Just two hours outside of busy London, you’ll find The Cotswolds, an area of lush meadows and rolling hills, dotted with quaint villages featuring the famous, golden-colored Cotswold stone. The Cotswolds region is a perfect destination for travelers searching for a quintessential English countryside escape.
DAY 1: ARRIVAL
We flew into London and picked up a rental car at the airport. While you could opt to take the train from London to Bath or Gloucester (taking a taxi or transfer from there), it’s lovely to be able to explore the Cotswolds at your own pace with the freedom of a vehicle. So if you’re comfortable enough with driving on the wrong side of the road and navigating narrow lanes, then this is the way to go. Another great option would be to hire a private driver for a couple of days.
From London, we drove to our first hotel in Cheltenham, at the northwestern part of the Cotswolds. On the way from London, we stopped in at Oxford for a bite at The Kings Arms (the oldest pub in Oxford, dating to 1607!), a quick walk around town to see the architecture and a self-guided tour of the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library (featured in the Harry Potter films as the hospital wing).
Once in Cheltenham, we checked into Ellenborough Park, a stunning manor house with a Great Hall dating to the late 1400s. The current iteration of the hotel opened in 2011, but was refurbished just recently in 2017. The property has 62 rooms, and many amenities for guests, including a fine dining restaurant, a bistro, swimming pool, fitness center, boot room and easy access to the nearby Cheltenham racecourse.
After checking in, we enjoyed a delicious and cozy meal at The Horse Box, Ellenborough Park’s 5-star country pub.
DAY 2: SELF DRIVE COTSWOLD TOUR
After a wonderful night’s sleep, a delicious breakfast with farm fresh eggs, and a quick stop in at the spa, we took off to explore some of the famous Cotswold towns. Our first stop was Bourton-on-the-Water, otherwise known as “The Venice of the Cotswolds” due to the river that runs through the town. One of the interesting attractions to see here is The Model Village – a complete replica of the town, built at 1/9th the scale! You will also find a lot of cute gift shops here that are great to peruse.
Next, we drove north to Stow-on-the-Wold, another adorable village. This one featured more art galleries and gourmet food shops which we enjoyed walking through.
Lastly, we drove up to Broadway, known for its broad main street – originally used as the main carriage way from London. You’ll find loads of cute shops and restaurants here so it’s a great stop for lunch. We popped in to The Bakehouse for a flatbread and a drink.
After our touring for the day, we returned to Ellenborough Park for a lovely afternoon tea in the main hall by the fire. And later in the evening, we enjoyed an incredible dinner at the formal restaurant, aptly named The Restaurant.
DAY 3: CHELTENHAM RACES
The British are big into horse racing and Cheltenham, where Ellenborough Park is situated, actually has a large race course. The main event is in March, but in November, they host the November Meeting – a 3 day event that draws people from all over the UK. We were fortunate in that our visit to Ellenborough Park aligned with the races and so we went one day. The really nice thing about staying at Ellenborough Park is that they are so close to the racecourse and they offer complimentary shuttles to guests staying over racing weekends – so you don’t have to deal with parking or Ubers, and can get dropped off right at the gates of the course.
While a bit chilly, this event was really great fun. We did a little betting (although no winning), enjoyed some food and drinks, and experienced great people watching. I particularly loved seeing all the British equine fashion and their great fall hats!
This evening, we ventured into the town of Cheltenham for dinner at Muse Brasserie – a fusion restaurant serving up a mix of Indian and French cuisine. It was innovative and delicious and a welcome break from the British fare we had been enjoying.
DAY 4: BATH
This morning, after our final breakfast, we bid farewell to Ellenborough Park, and drove south to the city of Bath. This is a beautiful city and one could really spend even a few days here, as with Oxford. But we just stopped for a couple hours and visited the ancient Roman Baths. Back in the 1st century, when the Roman Empire extended into the British Isles, they found a natural hot spring at this site and constructed a temple and traditional roman bathing complex. The Roman settlement of Aquae Sulis was later built around the sacred site. As centuries went on, this ancient roman site was eventually built over, only to be rediscovered and excavated in the late 19th century. Audioguides are complimentary with your ticket and offer a wealth of information about the construction of the site, how it was used and the types of people that visited there. This was really fascinating and I highly recommend it.
From Bath, we continued just a bit north to Castle Combe – a quintessential Cotswold village used as the filming site for the original Dr. Doolittle movie. Here you will find another lovely estate, called The Manor House. My parents actually stayed here many years before on their honeymoon, so we decided to stop in for Sunday Lunch at the on-site, restaurant, Bybrook.
After lunch, we headed to our home for the next two nights, Whatley Manor, a Relais & Chateaux property with just 23 rooms and suites. This property was truly fabulous and I am already planning to come back as soon as possible. Aside from the beautifully furnished rooms, they have an extensive spa, a private cinema, numerous common rooms, a brasserie and a 2-Michelin starred restaurant, The Dining Room.
After taking a bit of time to unwind and relax in our room, we headed down for dinner at The Dining Room. The experience began with cocktails and some nibbles in the lounge. We were then escorted into the kitchen (!!!) for the next part of the experience – some bubbly (to celebrate their recent 2nd Michelin star!) and three amuse bouches while we watched the chefs prepare our meal. This was such a fun surprise and an amazing way to start the evening. Next, we headed into the dining room itself where we enjoyed the rest of our prix-fixe dinner – each dish more innovative and delicious than the last – the whole meal was completely divine.
DAY 5: R&R IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
For our last day in the countryside, we just relaxed at the hotel. The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous fall day. After our 3-course breakfast, we borrowed the bikes and went for an hour ride through the countryside.
After our exercise, we enjoyed some much deserved spa time – swimming in the indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool, and using the sauna and steam rooms, before I went in for a treatment.
Later, we enjoyed an incredible afternoon tea and then watched a movie in the private cinema (complete with popcorn!), before sneaking back to the spa for one more swim before dinner in Grey’s Brasserie. It was a 10 out of 10 day, and the perfect way to close out our trip to the Cotswolds.
We really had the best time exploring this region of the English countryside. In 5 days, we really just scratched the surface and I can’t wait to come back here and explore more. The Cotswolds are a beautiful place to visit year-round and I would love to help you plan your next trip there!