Quaint market towns, honey-coloured stone and nothing to do but go for a walk, whatever the weather – if this is what springs to mind when you hear the word “Cotswolds”, think again.
Sure, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) straddling five counties offers these pleasures in abundance. But it’s got plenty more tricks up its sleeve for those looking for a more hands-on holiday, with interactive experiences that amp up a trip from just plain pleasant to a little bit extraordinary.
Offbeat activities abound for the savvy traveller who fancies seeing this quintessentially English beauty spot from a new angle. Where you stay, for a start, can make all the difference. Twee B&Bs are all well and good… but how about a bohemian hideaway – all exposed beams, rolltop brass baths and hand-picked antiques and artwork spliced with quirky, modern soft furnishings – at Artist Residence Oxfordshire? Or Log House Holidays in Cirencester, where guests can relax in one of eight secluded lakeside cabins – complete with private hot tub, fire pit, rowing boat and a guests-only beach?
Meanwhile, adventurers wanting to properly stray off the beaten track can sign up for a camper van itinerary from Wanderlust Camper Tours. These bespoke tours go further than recommending the sightseeing big hitters, encouraging travellers to uncover the Cotswolds’ under-the-radar best bits. Its Secret Stays comprise hand-picked digs, giving explorers the chance to have a night off from the #VanLife and spend it somewhere truly unique, such as a craft barn or vineyard.
Getting the low-down on the local wines is possible via other avenues, too. Little Oak Vineyard in Chipping Campden, for example, throws open its gates for vineyard tours, lunches and tastings of its Siegerrebe white and award-winning sparkling wines.
And a stiffer type of tipple can be found at Cotswolds Distillery in Shipston-on-Stour, where visitors can take a tour and sample its award-winning single malt whisky, matured in oak casks, and dry gin, infused with nine botanicals including local lavender. Guests can also up their skills with a gin and whisky blending masterclass, or toy with mixology using the distillery’s range of craft liqueurs during a cocktail workshop.
Best to only mix drinks on a full stomach; perhaps after a five-course, locally sourced dinner, eaten in a sustainably built glasshouse set amid the panoramic pastures of Todenham Manor Farm. The Scenic Supper experience offers diners a monthly changing modern British menu, alongside a seasonal cocktail menu and expertly curated wine list, in spectacular surroundings.
A trip to the ’wolds wouldn’t be a trip to the ’wolds, of course, without time spent revelling in the great outdoors. But, when it comes to experiencing it, there are more exciting options than a brisk hike. A casual stroll – with an extremely Instagrammable alpaca by your side – is one way to go. Cotswold Alpacas in Cowley puts together tailored alpaca experiences, walks and even alpaca husbandry courses with its friendly herd. Drop spindle, spinning wheel and hand dyeing workshops to discover how alpaca fleece becomes the softest of textiles, are also available.
If wheels are more your thing, you can choose one or two. Either head for the Dursley hills to explore the best wild trails by mountain bike with guide Tim Porter of Cotswold Mountain Biking, or try something completely unexpected with Wild Carrot. The latter caters for adrenaline fiends with a Onewheel experience – cruising 2,000 acres of private grounds on a self-balancing, single-wheel electric board that can go up and down hill.
It turns out the Cotswolds is much more than just a pretty face. Why not take a walk on the wild side on your next adventure?