10 Ways to Experience Britain's Charming Cotswolds

Despite its jazzy name, Broadway is one of the quieter Cotswold villages β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

Just two hours outside ofΒ London, Great Britain’s Cotswold region is an antidote to urban angst. Rolling hills and villages, straight from the pages of storybooks, are a mix of rural quiet and contemporary tastes among inns and restaurants.

Walking is a popular pastime, with public paths and Cotswold Way threading villages and valleys. Towns such as Bibury, Broadway, Chipping Campden, Upper and Lower Slaughter and Burford offer peaceful retreats as well as exploration of historic highlights.

1. Tour toy villages

Naunton is a pretty village on the Windrush River β€” Photo courtesy of Nick Turner/Visit Britain

Great Britain’s Cotswold region is a painter’s dream of green hills and pretty villages. Β Sighting a thatched roof cottage makes you wonder if you just stepped into the pages of a fairy tale. Wandering the Cotswolds, you’ll find that locals are happy to chat.

Blending country charm with urban sophistication, a Cotswold getaway weekend is how Londoners catch their breath.

2. Get off the tourist trail

Thatched roof cottages add a storybook touch to the Cotswolds β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

The Cotswold region stretches 100 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon southward to Bath. Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare, is well worth a visit, as is Bath, home to ancient Roman baths. Both towns are heavily touristed, so you might want to set up your romantic home base in a smaller village.

Some of the prettiest towns are Painswick, Broadway, Bibury, Stow-on-the-Wold, Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter, Chipping Campden and Moreton-in-Marsh. Odd names, eh? Just know that “Slaughter” has no violent connotation – the original word meant “muddy.” Β As for “Chipping,” that meant “market” in the days that Chipping Campden and Chipping Norton served the region as bustling market towns.

3. Grab yourself a pint

You’ll have no trouble finding real ales at Cotswold pubs such as the Cotswold Arms in Burford β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

Every Cotswold village boasts a traditional British pub, a local gathering place where children and dogs are welcome, too. Venture in for a pint and you’ll find some locals ready to chat. Hearty pub grub includes fish and chips or meat pies. But some pubs offer menus finessed by master chefs using locally sourced food to create inventive dishes. Be assured, no matter the pub, true ales are served.

4. Eat well in sophisticated sheep country

The bar at The Painswick invites upscale cocktail tippling and wine sipping β€” Photo courtesy of The Painswick

Fancy a bit of upscale tippling? Bars in many inns don’t miss a beat in mixing a shrub-based cocktail or handing you an extensive wine list. Same goes for dining – this is farm country with ultra-fresh dairy and a cornucopia of locally produced lamb, beef, chicken and fish. Book a reservation for an intimate corner in one of the region’s highly rated restaurants.

5. Walk your troubles away

Chipping Norton is among the Cotswold Villages where you’ll feel right at home β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

Walking is the Cotswolds’ rhythm, and strolling villages to explore shops surely counts. British-made shoes and purses are high quality and well-priced. Β British-produced textiles score for quality and economy, too. Shop for woolens, cottons and linens. Buy something special for your partner in this place where you’ll both make treasured memories.

6. Tea is of the essence

Afternoon tea is a not-to-be-missed tiny feast of small sandwiches, cakes and tea β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

Soft evening air invites an evening stroll through the village. It’s a good time to sniff out the best place for a glorious afternoon tea, a not-to-be-missed aspect of Britain’s charm. The tea tradition is a lovely way to slow down and enjoy one another’s company, and those finger sandwiches and little cakes are just the thing when you’re feeling a bit peckish.

7. Get lost

Say hello to the sheep as you pass them on a walk along a public path β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

Should you fancy a hearty walk in the Cotswolds, public footpaths are everywhere – just ask a local or pick up a map at a tourist center. Signposts keep you on the trail which sometimes leads through a farmer’s field or sheep pasture. You’ll meet other walkers, especially if you walk Cotswold Way, a path extending 100 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon to Bath. Hop on for a day’s hike, then catch a public bus home.Β 

8. Take a view from the tower

Hiking to Broadway Tower from the village of Broadway is a short, rewarding hike β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

For a relatively steep hike with great rewards, head up Cotswold Way from Broadway and climb to Broadway Tower. The view takes in the green quilt of farm fields and villages, and the sight will make you glad you came to the Cotswolds.

9. Ancient stones, manors and…rhinos?

Rollright Stones are much easier to access than Stonehenge β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

On a rainy day – and rain is common – head to one of many manor houses or gardens. Hidcote Manor Gardens, created by an American horticulturist, reflects the Arts and Crafts Movement that started in the early 20th century. Or visit Blenheim Palace, childhood home of Winston Churchill.

Roll history further back with a visit to Roman ruins at Chedworth Roman Villa, or peel back another few thousand years to the Bronze Age and Neolithic era and visit the Rollright Stones. The mysterious monolithic stone circle is yours to touch and contemplate, quite unlike heavily touristed Stonehenge.

These rhinos may not be “to the manor born,” but they and other endangered species call this home at Cotswold Wildlife Park β€” Photo courtesy of Andrew Lawson/Visit Britain

The quirkiest Cotswold visit must be Cotswold Wildlife Park where rhinos, tigers and a host of endangered species make their home on the grounds of Bradford Grove, a manor house in Burford donated in 1970 for animal conservation.

10. Drive on the wrong side

Driving on the left can be tricky; busy roundabouts may leave your head whirling β€” Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

You can catch a train from London to some Cotswold towns, but if you want to explore – and there is so much to discover – you’ll need a car. That means driving on the left side of the road, a relatively easy adjustment when following the vehicular stream on the motorways. But once you get to the narrow two-lane roads of the Cotswolds and a big lorry (truck) comes barreling toward you as if to shear off your mirror, at the very least, you’ll need your wits about you.

Hopefully your traveling companion is a keen navigator; you’ll need that driving into the whirl of madcap drivers whizzing through roundabouts.

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