“Quintessentially English” is how you will often hear the Cotswolds described, and the honey-coloured villages, rolling farmland and winding lanes can be the very picture of the English idyll.
But unless your idea of picture-perfect England includes busy car parks, tour buses and souvenir shops, you should choose where to visit wisely, especially on a sunny day in the heart of summer. Luckily, it is easy enough to escape the crowds and find your own slice of quiet Cotswolds perfection.
Here I give you my favourite spots to get you started on the right foot:
Favourite walk: Stanton, Snowshill and the Edge
In the far north of the Cotswolds, right on the border of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, this delightful walk takes you between two of The Cotswolds’ most picture-perfect villages and along part of the Cotswolds Edge, providing wonderful views right across the Severn Vale and into Wales.
The walk starts at impeccable Stanton, whose pristine honey-coloured buildings and wonderful architecture almost give it the feel of a living museum. It is not uncommon for a local cricket match to be taking place on the village pitch as horse-riders meander past.
From here it is a decent climb through farmland up onto the ridge of the Cotswold Edge. But your effort is rewarded with fine, expansive views. Drop down to the beautiful hillside village of Snowshill, home to pretty Snowshill Manor, famed both for its garden and its eccentric contents collected by architect Charles Paget-Wade, before climbing back onto the Edge, for a second chance to admire the views.
Back in Stanton, the village pub is the perfect place to recharge from the walk, especially on a sunny day when you can take a table outside, looking over the village roof-tops and surrounding countryside.
Favourite Village: Painswick
Given its lovely hilltop location, inviting high street, impressive architecture, fine church and beautiful surrounding countryside, you would expect Painswick to be inundated with tourists. But somehow it manages to retain a quiet, uncommercial, almost undiscovered, feel. Quite how it does this is a mystery, and no doubt it won’t last forever, but for now the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’ is a delightful stop on any visit to the area.
Whether technically a large village or a small town, Painswick’s small centre of winding lanes provides many picture-perfect Cotswold scenes that will be appreciated by photographers. St Mary’s Church is at the heart of the village. Its tall spire towers over the other buildings and the 99 yew trees in the church yard are the stuff of legend. Just outside the churchyard, rare 17th century stocks still stand (another good photo op!).
Favourite Town: Burford
While by no means ‘off-the-beaten-track’, the bustle of Burford’s high street is part of its charm.
Far from tacky souvenir shops, Burford has an enticing collection of independent shops and boutiques, with everything from antiques, delis, craft shops, art galleries and clothes shops. When you are finished with your shopping, there is a good selection of cafes and pubs to provide refreshments.
You can also escape the throng by investigating the picturesque side streets, filled with in interesting collection of Cotswold stone cottages and grand houses. The stunning medieval church and its perfectly intact 14th century almshouses shouldn’t be missed.
Burford’s position on the banks of the River Windrush means it is also a great starting point for riverside strolls into the surrounding countryside.
Favourite Pub: The Falkland Arms in Great Tew
On the far eastern edge of the Cotswolds in Oxfordshire, the tiny village of Great Tew is home to a perfect example of a 16th century pub. The ivy-clad thatched stone building looks the part from the outside and you won’t be disappointed when you step in.
Flag-stoned floors, wooden beams and inglenook fireplaces continue the impression that the place is little changed in centuries. The pub always serves a good selection of local real ales as well as many other options and serves hearty, good-quality local food.
The location away from the main tourist villages of The Cotswolds means that this is still very much a warm, welcoming, traditional village pub, where you are as likely to bump into someone who lives next door as someone who has made a long journey to try out its charms. Well worth going out of your way for.
Favourite place to spend the night: Barnsley
Rather than staying in one of the main centres, I prefer to find accommodation in a small, traditional village – as long as there is at least one cosy village pub to settle into for the evening!
One of my favourites is the tiny village of Barnsley in the southern Cotswolds, where you can choose to take one of the chic rooms at the local pub – an upmarket place serving high quality food but retaining a relaxed, unstuffy atmosphere– or to splash out on some pure indulgence at the super-luxury hotel in the village’s old manor house.
I hope that you get the chance to try some of my favourite places on your next trip to the Cotswolds, but the Cotswolds’ country lanes are great for exploring, so head out, get lost, and find your own slice of Cotswolds perfection.
Written by Helen Whitehead, the founder of Great British Escapes, a specialist company arranging tailor-made vacations in Britain.