With its green rolling hills, honey-stone villages, country pubs, grand mansions and manicured gardens, the Cotswolds’ film set good looks make it the quintessential English countryside destination. I’m lucky enough to have it on my doorstep, but the Cotswolds also makes a great weekend break. At 800 square miles you could spend a few weeks exploring, so this 48-hour itinerary picks out some of the highlights of the Cotswolds, with a little bit of everything which makes this area so special. So here’s how to spend a weekend in the Cotswolds.
Read more: 10 Great British weekend break ideas
How to spend a weekend in The Cotswolds
The Cotswolds is not an easy place to get around by public transport – especially if you want to visit lots of different locations – so it’s best to explore by car. If you don’t have your own car you can catch the train to nearby Cheltenham or Oxford where you can pick up a hire car.
Base yourself at The Old Stocks Inn in Stow-on-the-Wold for your weekend in the Cotswolds. This 17th-century coaching inn has a big dose of old-fashioned charm from its oak beams and crooked stone walls, but it’s been given a contemporary makeover with roll-top baths, velvet sofas and Scandi-style soft furnishings. Or if you’d rather have a place to yourself, there are plenty of Cotswolds AirBnBs, from traditional country cottages to shepherd’s huts.
Once you’re settled in, travel around nine miles north to the Broadway Tower – one of the best places in the Cotswolds to watch the sun set. This mini castle is a Gothic folly, built in 1799 and used as a countryside retreat by designer William Morris. It’s the second highest spot in the Cotswolds, and on a clear day you can see as far as Wales. Then carry on into the village of Broadway for dinner in the wood-panelled dining room at the Lygon Arms.
The following morning, make an early start to avoid the crowds in Bourton on the Water, four miles south of Stow. The ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England, so it’s no surprise it’s one of the area’s most popular spots. Grab a coffee and croissant from the Bakery on the Water before crossing the bridges over the River Windrush and exploring Bourton in miniature at the Model Village, a one-ninth scale replica.
Next head to the nearby twin villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter (who get their less-than-appealing name from an old English word for muddy or boggy place rather than anything more sinister…). Park in Lower Slaughter and follow the shallow River Eye past chocolate-box country cottages draped in flowers to The Old Mill. There’s been a mill here since the Domesday Book, and it’s now museum and craft shop (due to reopen in September 2020).
Carry on past the mill and you’ll pick up the path for the mile-long walk to Upper Slaughter, along the riverside and across open fields. Once you get there, take a look around St Peter’s Church and watch cars braving the ford across the river. Or call in to the grand Lords of the Manor hotel for a Pimms on the terrace and a walk around their gardens on a sunny day.
Then travel a few miles east to Daylesford for lunch. This ultra-trendy farm shop slash café is a favourite with the Cotswolds celebrity crowd. They specialise in organic, sustainable produce, growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs as well as having a creamery and butchers on site. You can pick up bread, cheese and deli produce for a picnic, or eat in at the café, with grilled chicken, vegetable tarts and salads fresh from the garden on the menu.
After lunch, drive 20 miles south to the village of Bibury, just north of Cirencester. There are a few different ways you can take get there, but the most scenic route is along the B4425 which passes through a string of tiny villages called the Rissingtons and the Barringtons.
Bibury was once a mill town on the banks of the River Coln, surrounded by water meadows. Now it’s one of the most famous Cotswold villages and has starred in films like Stardust and Bridget Jones’ Diary. Head to Arlington Row – a row of 17th-century weaver’s cottages so typically English they even appear on the inside cover of UK passports. They’re now owned by the National Trust so you can’t go inside, but it’s a great spot for photographs.
Then travel east to Burford (10 miles) at the south edge of the Cotswolds for the rest of the afternoon. The town of Burford was another centre of the medieval wool trade, and if you walk up to the top of the High Street you can look out over its historic buildings to the River Windrush. Burford’s got lots of interesting independent shops to explore, and you can satisfy any sugar cravings at Huffkins Bakery with their to-die-for sticky caramelised lardy cakes.
Finish your day with dinner in Kingham, five miles east of Stow. This small village is an unexpected Cotswold foodie hotspot, with two award-winning gastropubs to choose from. There’s the Michelin-starred Wild Rabbit – part of the Daylesford estate – or the more traditional-style Kingham Plough with its antique furniture and cosy log fires.
Start your Sunday by travelling 11 miles west to Sudeley Castle (entry £12 adults, £5 for under 15s, and you must pre-book in advance). This 15th-century castle was the home of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, who’s buried in its church. Sudeley’s still a private residence (and a wedding venue if you’ve got deep pockets) but parts of the castle are open to the public, with exhibitions featuring Tudor costumes and Katherine Parr’s books and letters.
You can also see some of the damaged sections where the castle was ‘slighted’ at the end of the English Civil War, leaving much of it in ruins for 200 years until it was bought and restored. And there are 10 different gardens, including the Queens Garden where you can follow in the footsteps of at least four English queens, a pheasantry and kids’ adventure playground.
Then head south past Cheltenham to the Green Dragon in Cowley for lunch. If you’ve got time, stop off at Leckhampton Hill, just outside Cheltenham. It’s part of the Cotswold Way long-distance walking route and is one of my favourite viewpoints in the Cotswolds, looking out over Cheltenham, the Severn Valley and Malvern Hills. You can either park on Daisybank Road at the bottom of the hill or on Hartley Lane at the top if you don’t fancy the climb.
Carry on to the Green Dragon to refuel with a traditional Sunday roast. The pub dates back to 1643 and has bags of character with flagstone floors, beamed ceilings, hard-carved furniture and open fires. There’s also a flower-filled beer garden and a good selection of local ales.
Then finish off your weekend in the Cotswolds with a walk around one of the area’s beautiful gardens. Depending on what time of year you’re visiting, there are a few places which are open for a limited season. There’s the snowdrops at Colesbourne Park in February, the Cotswold Lavender fields in Snowshill in June/July, the Confetti Flower Fields in Pershore in August or autumn colours at the Westonbirt or Batsford arboretums in September and October.
Otherwise Painswick Rococo Garden is a good choice at any time of year (£9 adults, £8 seniors and £4.10 for under 16s). It’s around 10 miles south of Cowley in a tucked-away valley on the edge of the village of Painswick. The gardens were designed in the 1740s in an architectural style which was all about the frivolous and the flamboyant. So as well as plants and flowers there are follies and viewpoints, restored to their former glory based on a painting from the time.
Then pop into Painswick for tea – the village was the birthplace of the Twining tea-producing family so they know how to make a good cuppa. Painswick is a favourite spot for artists, set around St Mary’s Church which has 99 neatly trimmed yew trees in its churchyard – legend has it if a 100th is planted it never survives. Finally feast on a Champagne afternoon tea or keep it simple with scones, jam and cream at The Painswick before heading home.
Have you visited The Cotswolds? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?
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