Even on an overcast day when rain is drizzling down, the Cotswolds town of Burford manages to look stunningly attractive. It needs to, because Americans will be coming in with high expectations since the authoritative Forbes magazine designated it the sixth most idyllic place in Europe. Forbes's advice to US readers wanting to buy property in the UK was that the first place to look is Burford.
They might be surprised when they arrive to find how small it is, as well as how clean, and old, and prosperous. There is no railway station or bus terminus within miles. Burford is a town with a population of only about 1,100. Its 500 or so houses are nearly all constructed of sand-coloured bricks with tiled roofs. Rows of shops line the High Street and the town council meets in a building called The Tolsey, which is where Burford's citizens went to pay their local taxes in Tudor times, and it doubles as the local museum. The main car park is by a river where ducks and swans wandered between parked vehicles.
The town's only downside, according to Forbes, is that houses here are more expensive than anywhere it reviewed, even more than in the wine-growing area of Tuscany. It calculated that the average house cost £532,669.
But that was in November. The good news, should you happen to be a rich American looking for a house to buy, is that the pound has since fallen against the dollar, and Burford prices are not quite that high any more, even in sterling.
The most expensive place in the window of James C Penny estate agents yesterday was a four-bedroom country house, with 73 acres including a football pitch and driving range – yours for £1.5m. For those on a modest budget, there was a matchbox-sized cottage at £185,000.
At Wychwoods estate agents, almost everything on offer was below the figure quoted by Forbes. "There was a bit of a price adjustment after September, when we went through a very quiet patch that lasted into the new year," Tracy Colledge of Wychwoods said, adding: "This is a lovely place to live, if you can afford it – good for families. There are plenty of places to eat, but if you want to go to town, there is Cheltenham, or Oxford, which are not far away. But a tiny cottage with no parking space and no garden can cost £300,000-ish."
The accompanying blurb in Forbes that described the town as the gateway to the Cotswolds, a "mountainous and beautiful region in the centre of southern England", caused some amusement locally. However, Burford's gorgeous High Street does curve steeply up a hillside. There are antique shops, art galleries, tea shops, pubs and boutiques galore, but most of the big names you expect to see in any urban shopping centre are absent. There is not a boarded-up store or derelict building anywhere.
Walkers, a High Street shop that styles itself "The home of Clearview Stoves in the Cotswolds", is a family business that has been selling antiques since 1952, and has sailed through the past few months as if the recession never happened.
"We have been too busy to know how Burford as a town has been doing, but all the businesses here are pretty well established," Henry Walker said. "We continued to have growth for the whole of the last year."
Despite Forbes's pronouncement, one sound not heard on the High Street yesterday was an American accent. There were plenty of visitors everywhere but all appeared to be from nearby. Even the people keeping the estate agents busy have been mostly British, including some famous names like Kate Winslet and the members of Radiohead. But as the season picks up, Burford need not be too surprised if it is suddenly getting more than its share of interest from across the pond.
Burford: Past and present
* Average house price: £532,669. Properties date to the 15th century.
* Town's wealth came from the wool industry in the 14th to 17th centuries.
* On 17 May 1649, three Levellers were executed on Oliver Cromwell's orders in the churchyard.
* Renowned for antiques, art and the Burford Garden Company, whose customers include Kate Moss, David Cameron and Gary Barlow.
Top 10: European places to live
1. Gaiole, in Tuscany
2. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France
3. Copenhagen, Denmark
4. Kefalonia, Greece
5. Ljubljana, Slovenia
6. Burford, UK
7. Budapest, Hungary
8. Sibiu, Romania
9. Rome, Italy
10. Dejà, Spain
According to Forbes magazine