We have a love affair with the Cotswolds, one that goes back to our honeymoon 26 years ago and our first European trip together. During a week in London, we took a day tour to the countryside by bus and had our first glimpse of the beautiful rolling hills and honey-colored stone that characterize the Cotswolds. We knew then that we wanted to come back to this special part of England. Five years later– an anniversary trip—we returned to England for 10 days with our young daughter and spent three nights in the Cotswolds, based in a tiny village near Stow-in-the-Wold.
Since those first short visits, we’ve been back to the Cotswolds many times; in fact, we’ve spent over six months in total in the Cotswolds, including walking a few hundred miles in the countryside. A protected “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” just an hour-and-a-half from London, the Cotswolds is an extremely rural area. There are endless acres of crops. Sheep graze in peaceful green fields, and farm vehicles lumber along the narrow lanes. It’s a place where life moves more slowly. Prehistoric man was here, and later the Romans… Henry VIII and Williams Shakespeare too.
When we started our small group tour business European Experiences in 2006, we initially focused on one-week tours in Provence, France with plans to develop trips in other special places—including the Cotswolds. A few years later we developed our Cotswolds Experience trip, and we’ve since hosted 11 groups in the Cotswolds. We’ll be back again in 2018 and 2019.
Our European Experiences trips are different from most tours because we typically spend one week in one place: an authentic village in the beautiful countryside. We focus on seeing what’s nearby and experiencing the local history, culture and natural surroundings. The Cotswolds is an ideal location for this kind of travel.
Many visitors to the Cotswolds are like us on our first and second trips… passing through the Cotswolds for a day or two or three, perhaps on a day trip from London… ticking off the top sites featured in a guidebook. But to really appreciate the history, culture, and landscape of the Cotswolds, we recommend traveling more slowly. Settle down and stay a week (or more) to really experience this special area. Explore in a more leisurely way, spend time off the beaten track, and make connections with local people.
Experience the lifestyle of a Cotswold village or town
The Cotswold towns and villages seem like something from a storybook: narrow streets of quaint cottages of that unique golden stone, many with names just as quaint: Chipping Campden, Stow-in-the-Wold, Lower Slaughter, Moreton-in-Marsh, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Snowshill. Every village has its own character and history… regardless of size, there’s usually a church, a village green, a war memorial, a cozy pub, a distinctive red telephone booth, often a manor house. Larger towns once hosted markets and continue today as commercial centers, while some tiny villages have just a handful of houses and may be a few miles from the nearest shop.
We’re especially partial to Chipping Campden, the beautiful and historic village where our groups base for our Cotswolds Experience week. Located in a peaceful valley a few miles off any major thoroughfare, it’s big enough to offer a variety of services but small enough to retain an authentic character. It’s a village with a real life year-round, not just an existence built around tourism.
A week in one place allows you to become part of the rhythm of village life. And that much time also allows you to explore the area in more depth, to linger longer, and discover the unexpected. Once, on a week’s stay in the village of Blockley, we were peeking in the front gate of a manor house and were greeted by the lady of the house. After we chatted for a few minutes, she invited us in and showed us the house! We saw something of British life and made a new friend… one of the best memories of our week.
Experience a meal and a pint in an authentic pub… or a cup of tea in a tea room
A quintessential experience in the Cotswolds is a leisurely stop in an authentic pub, one that’s locally owned and plays an important role in village life. Some pubs are tied to a specific brewery or feature local ales and ciders. Ask the bartender for a recommendation of what to drink. If you spend a week or more in a village, try to stop in at the same pub several times… get to know the staff and chat with locals who stop in for a meal or a pint.
For a different sort of experience, visit a tea room… usually open from morning until late afternoon, serving tea and coffee, cakes, and light lunches. Go light on lunch or dinner and enjoy a mid-afternoon “cream tea,” with scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. You can become a regular in a village tea room too.
Many people have the perception that English food is boring and bland, but over the past 25+ years, we’ve seen great improvement in the cuisine, especially in the Cotswolds where there’s a big focus on locally-grown products and farm-to-table dining. British pub food can be surprisingly innovative, and many pubs and restaurants offer a mix of traditional “pub grub” and continental cuisine. We’ve had some of the best meals of any of our trips in the Cotswolds.
Experience an English garden
The Cotswolds offers a mild climate and a rich soil that helps plants, shrubs and trees flourish. Gardening is a popular pastime in England, and there are over 50 gardens and arboretums in the Cotswolds that are open to visitors on a regular basis. Some gardens are part of a historic home or castle, often managed by the National Trust. Others are privately-owned gardens. Most gardens offer a tea room or café, a shop, and a greenhouse selling plants.
On our Cotswold Experience week we visit the famous Hidcote garden (a National Trust property) and nearby Kiftsgate, a private garden developed by three generations of women. We also explore gardens at Sudeley Castle and Blenheim Palace and offer an optional visit to Batsford Arboretum. Several other gardens will be on the itinerary for our new Return to the Cotswolds trip in 2019. We recommend allowing plenty of time to explore a garden… sit on a bench and savor the colors and the views. You’ll be relaxed and inspired.
Not far from Chipping Campden is the Cotswold lavender farm: 85 acres of lavender fields, 40 different varieties, 140 miles of rows, and over 500,000 plants in total. It’s a commercial operation, but a section of the garden featuring a variety of lavender plants and wildflowers is open to visitors. This is a peak experience for garden lovers!
Experience a walk in the countryside
The English are passionate about walking, and the countryside is crossed by footpaths and trails that link the villages and towns. The Cotswolds is an ideal area for walking, with over 3000 miles of footpaths, including the 102-mile Cotswold Way, a national trail that extends from Bath to Chipping Campden. The footpaths in the Cotswolds take you through farms, woods, and villages, alongside gentle streams, through fields of sheep, passing by historic sites, and often offering spectacular views.
We’ve enjoyed two walking holidays in the Cotswolds (including the Cotswold Way), walking every day to another night’s accommodation. (You can carry a backpack or arrange for luggage transfer.) In our free time in the Cotswolds, we enjoy circular walks, typically four to ten miles. Guidebooks of walks are available from the tourist offices and walking maps and directions are also available online for download.
If you want to truly experience the English countryside, do it on foot. Walking is the ultimate in “slow travel,” a chance to see an area up close and in slow motion. When you slow down and take a walk, you’re surrounded by nature. You notice the small details and see how people live. We’ve both had some of our best ideas while walking and some great conversations, among ourselves and with other walkers we encounter on the trail. And of course, it’s excellent exercise… all the better to enjoy a sticky toffee pudding for dessert!
Our Cotswolds Experience week includes a couple of optional walks, including a spectacular four-mile stretch of the Cotswold Way, from Broadway Tower to Chipping Campden. For many people in our groups, this is the highlight of our week.
Experience special events and traditions
There’s an active social life in the Cotswolds, especially in the warmer months. Villages and community groups offer a wide variety of programs and activities that visitors can enjoy alongside locals. We’ve attended several village fetes, a food festival, performances by Morris dancers, classical music concerts, and an open gardens weekend in Chipping Campden. If you’re in the Cotswolds, check out the local tourist office bulletin board to find out what’s happening or stop in to chat with the tourist office staff for more information.
If you’re in Chipping Campden for the right weekend, you can attend the Cotswold Olympicks, a tradition that goes back to 1612. These Olympick games include a unique continuation of early rural sporting events (such a shin kicking), amateur sporting events for competitors, and entertainment and activities for visitors. The day after the games, Chipping Campden closes the upper end of its high street for the annual Scuttlebrook Wake, a village festival that’s been held for over 200 years. There are races for children, a fancy-dress parade, and a May Queen. The square is filled with entertainment including Maypole Dancing, Country Dancing and Morris Dancing, as well as traditional fair rides and stalls.
One of our favorite special events is Giffords Circus, a traveling circus based in the Cotswolds that performs under a big tent, from May through September in various venues around the region. This is a circus like no other… a show with a different story every year, music, talented acrobats, and a hilarious clown named Tweedy. This circus doesn’t have any wild animals, likely just horses and a chicken or duck. If the Giffords’ schedule coincides with our Cotswolds weeks, we’ll be there!
Experience the Cotswolds with us
You can certainly plan and enjoy your own week-long Cotswolds vacation, but we hope you’ll consider joining one of our Cotswolds Experience groups. Our week incorporates a variety of special experiences, drawing on our 25 years exploring this area. Why not leave the planning and driving to us?
Most of our week we stay within 15-40 minutes of Chipping Campden. One day we make a longer day trip, with an option to travel just beyond Cotswolds to either Stratford-upon-Avon or Oxford.
Our trips are flexible and not overly-structured. You’re able to pursue your own interests, in addition to enjoying activities, excursions and meals with the group.
During our week we visit quaint villages, historic sites, and colorful gardens. We enjoy memorable meals in a variety of settings, including dinner at a traditional pub in a neighboring village and a lunch with hard-working farmers Sarah and Simon. If you want to be more active, we offer the opportunity for several walks.
Our groups are small, never more than 14 people. Our goal is to provide a tour that doesn’t feel like a tour… our week feels like traveling with friends. We get to know our travelers personally, and many travelers return with us to experience other areas of Europe that we know well and love.
See our website for more information about this trip. We like being in the Cotswolds in July, when the weather is pleasant and the gardens are glorious… and the lavender fields are in bloom.
Think about joining us for one of our trips in July 2018: July 14-21 and July 21 – 28. We’re also offering The Cotswolds Experience July 22 – 29, 20019.
Mention Anglotopia and this article for a $200 per person discount on a
2018 or 2019 Cotswolds Experience trips!
We’re excited about our newest trip in another area of England: the Cornwall Experience in southwest England. This 10-day trip sold out for both 2018 and 2019 on the first day it was announced… and almost all the participants are returning travelers. (We think that’s the best recommendation ever!)
Kathy and Charley Wood lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Cotswolds Experience based in Chipping Campden, England. National Geographic Traveler magazine named their tour of Provence, France one of their “Tours of a Lifetime” for 2012, the top 50 tours in the world.
The Woods have traveled extensively in Great Britain for more than 25 years. In addition to the Cotswolds Experience, they now offer a 10-day trip in southwest England, The Cornwall Experience.
Kathy and Charley love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They’ve hosted over 90 Experience groups since they launched in 2006. Learn more about Kathy and Charley and their tours on their website here.