Discover The Best Cotswolds Villages
The Cotswolds is home to some of England’s most rural, unspoiled, historic, and well-known villages in Britain. Moreover, stately homes, cottages, barns, pubs, and shops made from the honey-colored stone found naturally in the area dot the rolling hills with charm and symmetry. Bucolic villages right out of an Agatha Christie book are around each corner, and sheep graze peacefully upon the hills.
With about 800 squares miles of land, The Cotswolds is the largest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales. It runs through five counties – Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire.
In this article, I chronicle four days driving through the countryside, stopping frequently to take in castles, gardens, country estates, fabulous food and drink, friendly folks, and more in this true area of natural beauty.
Sheep have provided fortunes from their wool and meat. In many towns, the church, stately homes, and commercial areas were funded by the sheep trade. There are still sheep in the area, but nothing like during earlier times when it fueled the local economies. Tourism is now the number one industry in The Cotswolds – after one visit, you’ll see why.
Cotswolds Day Trips
Of course, sometimes we can’t spend as much time as we really liked in each place. So if you are trying to see at least a glimpse of the Cotswolds villages, an organized day trip will allow you to see as much as possible in 1 day. Here are some of the day trips that have really good reviews and cover lots of interesting things:
If this is your first time to visit the Cotswolds then try this full-day tour from London of the best Cotswolds villages to pick which sites you want to see more closely at a later visit. Book it here.
This Cotswolds day trip is a must for Downtown Abbey fans. You will see Blenheim Palace and the beautiful gardens. Then you have the chance to explore 2 Cotswold villages, including Bampton, the Downtown Abbey village. Book it here.
Harry Potter fans should not miss this Harry Potter film location tour of the Cotswolds. You will see Gloucester and Lacock, Harry’s parents’ house, Hogwarts, Snape’s Potion Room and much more. Along the way, test your knowledge about Harry Potter trivia and learn fun facts about the movies, books and more. Book it here.
Owlpen Manor Estate
According to Fodor’s Britain Guide, “Owlpen Manor could well rank as the loveliest place in England, …” Now owned and managed by Sir Nicholas and Lady Mander, this secluded estate is tucked deep in the woods and hills of The Cotswolds’ southwestern corner. The Tudor Manor House has been the focus of the estate for over 900 years, which includes several cottages, the Grist Mill, and other buildings extending through the valley along the Ewelme stream.
The Cyder House Restaurant is a lovely dining facility located at the center of the hamlet. Karin Mander’s new menu includes pheasant, venison, Mander’s native Swedish fish cuisine, and fresh produce from Owlpen’s Elizabethan vegetable and herb garden. Owlpen is a superb destination for weddings, anniversaries, or other special occasions. Secluded Cotwolds natural beauty at its best.
Movie fans may recognize Owlpen Manor as the setting for many scenes in the “The Phantom Thread.” It is a recent film starring Academy Award winner Daniel Day Lewis.
Half an hour east of Owlpen Manor will find you in Cirencester, the capital and largest city in the Cotswolds. This thriving town with ancient Roman origins is the home of a beautiful Abbey and grounds, an energetic city centre, a fascinating wool church, and wonderful museums, shops, and restaurants to explore. The medieval Church of St. John the Baptist dates back to 1115, and is one of the largest parish churches in the country.
The Fleece is a lovely historic hotel in city centre with just 28 rooms and 17th century charm. It’s the perfect place to stay for visiting the city of Cirencester and the surrounding countryside. Low beams, wool blankets, biscuits, and real milk for that perfect cup of tea are a few of the small touches that make The Fleece a great place to stay. It was also nice and convenient to have a first-class bar and restaurant at the hotel – wonderful food and staff.
One nearby gem is the village of Bibury, once described by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds’, just a 15-minute drive from town.
The Wheatsheaf Inn
Almost entirely engulfed in a vigorous growth of Virginia Creeper, The Wheatsheaf Inn is an incredible find in the small town of Northleach near Ilmington. In addition to some of the best food in the area, The Wheatsheaf Inn also features 14 bespoke bedrooms, blending traditional coaching inn with modern upgrades.
Chef Peter has done a wonderful job with the menu. I especially enjoyed the flavorful Seared Cod Fillet with Grilled Asparagus and Wild Garlic Gremolata paired with an excellent Chilean Pinot Noir. Other specialties are Lamb, Fish and Chips, and their dry-aged steaks, including a Hereford Ribeye and the T-bone for two. For dessert, we finished off the evening with a delicious Dark Chocolate & Peanut Fondant with Salted Caramel Ice Cream.
Entering the front entrance of The Wheatsheaf, you would never know that a large eating area with gardens and seating for several hundred people were hidden behind the building. They even have a pizza oven! The backyard oasis is great when the weather is nice. Be sure to check for special events during the warmer months.
Sudeley Castle is the quintessential British destination. This beautiful castle, chapel, and gardens are full of history and beauty. From kings and queens to civil war, Sudeley takes visitors back a thousand years through Britain’s intriguing and turbulent past. Historic figures including Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Queen Elizabeth I, Richard III, and King Charles I have all played a part in Sudeley’s story.
Hidcote Manor Gardens, near Chipping Campden in the northern sector of The Cotswolds, is one of the most important and influential gardens in Britain. Enjoy the majestic cedars, the fiery reds, the sapphire blues, and the myriad of other colors and shapes in the natural wonderland. For the active soul, visitors can even play a game of tennis with vintage wooden rackets, try out croquet on the Great Lawn, or take a hike on public footpaths through the surrounding countryside.
Noel Arms Hotel
The Noel Arms Hotel is steeped in history. As one of the oldest Cotswold inns, they even say that Charles II stayed here during the English Civil War. In fact, the four poster bed pictured here is rumored to be the very bed Charles slumbered in back in the 1600s. In the heart of Chipping Campden on High Street, with its outstanding bar and restaurant, the Noels Arms is the perfect place to enjoy the best of The Cotswolds.
Each room displays antique furnishings with simple but stylish decorations. Enjoy TV, tea, and coffee in one of the very comfortable rooms and updated bathrooms. The Noel Arms even has free on premise parking, a special perk for its city centre location. Arms’ Chef Indunil has been named Best Pub Curry Chef Award at the Great British Pub Food Awards on three occasions, so you don’t want to miss trying one of his curry dishes.
Tower Barn at Broadway Tower
The Tower Barn at Broadway Tower recently opened in a beautiful Cotswold stone barn a five minute walk from the tower. The Tower Barn offers light lunches and a nice selection of pastries, coffees, and teas. I enjoyed a hearty bowl of soup while my wife had an excellent salad. We ate inside, with a nice view of the patio and the countryside. The Barn also has a cute little shop with local goods, clothing, and other knick knacks.
The Broadway Tower itself was conceived and designed by renowned landscape designer Capability Brown and architect James Wyatt, the tower with gorgeous views of the Cotswolds countryside was completed in 1798. During its long, storied history, the tower has housed Sir Thomas Phillips, William Morris, and The Royal Observer Corps. They used the unique vantage point to track enemy planes over England during the world wars.
If the Tower is so amazing then why not see it every morning? Check out the beautiful Broadway Hotel. Book a room here.
First opened in Shakespeare’s time, Howard Arms is a well-known pub and restaurant, with a small eight bedroom bed and breakfast located in Ilmington. The award winning chef cooks up quality pub favorites, starters, mains, and puddings. We were lucky to be there on a Sunday. We very much enjoyed the special roast beef dinner served with roasted potatoes, Yorkshire Pudding, and a savory brown gravy.
Add Batsford Arboretum to the long list of outstanding gardens in Britain. Batsford is a 55-acre arboretum and botanical garden, just a couple of miles from Moreton-in-Marsh. The arboretum is home to Britain’s largest private collection of trees and shrubs, with around 2,900 specimens. Species include magnolia, oak, ash, bamboo, maple, cherry, and an assortment of other trees from around the world.
Chinese and Japanese practices have inspired them. Batsford even has large statues of Buddha and Foo Dog near the Rest House. For a nice snack or meal, The Garden Terrace Café offers home-baked food prepared daily using locally-sourced food wherever possible. Choices vary from soup and sandwiches, and meat, fish or vegetarian. They also has a nice variety of cakes and pastries for a snack or dessert.
The Brits do like their spirits, and The Cotswolds has one of the best distilleries around. Known for their excellent Gin and Whisky, The Cotswolds Distillery is new on the scene. But when they started in 2014, they vowed to do everything right from the beginning. Their award-winning Founders Choice Single Malt Whisky, for example, is aged exclusively in shaved, toasted and resharred American red oak wine barriques. This great attention to detail results in a fruity spirit that offers toffee, oak, red fruits, and a beautiful, deep color.
For their world class gin, Cotswolds Distillery takes nine carefully considered botanicals – juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, local lavender, bay leaf, hand-peeled fresh lime and pink grapefruit zest, cardamom and black peppercorn. Then, the concoction is distilled in a copper still. In addition, they do not remove the essential oils. The result is a rich, robust flavor, award-winning gin. Equal attention to detail is taken in producing their entire line of award winning whiskies and gins and more.
Feldon Valley Golf Course
In 2013, the golf course in the beautiful Feldon Valley needed a makeover. After years of struggling from inadequate drainage and a lack of operating funds, the course had deteriorated. In 2013, a new owner bought the course and turned things around.
Drainage was improved dramatically, and extensive improvement plans for the course and facilities were developed and executed. With recent renovations to the clubhouse completed, lodging built, and a first class restaurant in place, the newly named Feldon Valley Golf Club has members and the community smiling again.
Blenheim Palace, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, is one of the largest houses in England. It is the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and was built between 1705 and 1722. John Churchill was provided the land and some funding for his military triumphs at the Battle of Blenheim. The palace is also notable as being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of Britain.
The Cotswolds is indeed an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Come see for yourself why The Cotswolds draws so many fans year after year to get away from London’s hustle and bustle.
12 Places to Visit in the Cotswolds Villages was written and photographed by Scott Kendall
Disclosure: Thanks to the wonderful people at Cotswolds Tourism for hosting me and helping with my itinerary. Assistance included complimentary lodging at The Fleece, Noel Arms, and Feldon Valley; meals at Wheatsheaf, Howard Arms, Tower Barn at Broadway, and The Kitchen at Feldon Valley; admission to Owlpen Manor, Sudely Castle, Hidcote Arboretum, Batsford Arboretum, Cotswolds Distillery, and Blenheim Palace.