I’ll admit it. I love Jane Austen novels. I’m THAT girl. (Well, not entirely.) But in all of her novels and the movies that came after them, I always wondered why they walked so much. I know they didn’t have cars, but they walked not just to get from A to B, but also for the pure enjoyment of walking. I just thought they were bored. But now I know better. There is nothing quite like a walk on Cotswold Way – it’s more shades of green than you could imagine exist, the perfect background for daydreams or losing yourself in a book and full of great country folk (and sheep!) that make for interesting conversations along the way.
True story: My friend and I (he lives in London) decided to explore some of the quaint villages via car. After spending most of the day in Winchcombe, we started making our way to Upper and Lower Slaughter. However, we ran into an obstacle. Literally. We blew both our tires on some rocks that were jutting into the road. (Cue jokes on Americans driving in England.) Luckily, this happened right in front of the cutest cottage I’ve ever seen (Think: The Holiday without Jude Law) and the couple inside invited us in for tea while we waited on the tow truck. We had a “brilliant” time, exchanging travel stories and touring the property while they fed sheep. What could have been a headache ended up being the best thing that happened on our quick trip.
I didn’t have much time, but here are my recommendations should you find yourself in the Cotswolds. And for your sake, I hope that you do.
PJ Pants: Ellenborough Park is quintessential Cotswolds. Cozy and charming, it feels more like an estate than a hotel … a very large estate. Situated right outside of Cheltenham, these accommodations have everything you want — four-poster beds, giant bathrooms, an on-site pub, a game room (talking Scrabble here) and a heated pool — plus things you didn’t know you needed, like complimentary wellies and raincoats for walking.
Plus, they have one of the best spas I’ve ever been to. I’d recommend one of the Body Treatments by Ila – my skin felt like butter afterwards. Then, splurge on some products to take home with you, all locally made.
Fat Pants: I’m not usually much for formality, but the English have a way of bringing it out in you and making it cool at the same time. When I walked into Le Champignon Sauvage (ahem, two Michelin stars), we had apéritifs in the sitting room before being escorted to the main dining room, which is definitely more than just dinner. I’d recommend splurging on the three-course set menu. It’s not cheap at around $200 per person including wine, depending on how festive you’re feeling. I was feeling festive.
And no trip to England is complete without pub life. I visited The Tavern for dinner, which is more of an upscale, modern pub in the heart of Cheltenham. And in Winchcombe, I dropped in for a burger and chips at The Corner Cupboard, more of what you would expect from a traditional pub. Cheers!
Ants in Your Pants: As I said before, my friend and I had high hopes of seeing 3-4 villages, but we couldn’t get ourselves to leave Winchcombe, which is home to Sudeley Castle. The large estate has hosted the likes of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and the current royal family, as the late owner is related to Camilla Parker Bowles. The grounds are spectacular (there’s even a little zoo!) and if you’re into the Tudors, you’ll love speaking to the many history buffs who volunteer their time to educate visitors. It’s not open when the family is in town, so check the schedule before you head that way.
It goes without saying that you need to walk parts of Cotswold Way (in wellies!), which can take you to Sudeley Castle depending on where you’re staying. I loved Cleeve Hill with its many wildflowers, sheep and even a swing!
Tip: If you’re there for the weekend, don’t try to pack too much in. I would suggest taking the train – not everyone can be so lucky to wreck their car and experience English hospitality. It’s better to spend your time using Cotswold Way to explore a couple of neighboring villages.