The Cotswolds has always had an intoxicating charm. Distinctive golden stone, postcard-pretty villages and 787 square miles of Outstanding Natural Beauty are complemented by myriad cultural offerings, which come to a climax from 4-13 October, when the Cheltenham Literature Festival is held.
This year marks its 70th anniversary, making Cheltenham the longest running literary festival in the world. Over that time it has acquired enough prestige to annually accrue a line-up worthy of Glastonbury (but for bookworms). Jojo Moyes, David Nicholls and Elif Shafak are among the high-profile literary talents on the bill this year, while Emily Maitlis, Helena Bonham Carter and David Lammy will also be present to discuss their respective fields of broadcasting, acting and politics. The controversial highlight will be an appearance from David Cameron, whose memoir For the Record has set tongues wagging for weeks.
But there’s a lot more to do in the Cotswolds besides surrounding yourself with the literati. The pubs are some of the finest and cosiest in the country, and there are plenty of historical sites and beautiful landscapes to admire. If you’re heading down for the literature festival, here’s how to make the most of a visit to the Cotswolds.
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Animal lovers should check out Cotswold Wildlife Park to see rhinos, giraffes and lemurs roaming freely around the grounds of this impressive estate. If creatures aren’t your thing, the park gardens are vast, with theatrical floral arrangements that are well worth admiring on an afternoon stroll.
Book onto a tour at the Cotswolds Distillery in Stourton and, for £100 per person, you’ll learn all about the art of whisky blending and cocktail making in addition to being shown around one of the most esteemed distilleries in the UK.
And for snap-happy Instagrammers who are visiting in the warmer months, there’s the famous Lavender Farm that makes for stand-out selfies.
The Cotswolds is known for is its impressive collection of stately homes and National Trust gardens. Must-sees include the eccentric Snowshill Manor and Gardens, the quintessentially English Cornwell Manor (which you may recognise from Christmas film The Holiday) and the Grade I-listed Lodge Park and Sherborne Park Estate.
Where to eat
If you’re looking for a classic Cotswolds pub with delicious grub, head straight to the Seven Tuns Inn in Chedworth. The ceilings are low and the beer garden is sprawling, making this an ideal spot for a sunny afternoon.
Further east, The Wild Rabbit in Chipping Norton serves locally sourced and seasonal treats.
For traditional and hearty Sunday roasts on a rainy day, visit the eccentric Carpenters Arms in Miserden. It has a real village pub feel to it, with almost every table occupied by locals. It also happens to be very vegan-friendly, with several plant-based alternatives to roasted meat on offer.
At Ox Barn at Thyme on Southrop Manor Estate, chef Charlie Hibbert picks ingredients fresh from his own garden and farmland.
If you’re looking for something different, The Coconut Tree in Cheltenham is an affordable Sri Lankan street food joint, offering spicy dahls, slow-cooked meats and vegetarian curries.
Where to shop
Antique hunters won’t be disappointed – head to Market Street in Woodstock for an array of treasures like Dantzig and Antiques at Heritage.
If it’s local produce you’re after, venture into Daylesford for the original farm shop that offers high quality organic food – the exceptionally creamy yoghurts are a particular highlight.
Over in Tedbury is one of the UK’s best gift shops. The Highgrove Shop is renowned for its eclectic offerings, comprising home furnishings, beauty products, jewellery and clothing. It’s worth a visit even without a trip to the Royal Gardens at the Highgrove estate, home to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall – though we recommend doing both.
Where to sleep
The Rectory near Malmesbury gets its name from its origins as the rectory of All Saints’ Church. The Grade II-listed building has been reimagined as a stylish boutique hotel with just 18 rooms, offering an intimacy that sets it apart from some of the other rambling country hotels in the area. There are three room types: small, medium and big. Naturally, the big rooms are the most luxurious, with super-king size beds and sumptuous freestanding bathtubs. But the smaller rooms are just as charming, with access to well-stocked honesty bars down the landing.
Ellenborough Park is a 15th-century estate near Cheltenham Racecourse, with all the allure of a classic country hotel coupled with contemporary trimmings, including a heated outdoor pool and Indian-inspired spa. Each room is unique in design, with overloaded furnishings and low-ish ceilings, making you feel like you’re staying in someone’s cosy guest room.
A less rural stay can be found at No. 38 The Park, a spectacular Georgian townhouse-turned-plush hotel in the heart of Cheltenham. The rooms, uncluttered and opulent, are designed to match the cosmopolitan setting. Be sure to check out its award-winning Indian restaurant, Prithvi.
Soho Farmhouse, the Oxfordshire outpost of Nick Jones’ ever-expanding group of members clubs and hotels, is perfectly designed to suit the rural surroundings near Chipping Norton. Rooms come in the form of plush cabins and cottages, or tipis for those wanting to cut back on costs. The main barn is where the action is, though. With deep, velvet sofas, seasonal menus and firepits, it’s the epitome of countryside chic.
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