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The Cotswolds, England

Picture-Perfect
Explore One of England's Great Treasures


Water Terraces: The gardens at Blenheim Palace are suitably grand
Water Terraces: The gardens at Blenheim Palace are suitably grand

DAY 2

Home-made sausages, the freshest eggs, lashings of butter and home-made jams are on offer for breakfast, a typical English meal that should set you up perfectly for Day 2. If you're staying at the Lords of the Manor it will be difficult to tear yourself away from the two villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter. A twenty-minute, nine-mile drive north brings you to Snowshill, a village clambering up a precipitous hill that keeps its inhabitants super fit and will help you digest that hearty breakfast. Snowshill Manor is a hillside garden, designed as so many Cotswolds gardens were, in the cottage-like Arts & Crafts style of connecting small spaces. It's also memorable for the extraordinary collection of objects that the squirrel-like owner, Charles Paget Ward acquired. Some 22,000 of them include the likes of butter stamps from old dairies, automata and 26 suits of Samurai armor.

Snowshill is full of pretty cottages built of mellos Cotswold stone

Snowshill is full of pretty cottages built of mellos Cotswold stone

From the 19th-century folly of nearby Broadway Tower (around a mile to the north), the view stretches over thirteen counties, and on a good day, across the Severn Valley to the distant Welsh mountains. A picturesque two-mile drive along the old route of the Cotswold Way brings you to Stanton. You're still high up here; the Mount Inn has outstanding views best studied over a pint in the garden and honest sandwiches, which fill up the walkers on a blister-free break. A couple more miles south and you come to the privately owned Jacobean Stanway House, with its very fine landscaped gardens and the highest gravity fountain in the world. Built in the 1640s, Stanway has remained very much a family home.

Historically, this was always a favorite area for grand country houses, far away from the expense of living near the monarch in London. But royal tentacles did stretch to this part of the world. Drive four miles south on the pretty B4632 towards Cheltenham and you come to Sudeley Castle, where magnificent gardens with fabulous topiary in the Knot Garden surround a castle which like so many of Britain's stately homes has seen its fortunes wax and wane. Henry VIII's last and only surviving Queen, Katherine Parr lived here, while its share of royal visitors included Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth I. For some real insights into the history, take their special Connoisseur's Tour.

A treat awaits at the nearest town, Winchcombe (half a mile away), once the site of one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in England, though now the church with an altar cloth made by Catherine of Aragon, is the only remains of its ecclesiastical past. Don't miss Juri's—the Olde Bakery Tea Shoppe, for either a light lunch, or if you're there at the right time, a splendid afternoon cream tea with all the trimmings. All that home baking has paid off, Japanese-born Juri Miyawaki and her parents won the 2008 Tea Guild's Top Tea Place for their superb teas complete with top pastries.

From here, a walk up Cleeve Hill takes you to the highest point in the Cotswolds at 330 metres (1083 ft), marking the edge of the limestone escarpment that runs through the area.

A short three-mile drive on the same road takes you to Cheltenham Spa, a bustling, prosperous town, with a world-famous series of summer festivals from jazz to science and literature. Its racecourse is one of the best in the country for jump racing meetings, starting in October and culminating in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March though the season continues to May.

But this 72-hour tour is about the countryside rather than large towns, so leave Cheltenham behind you on the A 46 marked to Stroud. At Brockworth, turn east onto the small road marked to Little Witcombe; drive through the village and onto Birdlip where you take the B4070 (again marked Stroud). After two miles the road divides; follow the signs to Whiteway and Miserden and continue down this road about six miles to Sapperton. The drive will take around 40 minutes, but it's worth it for lunch at The Bell at Sapperton. Good locally sourced food; courtyard stables and a warm Cotswold stone building make this a great top. Signs in Sapperton will take you south to the A419. Take the Stroud direction then turn off on to the B4014 marked to Avening and Tetbury, a journey of around twenty minutes.

The small church at Bladon near Blenheim where the Churchill family is buried

The small church at Bladon near Blenheim where the Churchill family is buried

Tetbury has become even better known with the opening of Prince Charles's shop, Highgrove, selling organic food and products from his nearby estate. Tetbury is a pretty town, full of tempting antique shops and excellent food shops, many selling goods supplied by the royal gardener and champion of organic food. The Chef's Table is one such, a deli and small restaurant and café, run by the former award-winning owners of the local Trouble House inn.

Tetbury is a small royal enclave; if you go from here to the magnificent National Arboretum at Westonbirt, three miles southwest on the A433 to Chipping Sodbury, you pass Prince Charles' home. Camilla Parker Bowles is often seen in Tetbury and Princess Anne lives nearby at Gatcombe Park, just outside Minchinhampton. Inevitably this is horse country; every May the world-class Three Day Event takes place at Badminton House, owned by the Dukes of Beaufort; in August it's the turn of Gatcombe Horse Trials.

One final garden stop should be made at Westonbirt which has one of the most impressive collections of trees and shrubs in Europe. March to June sees the grounds ablaze azaleas, magnolias, rhododendrons and wild flowers; autumn brings glowing displays of colour as nature gives its last performance before winter sets in.

Calcot Manor has two excellent dining possibilities: fine dining in the pretty Conservatory Restaurant and an English pub feel in the more casual Gumstool Inn. And don't neglect the excellent spa.

Theatregoers should look to Cheltenham where the historic Everyman Theatre offers ballet, theatre, shows and music all year round. Also consider one of the many events around the series of world-famous Festivals that Cheltenham hosts throughout the summer. If you are planning to go, book a taxi to and from your hotel to avoid Cheltenham's traffic and parking.

Continue to Day 3

MORE COTSWOLDS INFORMATION

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