Conjure up the typical English countryside scene: think of a patchwork landscape of fields laden with crops or dotted with sheep and cattle, interspersed with stately homes, church spires and quaint little villages. Not much of rural England looks like this anymore, but The Cotswolds really does.
It has something to delight everyone, whether it’s one of the many manor houses, which have been turned into luxurious country house hotels and spas; the village high streets largely made up of teashops, gastro pubs, beautiful shabby chic homeware stores, Willy Wonka-style sweetshops with shelves of glass jars crammed full of colourful sweets bought by weight and toyshops majoring on traditional wooden toys; or the countryside itself, which has the lure of dozens of outdoor pursuits.
Where are The Cotswolds?
‘Wolds’ are gentle hillsides, and this collection of shallow terrain stretches across south-west England. A ninety-minute drive north-east of London will take you to The Cotswolds. It’s perfectly doable in a daytrip from the Capital, but it’s sandwiched between Gloucester, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and Bath – all fantastic cities to visit in their own right, you could easily spend a week exploring and enjoying the region.
Where should we base ourselves?
The Cotswolds probably has the highest concentration of luxury country house hotels in England and wherever you choose to stay once you’re in the area nothing is much more than a forty-minute drive away. It is also pretty easy to get around via public transport, but to save a lot of hanging about, you’ll need to make a note of the timetables. This Cotswold transportation site has some interesting bus route suggestions, however, you might want to check the timings still stand.
My favourite village is Bourton-on-the-Water, which is often ridiculously described as The Cotswolds’ little Venice. The River Windrush flows very gently through it. Historic cottages, built in the beautiful honey-coloured local limestone common to most Cotswolds’ buildings, butt up against its banks and it’s criss-crossed with cute little footbridges and paddled in by ducks and kids with rolled up trouser legs. Venice it isn’t, but it is charming. And once you’ve seen the life-size version, you can delight at the Model Village of the village, in the gardens of the Old New Inn. There is even a model village of the model village in the model gardens of the model Old New Inn.
Stow-on-the-Wold, Woodstock and Broadway
Stow-on-the-Wold, Woodstock and Broadway are other beautiful villages that are worth lingering in for a coffee, pub lunch or afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is somewhat of an event wherever it is served in England. Kids tend to delight in the structured formality of it and if you time it for five-ish you can get it to serve as supper too. Hotels tend to be the best place to stop for afternoon tea. If it’s done right, dainty sandwiches arrive first, followed by scones, which you must pile with jam and clotted cream and then the cakes follow.
So once my kids get village fatigue what next?
This is where your hotel will come into it’s own. Look for one with an indoor pool and acres of grounds with opportunities to cycle, horse ride, play tennis and water ski. It’s not hard to find places that tick all these boxes and more, plus many have excellent kids clubs and crèches as well. And don’t forget the spa for yourself too.
Source Ciukes Photostream on Flickr
If you can tear yourself away from the English country house set, head for the Cotswold Wildlife Park, to say ‘how do you do’ to penguins and pythons, meerkats and monkeys, camels and crocodiles, amongst others. There is also a fantastic adventure playground, a railway and if you visit over a summer weekend or during the UK school holidays, you can all try your hand at Brass Rubbing in the park’s manor house.
If the sun’s shining, which it does quite often, the Cotswold Country Park and Beach is another lovely day out. Bring your bucket and spade and swimming-cossies, because it’s home to the UK’s largest inland beach and this borders a lake that offers year-round swimming for the brave. While you’re here you can also hire bikes of all sizes, including child seats; and pedal or row boats. Oh and you can barbecue too.
Is there a best time to visit?
If you can coincide your arrival with the sun whatever time of year, it will be perfect. If you can’t arrange this, come prepared. Make sure that your accommodation has so many indoor pursuits that the kids won’t actually want to leave the premises. With a cream tea and a log fire in front of you, who cares what it’s like outside!
We’ll have a few reviews on Ciao Bambino shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a short list of some of my favorite options.
Cotswold Water Park hotel – good aparthotels are few and far between in the UK, but this one is smart, clean and offers plenty of sporting activities.
Calcot Manor – fantastic luxury family hotel ticks all the boxes I mentioned above
The Priory Inn Tetbury – great for babies and toddlers
Barnsley House Hotel – sister hotel to Calcot, slightly more sophisticated with more subtle child-friendly touches, but a lovely place to stay with well behaved kids.
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VisitEngland – official website for English tourism