So, if you’ve been squirreling away holiday days during lockdown (and you’ve checked with the latest government travel advice to make sure you’re good to go), it’s worth cashing in some of that time-off for a long-weekend away in the Cotswolds.
Remember in The Holiday, when Cameron Diaz clicked on the Cotswolds and up came a picture of a dilapidated shed. “It looks just like the valley,” she reckoned… Hmmm. The Cotswolds got short-changed big time there.
In reality, driving through the windy roads past honey-coloured stone cottages, romping welly-clad across streams over higgledy bridges and hunkering down in worn armchairs by open fires really couldn’t get much more cosy if you tried. Granted, the place is beautiful in the summer, but it was made for sweater weather.
Set off in the morning to hit the village of Bibury by lunch time. Stop at the ivy-clad Swan pub nestled on one side of a pretty bridge next to the River Coln. Sink into an armchair next to the log fire and order from the menu of English classics including beer-battered haddock and triple-cooked chips, or truffled mac and cheese.
After lunch, make your way on foot through the village to the picturesque St Mary’s Church. Stop by Arlington Row, the iconic cluster of weavers cottages on the way back down. Accessed over a little wooden footbridge, it’s one of the most recognisable postcard dwellings in the Cotswolds.
In the afternoon, take the short drive to Burford where there’s plenty of pubs to stay the night. The Golden Pheasant Inn is cheap and cheerful, the Lamb Inn is plush and characterful. Spend the rest of the day making your way down the charming high street, decorated with painted lattice windows and awnings stretching over the pavements. There’s a cheese shop, a sweet shop and a bakers.
There’s even Walkers Stoves to window-shop a log burner for the dream house you spotted (but definitely can’t afford) in the estate agents a few doors down. In the evening, stop at one of the many great pubs for dinner (The Bay Tree Inn is cosy with a great menu, The Cotswold Arms is where you’ll find the locals). Get suitably merry and teeter back to your room.
Start the day off with breakfast on Burford High Street at Huffkins Tea Rooms (open from 9:30 to give you time for a lie-in). All the teas are hand-blended locally and you can choose from breakfast baps, eggs benedict or one of the homemade cakes (you’re allowed to eat cake for breakfast when you’re on holiday).
Next head to Cheltenham (just outside the Cotswolds) for some Christmas shopping. There’s a mix of department stores, like the big John Lewis, plenty of familiar high street faces to find clothes, games and gadgets, and independent boutiques to pick up gifts.
In the evening, swing by No.131 The Promenade. Their Gin Juice bar menu is spruced up for Christmas with some seriously festive concoctions. The food menu is an Asian fusion with platters of tempura tiger prawns, sashimi, tuna tartare, crispy aromatic duck and miso glazed salmon.
To stay, No.38 The Park, a short ten minute walk from the town centre toward leafy Pittville Park, is a hidden gem. The renovated Georgian townhouse features a roaring fire in the lobby where you can take a load off. Think high ceilings, ornate cornicing, cast iron radiators to keep the rooms toasty, soft bed linen, fluffy woollen throws, a cosy bathrobe and slippers, hot water bottles clad in knitted covers and, if you’re lucky, a free-standing roll top bath to soak away the cold evenings.
After breakfast at No.38 (which is excellent), set off to Daylesford Farm in Moreton-in-Marsh. The Daylesford Estate, overseen by Lady Bamford herself, has set itself apart as one of the most sustainable farms in the UK. Alongside fresh fruit, veg, meat and poultry, you can also find jars of jam, fruit preserves, chunky piccalilli. There’s refillable stations to fill your own reusable containers with grains, granola and cereal – the same goes for the beauty and home products. Everything from shower gel to washing up liquid can be filled and re-filled in the reusable glass or aluminium containers.
The farm also features the Bamford Wellness Spa where you can book in for a relaxing massage or manicure in the most peaceful of spaces. And there’s events (pre-Covid) such as floristry workshops. Failing that, you can browse the small garden centre.
For lunch, head to The Wild Rabbit pub (also part of the Daylesford Estate) in neighbouring Kingham. As far as adorable, cosy, chocolate-box pubs go, you won’t get much better. Choose a spot in the bar (nab an armchair by the fire if you can) and choose from hearty large plates of twice baked cheddar cheese soufflé, braised lamb shoulder, fresh fish and ribeye steak, or share a few small plates and sides – there’s charcuterie, smoked salmon, garden salads, honey-glazed veg and hand-cut chips. You can stop here for the night. The rooms are comfortable, luxurious and cosy, or stay in one of the five charming Cotswold cottages.
If you’d rather continue exploring, head west to the quintessentially Cotswoldian Stow-On-The-Wold. The market square is surrounded by honey-stone pubs and tea shops, while the village church features a gnarly tree-flanked wooden door which wouldn’t look out of place in Narnia.
Explore the pretty village cottages and local shops. Then choose from one of the pubs, or restaurants for dinner. There’s plenty of pub classics to tuck into, the Prince of India down the hill is home to authentic curries, the Sheep On The Street has a crowd-pleasing menu, and The Old Butchers does some of the best seafood you’ll find in the Cotswolds.
In the evening, rest your head for the night at The Stag at Stow, which looks onto the market square. The plaid upholstery and wood panelling make for the perfect place to snuggle down for the night and watch a Christmas film.
If you have time…
Depending on which direction you’re heading home, you could always take in a few extra sights on the way. If you’re heading south-east toward London, a mini detour will take you to Blenheim Palace, where despite some restrictions, you can still see the beautiful grounds and the illuminated light trail when night falls, or explore a scaled-back, socially-distanced Christmas inside the palace where the Cecily Brown Contemporary Art Exhibition is on display.
Bicester village is a twenty-minute stone’s throw north east. Browse luxury gifts from the likes of Burberry, Ralph Lauren, The White Company, All Saints, Saint Laurent, Chloé, Hunter, Jo Malone and Monica Vinader at discounted prices at the outlet shops.
If you’re heading due south, take in the quaint village of Castle Combe at the bottom of the Cotwsolds on your way through. The ambling Bybrook river winds its way through the centre of the village and the honeypot cottages complete with smoking chimneys have made it the backdrop for Hollywood films including Stardust and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.