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A Cotswolds travel guide – natural beauty in the heart of England

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Holidays in the Cotswolds take in limestone villages, classic English manor houses and hillside gardens. Cotswold hotels place you at the heart of the rural life that makes the region a magnet for outdoor types.

Get your bearings

The Cotswolds region of southern England stretches from Chipping Campden in the north-east to Bath in the south-west. Rolling hills shelter long-established villages built of distinctive local limestone. Framed by the cities of Bath in the south, Cheltenham to the west and Oxford to the east, the countryside is dotted with farms and market towns. South, the M4 motorway crosses the region, providing easy access from Bristol and London.

Houses and gardens

More than 30 regional manor houses and gardens welcome visitors. Follow the stream around Indian-styled Sezincote to discover unexpected Hinduesque sculptures and swings for children under mighty cedars. Sample the quiet intimacy of Hidcote Manor Garden’s famous outdoor ‘rooms’. Unusual follies await visitors within the grounds of sensual Painswick Rococo Garden, while the huge National Arboretum at Westonbirt and its smaller counterpart, Batsford, promise delightful walks through the foliage. In Woodstock, 18th-century Blenheim Palace’s ornate interior is filled with fine paintings, tapestries and furniture. For children there is the adventure playground, Marlborough Maze and the butterfly house in the extensive grounds. Tenth-century Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe exhibits a wide range of attractions from the ballooning ‘grand prix’ to historic displays

Food and drink

Take your pick from cheese, fruit, vegetables and meat at Cotswold farmers’ markets. Stroud’s popular Saturday market has around 50 stalls. Local farm shops, advertised at roadsides, sell fresh produce. Taste of the Country in Shipston-on-Stour is one of the biggest. Fussy shoppers can pick their own fruit and vegetables at Primrose Vale near Cheltenham or Wotton Farm Shop at Wotton-under-Edge. The region’s hotels and gastropubs lay on meals and afternoon tea in countryside gardens and fire-warmed dining rooms. Hook Norton Brewery near Chipping Norton offers ale-sampling sessions. 

Wool churches and limestone villages

The Cotswolds’ famous ‘wool’ churches reflect the historical generosity of the region’s merchants who paid for the buildings out of their profits. Local villages have fine examples of limestone architecture from the Middle Ages to late Gothic. The grand churches in Northleach and Chipping Campden encourage brass rubbing so visitors can take home a little piece of local history. England’s only complete set of medieval stained-glass windows embellish Fairford Church. Duck inside picturesque cottages in villages like Broadway and Winchcombe to discover tea rooms and quaint shops, an essential part of any holiday in the Cotswolds.

Surrounding towns

Towns and cities on the region’s borders are an excellent base for holidays in the Cotswolds. Cheltenham’s specialist shops sell antiques, fashion, jewellery and art. Follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps or take a boat on the river in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Visit Bath’s museums and bathe in a rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa. Nature lovers can follow the Cotswold Way all the way from Bath to Chipping Campden.