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When you picture an idyllic English country scene, you’re probably imagining the Cotswolds. Follow the River Thames about 100 miles west of London, and it winds up into the Cotswold Hills, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Verdant hills traced by walking paths slope down toward villages that could all compete for the title of Britain’s prettiest, where cottages and church towers are crafted from local limestone that seems to glow in the sunshine. Wool from Cotswolds-raised sheep was once considered the best in the world, and the profits funded the building of ornate medieval churches, many of which are still beautifully preserved.
Today, you’ll also find stylish pubs hiding behind ancient stone facades and chic shops tucked into village streets built during the Middle Ages. The region is close enough to the city for a weekend break—but well worth more of your time.
The Cotswolds are the second-largest protected landscape in England and a go-to for visitors wanting to walk from rolling hills to hidden valleys to green meadows. But there’s more to the area’s beauty than the scenery. The landscape is dotted with stately manor homes, intriguing ruins, and churches festooned with gargoyles, and the region was the heart of the Arts and Crafts movement.
A thousand years of royal history are on display in the Tudor-era rooms and 14 acres of gardens at Sudeley Castle, once home to Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife. Tour wood-paneled rooms and special exhibitions, spot pheasants in the gardens, and send kids to explore the castle-themed playground. Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, is a World Heritage Site close to the Cotswolds with tapestry-lined apartments along with a maze and a miniature train you can ride between palace and gardens.
Come summer, you’ll find gardens in full bloom and couples taking wedding photos on the grounds of the neo-Mughal Sezincote Estate; come Christmas, many manor houses are transformed into holiday wonderlands with lights and craft markets.
Climb to one of the highest points in the area for a visit to Broadway Tower, an architectural folly with views spanning the Cotswolds and beyond. Then head down the tower to a Cold War–era bunker or roam the park and meet the resident herd of deer.
The city of Gloucester, at the western edge of the Cotswolds, has played a starring role in several recent movies. Gloucester Cathedral’s Gothic architecture doubled as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films and served as backdrop to historical drama in adaptations like Hollow Crown and Wolf Hall. If you were charmed by the country houses in The Holiday and Bridget Jones’s Diary, you’ll find their real-life counterparts in the Cotswolds.
Networks of walking paths mean you can explore the Cotswold Hills at your leisure, but guided walking tours and horseback rides make getting around even easier. Plan a visit around a yearly event like a literary or music festival, or take your time stopping at antique shops and tearooms on your way from one village to the next. Take a day trip back in time amid the iconic silhouettes of Stonehenge or the renowned collections of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Roaring fires and craft brews welcome visitors to quintessential British pubs, and Michelin-starred eateries have popped up in Cotswolds villages as well, presenting fresh takes on everything from Sunday lunch and afternoon tea to local lamb.
From renovated farmhouses with cozy fireplaces to manicured estates surrounded by gardens, our Cotswolds vacation rentals showcase the region’s heritage. Find details like walls made of the area’s distinctive limestone or handmade bricks, beamed ceilings, and paned windows peeking out at the countryside. You can even stay in converted stables, where you’ll find creature comforts such as wood-burning hearths and heated floors.
Choose one of the 4 buildings on the 150-acre grounds of Fairoaks, a former model farm built in the early 19th century, for a getaway, or reserve the whole estate for a group of family and friends. Glimpse some of England’s oldest rocks on a walk through the rolling Malvern Hills, which surround the estate, and seek refreshment at a pub within walking distance. The property is close enough to the town of Ledbury that you can stop by the market to pick up homegrown produce for dinner, and the short drive to Cheltenham makes it easy to take a day trip to the horse races or literary festival.
Or pick a Cotswolds village to be your home for a week or two, and settle into a farmhouse nestled into a garden or former manor home set atop an expanse of lawn. These vacation rentals pair the convenience of a village location with the quiet of a country setting. Make the homes your starting point for a day of village-hopping, and circle back for an afternoon cup at a tearoom or dinner at restaurants offering French cuisine and modern English fare.