What's the attraction?
Picture-book countryside; honey-stone villages; charming pubs – what's not to love about the Cotswolds? And right now it's exuding such a summer holiday mood that the issue of what constitutes "the Cotswolds" seems ticklish rather than vexed. Some say it's a region of hills – or wolds – stretching from Bath nearly to Stratford-upon-Avon; some that it's defined by geology rather than geography, notably its golden limestone (lighter in the north, darker in the south); while for others it's a great marketing label applied to an area now almost reaching Wales.
Whatever your take, the district includes sublime Chipping Campden to the north; cheerful Chipping Norton (Chippy to locals) – valiantly living down the notoriety of prominent neighbours; beautiful Burford, Bibury and Barnsley to the east; and elegant Cheltenham to the west.
Myriad footpaths wind through lovely landscape – this is hiking heaven, particularly if you plan a walk with refreshments attached. There's a pretty, four-mile circuit from Guiting Power that comes within range of two pubs: Halfway House at Kineton (01451 850344; thehalfwayhousekineton.co.uk), and Hollow Bottom back at base (01451 850392; hollowbottom.com). This, along with other Cotswolds walks, is downloadable free from escapetothecotswolds.org.
Further north, the sleek new Morris and Brown café (01386 852945; morrisandbrown.co.uk) at Broadway Country Park, is spread along the Cotswold escarpment and presents jawdropping views. Explore Broadway Tower (01386 852390; broadwaytower.co.uk; £4.80), a spectacular 18th-century folly on the ridge, hike down to Broadway village and back, then tuck into the café's salads, quiches and cakes.
Designs for living
A brand new venture in Broadway village opens next month, on 7 September: set in a former antiques shop on the high street, an absorbing arm of the Ashmolean museum (01865 278002; www.ashmolean.org) will celebrate the story of the property and the area with tapestries, paintings and furnishings from Oxford's august institute.
If it's raining, head for cover in a country house. Two gems are open for a short season – and only on Wednesdays and Saturdays so catch them while you can. William Morris's Kelmscott Manor (01367 252486; kelmscottmanor.co.uk; until 31 October; £9) near Lechlade was "heaven on earth" to the Pre-Raphaelite socialist. Rodmarton Manor (01285 841442; rodmarton-manor.co.uk; until 30 September; £8), near Cirencester, is another Arcadia of the Arts & Crafts movement.
Both Kelmscott and Rodmarton manors have gardens still looking gorgeous in August. Other striking semi-secret Cotswold gardens include Cerney near Cirencester (01285 831300; cerneygardens.com; daily until 31 October; £5) – complete with sumptuous herbaceous borders and 40 acres of parkland.
Further north, Sezincote (01386 700444; sezincote.co.uk; until 31 October; £5) near Moreton-in-Marsh opens on Thursday and Friday afternoons only. The great house here is a Mughal-style flamboyance, precursor of the Brighton Pavilion; its sweeping grounds were devised as romantic "Indian" gardens with canals, fountains and much statuary.
On the menu
There was consternation this spring when The Old Butchers in Stow-on-the-Wold closed. Then relief when the team of this much-loved restaurant relocated to the Fox Inn (01451 870555; foxinn.net) at Lower Oddington nearby. So head here to sample Peter Robinson's acclaimed meaty menus (pork cheeks, calves liver and more).
There's also been a gourmet buzz in Broadway, where the long-celebrated Lygon Arms has opened a bistro offering informal dining alongside its stately Great Hall restaurant. Masterminded by Luke Thomas, the 19-year-old who also remains chef of Luke's Dining Room at Sanctum on the Green in Berkshire, Luke's Broadway (01386 854418; lukes broadway.com) serves the likes of sea bass with braised lettuce (£14).
A few miles south, there's more epicurean action around Kingham. In the autumn, the Wild Rabbit (01608 658389) opens here – replacing the old Tollgate Inn. The new gastropub is owned by Lady Bamford, whose Daylesford (01608 731700; daylesford.com) organic café, deli, cookery school and spa complex is a short hop away down a twisting lane.
The choice of where to stay becomes ever more pleasing. In January, The Five Alls (01367 860875; thefiveallsfilkins.co.uk), a pretty pub at Filkins near Cirencester, reopened after an extensive refit and now offers four stylish bedrooms and a much applauded restaurant. Doubles from £110 including breakfast.
July saw the launch of the Fuzzy Duck (01608 682635; fuzzyduckarmscote.com), the revamped village pub at Armscote near Shipston-on-Stour. Now owned by the proprietors of Baylis & Harding soaps, it's been transformed into a sleek outfit, with an elegant restaurant and four cream-and-taupe bedrooms. Doubles from £110, B&B.
Dormy House Hotel (01386 852711; dormyhouse.co.uk), a spacious 17th-century farmhouse between Chipping Campden and Broadway, has just reopened. The new look – contemporary flourishes alongside oak beams and flagstone floors – extends to the 40 individually styled bedrooms. Doubles from £230, B&B.
Over in central Cheltenham a new hotel is taking shape. 131 Promenade (01242 237641; theluckyonion.com) is a majestic town mansion overlooking Imperial Gardens. Due to open in early November, it is being developed by the Lucky Onion Group whose Wheatsheaf Inn at Northleach (01451 860244; cotswoldswheatsheaf.com) was greeted with great ripples of approval when it opened in 2011.
Under the stars
Or take a tent. Well-placed Cotswold campsites include Cotswold Camping near Charlbury (01608 810810; cotswoldscamping.co.uk); Far Peak Camping near Northleach (01285 720858; farpeakcamping.co.uk) and Thistledown Farm near Stroud (01453 860420; thistledown.org.uk).
Join the party
Catch the Cotswolds in festival mood. Stow Cotswold Festival (stowcotswoldfestival.com), a gloriously traditional event with town crier, treasure hunt and barn dance, runs over the bank holiday until Monday.
From 23-26 August the Fox Inn at Great Barrington stages its own little music festival, Foxstock (foxstock.co.uk).
The highlight of the season, however, is the Jamie Oliver-Alex James jamboree of food and music, the Big Feastival, which runs 31 August-1 September, with KT Tunstall, The Feeling and Cuban Brothers (jamieoliver.com/thebigfeastival).
Finally, there's more food festivity at the Cotswold Food and Farming Festival (thecotswoldfoodandfarmingfestival.com) at Bourton-on-the-Water on 15 September.
"I feel lucky that farming is in my blood, having grown up on the farm near Guiting Power that I now run. A farmer's 'day off' has always been a trip to a farm show and nowadays these have so much to offer a wider audience. On 7 September the Cotswold Farm Park will have a stand at the Moreton-in-Marsh Show; I will be judging some of the competitions – with selections of pigs, sheep, cattle, goats and horses on display." Adam Henson, farmer, BBC Countryfile presenter and director of Cotswold Farm Park (01451 850307; cotswoldfarm park.co.uk).
Who said that?
"The most English and the least spoilt of our countrysides" J B Priestley on the Cotswolds, English Journey, 1933
"We were as though caught in a time-proofed corner of the world, foster-children, if not exactly of silence, at least of slow time. The very landscape, cluttered with history, was disconcertingly filled with evidence of the changelessness of things." Jessica Mitford on growing up in the Cotswolds, Hons and Rebels, 1960
"Chipping Norton, England – the power centers of British politics and media may reside in London, but their tentacles extend to a tiny working-class market town with rows of glistening stone buildings, 17th-century pubs and a medieval church." New York Times, 22 March 2013Reuse content