossing the Roman Fosse Way.
Be sure to try the local draft beer while visiting these pubs. Unlike beers on tap, draft beers typically have less carbonation and may be served at room temperature.
8. You Can Try A Variety Of Local Food
Since the Cotswolds are surrounded by farms and pastures, it’s easy for the area’s restaurants to provide fresh and local food -- farm-to-table is the norm here. Many chefs take it one step further and have their own gardens on-site!
A visit should start with traditional English food like bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips. These favorites can be found in nearly every pub throughout the region. But you should also be sure to explore some of the more creative dishes on offer.
At The Kingham Plough in Kingham, Chef Johnny Pons serves up modern versions of British classics. For French food, head to the Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. If you’re looking for something more casual, try The Coconut Tree in Cheltenham, where Southeast Asian food is done very well.