With cottages built of honey-hued stone, sleepy country pubs, and softly undulating green hills, The Cotswolds is a world away from the hustle and bustle of London. Just two hours west of the capital, and close to other major British cities including Birmingham, Bristol and Oxford, this picturesque region is the perfect place to swap Jimmy Choo heels for Hunter wellies.
Recognised as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty', this rural heartland is made up of ancient woodland, farmland and wildflower meadows - all crisscrossed by footpaths and bridleways, so they're ready to explore. Discover quintessentially English villages, shop for antiques in historic market towns, enjoy local artesian foods from farmshops and farmers' markets, and visit some of Britain's greatest country houses and gardens. The region also has royal connections and a summer season of major equestrian events, ensuring there's a wealth of country life to experience.
TIME TO CHECK IN:
Open since March 2016, The Painswick is a stylish, country-cool hotel with 16 guestrooms, including a master suite with four poster bed and cosy log burner. Situated in the village of Painswick, there's also a restaurant, rustic-chic deli-café, and two beauty treatment rooms.
An award-winning country pub with five rural-chic rooms, Ebrington Arms in the market town of Chipping Campden is a cosy Cotswolds bolthole where guests can enjoy roaring open fires, fine ales and delicious seasonal pub food.
A small and traditional-style hotel with 28 en suite rooms, The Mayfield House Hotel in Crudwell is an affordable, family-friendly choice located in the south Cotswolds.
09:00 TAKE A TOUR OF ROYAL HORTICULTURE
Highgrove House is the private residence of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Charles acquired this country home in 1980, just before his marriage to Princess Diana, hence the royal couple spent many weekends here along with their sons Prince William and Prince Harry. A keen gardener, Prince Charles has devoted much time to planning and designing Highgrove's organic gardens. For a peek into royal horticulture, The Highgrove Royal Gardens are open to the public on select dates between April and October each year for small pre-booked tours - options include the indulgent Champagne Tea Tour. With 15,000 specimens of trees from all over the globe, the nearby National Arboretum of Westonbirt is another horticultural hotspot.
11:30 SHOP FOR ROYAL GIFTS, FROM HOMEWARES TO GIN
Inspired by his gardens, Prince Charles has established a range of exclusive ‘Highgrove' products and souvenirs including teas, preserves and fine china. There's even an organic gin with botanicals such as thyme, lavender and sage from the Highgrove gardens. The range is available from the Highgrove Estate Shop, as well as other Highgrove shops including one in the nearby town of Tetbury. All profits go to the Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation.
11:45 BROWSE ANTIQUES & VISIT A NEW ARTS VENUE
Historic Tetbury is the quintessential Cotswold town. Built using traditional honey-coloured Cotswold stone, many of the elegant buildings once belonged to wealthy wool merchants. The town is known for having excellent antiques and interiors shops, so it's a delight to explore. It's also set to be a centre for culture. Opening in 2017 is the Goods Shed. After more than half a century of disuse, what remains of Tetbury's railway station is been renovated to become a new home for art, music, cinema, exhibitions and performances.
13:00 TASTE LOCAL FLAVOURS AT A FARMERS' MARKET
This rural region produces an array of culinary delights, with fresh produce and artesian goodies available from local farmers markets. Held every Saturday, award-winning Stroud Market is considered one of the best, but other towns and villages including Tetbury, Gloucester and Cirencester also have excellent farmers' markets. Make the most of what's on offer by going stall-to-stall and sample local cheese, sausages, mustard and russet apples to name but a few.
14:30 WATCH OR LEARN AT A PRESTIGIOUS POLO CLUB
The Cotswolds is home to renowned equestrian events including Badminton Horse Trials held annually in May, and Gatcombe Festival of British Eventing in August. With events every weekend from May until September, spectators are welcome to attend all matches played at Beaufort Polo, one of the region's foremost equestrian centres. For those wanting to learn or improve their skills, riding and polo tuition from Polo Association-approved coaches is available here throughout the year.
16:30 JOIN A YEAR-LONG 900TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Known as the capital town of the Cotswolds region, Cirencester is set to mark the 900th anniversary of the founding of Cirencester Abbey by King Henry I with a series of events throughout 2017. The abbey once dominated the town, but all that remains are the stumps of pillars standing in the park behind the present day parish church - so this year-long celebration will resurrect the abbey with ecclesiastically-themed events, a medieval banquet, historical re-enactments, plus performing arts, heritage and youth events including the re-building of the Abbey in Lego. The town itself has many interesting and historical buildings, plus regular crafts and antiques markets.
19:30 ENJOY PUB CLASSICS IN AN HISTORIC COACHING INN
A traditional coaching inn located in the heart of Cirencester, The Fleece has a history that goes back to 1651, when King Charles II hid from Cromwell's troops in the building. Its sheltered courtyard is an ideal spot for al fresco dining during summer months, and the menu focuses on excellent pub classics like burgers and grills, plus shareable charcuterie and fishmonger's boards.
10:00 TAKE A FOODIE OR ELECTRIC BIKE TOUR
Stow-on-the-Wold is chocolate-box pretty, boasts an array of teashops, and there's even a chocolatier - so it's appropriate that this Cotswold town now has its very own walking foodie tour. On the three-hour Cotswold Foodie Tour you'll learn about Britain's foodie traditions like afternoon tea. Along the way, you'll enjoy artisan cheeses, cakes, chocolate, charcuterie, and special Cotswold blend tea and coffee.
Or... explore the lovely towns and villages of the Cotswolds on a guided electric bike tour. Following quiet country roads and lanes, and anchored by popular villages such as Burford, Chipping Campden, Kingham and Northleach, each tour typically runs 10:00 - 16:00 and covers around 30miles (50km). Customised private tours can also be arranged. The more independently-minded may hire bicycles from businesses across the Cotswolds.
13:30 HEAD TO A STYLISH FOODIE MECCA
Lady Carole Bamford opened Daylesford Organic farmshop and café on her family's Cotswold farm in 2002, and it's been a stylish foodie Mecca ever since. There are now Daylesford farmshops in exclusive locations such as London's Notting Hill neighbourhood and luxury department store Selfridges, but it's still a real treat to come here. Her Michelin starred pub The Wild Rabbit in nearby Kingham is an equally stylish spot for lunch, and has a menu focusing on homegrown produce, with many ingredients coming from the Daylesford Estate.
Or... head farther north to The Fleece Inn in Bretforton. Owned by the National Trust and steeped in history, it won Best Pub Of The Year in the VisitEngland Awards 2016.
15:00 VISIT THE SMALLEST VILLAGE IN THE COTSWOLDS
The Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water is home to an enchanting little visitor attraction. The Model Village is a one-ninth-scale replica of the actual village, containing miniature reproductions of village landmarks such as its two churches and old water mill, as well as carefully pruned little bonsai-type trees. This Lilliput-like attraction took local craftsmen five years to build, and was officially opened on the day of the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1937 - it celebrates its 80th birthday in 2017.
16:30 ENJOY A GRAND WALK OR A GENTEEL STROLL
Home to 3,000 miles of public footpaths across countryside ranging from farmland to ancient woodland, the region is a walkers' paradise. Experienced walkers will relish the challenge of the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile route from the market town of Chipping Campden to the grand city of Bath. With its great lake and beautiful formal gardens, the grounds of Blenheim Palace provide a fabulous backdrop for a more genteel stroll. This monumental property in the town of Woodstock is one of Britain's largest houses, and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
19:30 HAVE GIN FOR DINNER
A classic British tipple since the 18th century, gin is back in fashion. Where better to enjoy a G&T (gin and tonic) than The Feathersin the picturesque Cotswold town of Woodstock? It boasts a Gin Bar listed in the Guinness Book of Records for its record-breaking number of more than 400 gins from around the world, while the restaurant offers a Gin Fusion Menu featuring matching gins served with every course. There are 21 rooms and suites for those who overindulge.
HOW TO GET HERE:
The Cotswolds is two hours by car west of London.