Imagine an idyllic country scene: golden cottages with pink roses round the door, cascading streams, mossy grass grazed by lazy cattle, undulating hills, and views that disappear into the unthinkable distance… You’ve already pictured the Cotswolds! There’s the famous North, full of honey-coloured buildings, wide valleys and elegant market towns. But don’t miss out on the lesser-known South, the quieter, shyer cousin, with its hidden valleys and quirky character. Both offer the quintessential countryside that characterises the Cotswolds, England’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Our tour, led by a knowledgeable local driver-guide, meanders through some of the Cotswolds’ most iconic spots. In the North, Chipping Campden was once the home of medieval sheep barons, who used their wealth to build marvels such as 14th century Grevel’s House and St James’ Church, considered by many to be the finest wool church in the region. Teetering Snowshill atop the Cotswold escarpment, unspoilt Winchcombe, and Bourton-on-the-Water – the Venice of the Cotswolds – are some of the prettiest settlements you’ll see; but none are more prized than glorious Upper and Lower Slaughter, which attract visitors from all over the world to wander along secluded pathways by the side of the babbling River Eye.
Unsophisticated as these villages are, they’re known for attracting celebrities past and present. Rock stars, supermodels and fashion designers are among those who’ve bought manors in the area in recent years. But that’s not a new phenomenon. Broadway is still full of galleries, a throwback to the 19th century when painters such as the American Francis Davis Millet fell in love with its wide main street and quaint tranquillity. Nearby Broadway Tower was once owned by Pre-Raphaelite William Morris; you can see 13 counties from this, the “highest little castle in the Cotswolds”.
This area is also prized for its outstanding gardens. Hidcote Manor, an Arts and Crafts masterpiece, is one of the finest of its kind in the world; while Kiftsgate boasts England’s largest rose.
But while the manicured Cotswolds of the North attract a myriad tourists, the South holds more rugged secrets in the form of deep-hidden valleys, harebell-covered meadows, and steeply wooded hills. Nestled amongst these natural amphitheatres are towns that seem to have sprung organically from the earth; ancient towns with fascinating shops, restaurants that cook with ingredients grown on Cotswold soil, and attractions that vividly tell the story of this ancient land.
As our expert guides take you through picture-postcard scenery, they can explain the history of towns and villages such as Bibury, with its famous Arlington Row of former weavers’ cottages, and Cirencester, a Roman capital, which grew yet richer on the proceeds of the medieval wool industry. There’s Tetbury, now home to the Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall: indeed, this is the town where the Princes William and Harry grew up. Tetbury is much-visited for its antique emporia, food and other individual shops, none more famous than Highgrove, selling unique crafts, the profits from which go to the Prince’s own charities. Stunning Malmesbury Abbey, dating back to the 12th century, is the burial place of Athelstan, England’s first King. The town is also home to a more modern attraction: the outstanding Abbey House Gardens, famed not only for their horticulture but for their owners, known as the Naked Gardeners for reasons that may become clear!
There’s also an option to visit ancient Lacock Abbey, where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
The route can be adjusted to fit with any start and finish point, such as a Cheltenham hotel or Bibury.