The Best of the Cotswolds

by / 15th May 2017 Travel No Comments

Whether you’re visiting with friends, family or as a couple, discover what the Cotswolds has to offer. Words by Rosalind Sack and Jessica Jonzen

For Friends

The Sheep on Sheep Street, Stow-on-the-Wold – by Rosalind Sack

Built from beautiful honey-coloured Cotswold stone and dating back to the 17th century, the Sheep on Sheep Street with its pretty olive trees and hanging baskets is tucked neatly on the main street in the middle of Stow. While its façade is in keeping with its picture postcard pretty surroundings, inside the feeling is more akin to a boutique hotel in Soho. 

Here, the soft Farrow & Ball colour palette so synonymous with the area has been replaced by a more contemporary scheme of vivid mid-century modern colours, complimented by quirky geometric floor tiles, walls of mustard metro tiles, crittal glass dividers and a highly covetable selection of glass pendant lights, vintage chandeliers and burnished orange sconces. 

Recently renovated and renamed, this place is ideally positioned for dinner and cocktails with the girls after a day of retail therapy in Stow’s pretty boutiques, or as a homely base for a romantic weekend away. It has 22 en-suite rooms, runs regular live music evenings on Thursdays and the staff could not have been more friendly and helpful. 

I stayed in a double room in the eaves in a cosy, yet sizeable, room that overlooks a pretty green at the top of Park Street – a big window seat proving the perfect spot to pore over the Sunday papers and watch the world go by. A digitally-controlled bath and shower added a taste of luxury to the en-suite bathroom, while a beautifully carved writing desk, oversized statement bedside lamps and bare brick and grey-blue walls were in fitting with the beautiful décor downstairs.

The restaurant here attracts families early evening – their wood-fired pizza oven proving a particular hit with the kids – while couples and groups fill the welcoming dining room and outdoor terrace later. There is also a private dining area catering for special occasions.

The menu is a relatively laidback affair with steaks, salads, burgers, as well as some beautiful modern English starters such as Isle of Man scallops and Thai style fishcakes, and mains such as whole baked seabass with garlic and chilli greens and Cotswold lamb leg steak with balsamic roast potatoes, which I can heartily recommend.

If you’re a foodie like me, you’ll be delighted to hear that breakfast was an equally enjoyable experience with a bountiful buffet of fruit, cereal and breads, together with an impressive menu including the fluffiest, most delicious buttermilk pancakes I’ve eaten in a while. 

Frequented by locals looking for a drink or bite to eat, as well as tourists, it seems that The Sheep has been as welcomed by Stow’s residents as it has by visitors to the Cotswolds – which, to me, is praise indeed. / 01451 830344 

Top Picks for Friends

Cornbury Music Festival 
Classic British summer entertainment: this year’s headliners include Bryan Adams, the Kaiser Chiefs, The Pretenders and Jools Holland. Runs 7-9 July 2017.

Roki Pottery
If you’re inspired by the unique, hand-made ceramics on sale at Roki Pottery, try your hand at creating your own piece with one of their beginner’s courses. 

Burford Garden Company 
This unique destination store is a haven for those seeking a creative selection of furniture, art, home décor, plants, gardenalia and clothing.

For Families

Bruern Cottages, Chipping Norton – by Jessica Jonzen 

Cast aside all your preconceived ideas about what a ‘holiday cottage’ is, because Bruern is unlike anywhere else you’ll have stayed before. Nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds, a 20 minute drive from Chipping Norton, the 12 elegant converted stables of Bruern Abbey offer a perfect retreat for families of any size. 

The self-catering cottages have been lovingly converted by Judy Astor (former chatelaine of Bruern Abbey) and eschew the monotonous Cotswold palette of muted greens and salvage furniture; this is proper old-school country house style. 

We stayed in the two-bedroom Sandown and its open plan living room and kitchen with high ceilings and elegant sash windows bedecked with opulent drapes, is imbued it with a sense of nobility. 

The shaker-style kitchen is equipped with every utensil and home-from-home comfort you could wish for. The welcome hamper sitting on the antique dining table was as exciting to open as a stocking on Christmas morning: fat local sausages, bread, cheese, half a dozen blue eggs which delighted my children at breakfast the following morning, a lemon drizzle cake and a bottle of vintage Champagne. No measly prosecco here. We felt as if we’d been invited to stay at the country home of a wonderful relative, rather than a holiday let. 

Sandown backs on to a beautiful shared garden, and has a private terrace kitted out with a barbecue and outdoor dining table – perfect for enjoying warm summer evenings. The mature gardens which surround the gardens are a marvel, and my three-year-old son went into apoplexies of delight when he found a fleet of ride-on diggers which he pedalled up and down the tunnel of wisteria.

Bruern is indeed a paradise for children. My six-year-old daughter loved exploring the gardens and the three playgrounds, and the Wendy house kept them entertained for hours. For teens, there is a games room with a pool table, table tennis and table football, but it was the swimming pool which really sealed the deal for this being a wonderful place for families. 

Bruern’s location means it’s a terrific spot for family bike rides. It’s also only a short drive from attractions like Cotswold Wildlife Park, Cotswold Farm Park, Warwick Castle and the Model Village at Bourton-on-the-Water. 

If you fancy a break from cooking, The Maytime Inn in nearby Ashtall has a great restaurant, and Emily Watkins’ award-winning Kingham Plough is round the corner. 

With cottages that sleep up to ten, and plenty to entertain at Bruern and in the surrounding areas, I couldn’t think of a better place to enjoy some quality family time. We’ll be back. / 01993 830415

Top Picks for Families

Westonbirt Arboretum 
As one of the finest tree collections in the world, the picturesque Westonbirt Arboretum offers a programme of family-friendly activities throughout the year. 

Daylesford Farm 
The organic farm behind those fashionable farmshops; keep an eye out for seasonal activities such as strawberry-picking and Harvest celebrations. 

Cotswold Show and Food Festival 
Two days (2-3 July) dedicated to the best of the Cotswolds, including local food, music, live demonstrations, animal shows and a programme of special attractions for younger visitors. 


For Couples

The Plough Inn, Kelmscott – by Jessica Jonzen

When you need a weekend away, just the two of you, it’s best to just keep things simple. As we drove into the tiny hamlet of Kelmscott in rural West Oxfordshire – once home to the great Victorian designer William Morris – we could not have felt further away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. 

The Plough, a 17th century Grade II listed Cotswold stone house, is once again the anchor point for the village since it was lovingly restored in 2015 by multi-award winning chef Sebastian Snow and his wife, Lana. The couple also run the much-loved pub The Five Alls at Filkins nearby, where regulars include Kate Moss and David Cameron. 

As we arrived on a sunny Saturday evening, the garden and bar were filling with a mix of friends, families and couples, relaxing with something cold in the last rays of sunshine of the day. It is clearly a true locals’ favourite – always a good sign – but thankfully, it also has seven beautiful double rooms and a single for out-of-towners like us. 

We stayed in a double room with a charming window seat overlooking the pretty terrace garden. Chicly decorated with soft grey panelling and statement Ikat bedside lamps either side of the cosy bed, it was compact but full of charm. The traditional roll-top bath in the en-suite bathroom was brought up to date with beautiful Moroccan floor tiles and REN bath products. 

Downstairs, the atmospheric oak-beamed bar was straight out of a Richard Curtis movie. Wizened locals nursed pints of local cider alongside jolly family gatherings, whilst good-natured Labradors snoozed at their owner’s feet. It felt immediately inclusive and we enjoyed a gin and tonic before moving into the cosy candle-lit restaurant for dinner. 

Eclectically decorated with a mix of vintage flags, original local art, salvage and up-cycled furniture, the dining room seats 40. Sebastian Snow’s daily changing à la carte menu is overseen by ex-Ivy chef, Matt Read, and offers a really original take on modern British comfort cooking. From a scallop and bacon kebab with roast pepper relish to chicken kiev with thyme and duck fat roasties, rocket and smoked tomato ketchup, it’s an inspiring and witty menu, perfectly executed. 

It’s easy to see why The Plough was recently named as one of the ten Editor’s Choice Hotel Discoveries in the 2017 Good Hotel Guide. It’s important to point out, however, that this is essentially a pub with rooms, meaning that it could be a little noisy. But if, like us, you are keen to prop up the bar for a nightcap, you’ll be only too happy to join in with the atmosphere of bonhomie. 

Breakfast the next morning was a bountiful affair, with crisp, freshly baked croissants, cereal, yoghurt and fresh fruit to start before a cooked breakfast of pretty much whatever we wanted. Local Kelmscott pork sausages and freshly laid poached eggs were the perfect accompaniment to a relaxing read through the Sunday papers. A true Cotswold gem. / 01367 253543

Top Picks for Couples

Cowley Manor 
An award-winning spa complete with gym, sauna, indoor and outdoor pools, and a selection of treatments that will leave you spoiled for choice.

Thyme at Southrop Manor 
Led by an ethos of sustainability and a belief in the seasonality of food, a class at Thyme Cookery School is the perfect way to brush up on your culinary skills.

The Wild Rabbit
Serving a menu of seasonal, locally produced food in a relaxed setting, The Wild Rabbit is a modern British inn designed to feel like home.

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