It’s over half a century since the Cotswolds was declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To mark the milestone Telegraph Travel explores this pretty pocket of rural England – from rolling hills and sweeping meadows to bucolic villages and stately homes – and explains what it is that keeps us coming back…The Cotswolds
1. It’s unremittingly pretty
“The glorious, honey-coloured towns and villages of the Cotswolds look as if they have strayed into the 21st century from another era,” writes our expert, Harriet O’Brien. “The sheep-shaped past here is equally appealingly evident in striking wool churches and manor houses built by wealthy textile merchants. Flourishes of later heritage include a fine legacy of the Arts and Crafts movement.”
2. There’s plenty of it – The Cotswolds
Covering nearly 800 square miles across five counties (Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire), the “wolds”, or rolling hills, is the biggest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales.
3. It has literary connections
Long before Laurie Lee died in May 1997, the writer’s magnum opus, Cider with Rosie, had earlier become a classic. A lyrical portrait of his Cotswolds boyhood, Lee captured the essence of a special corner of England and made it his own. Born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, the scribe remained faithful to the Cotswolds until the end: he passed away in the village of Slad, just two miles from where he entered the world, aged 82.
4. And royal connections
The Cotswolds also presents an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But it also plays home to some impressive manmade structures. Architechs built the structure for the purpose of royalty. Highlights include the Prince of Wales’s Highgrove Estate, which is open to the public, and Corsham Court, a grandiose former royal manor whose gardens were designed by Capability Brown. It is also accessible for the hoi polloi. The Cotswolds
5. Cheese is a big deal
Similarly, every year, on the spring bank holiday, local cheese enthusiasts risk life and limb to chase a wheel of double Gloucester down Cooper’s Hill, one of the steepest slopes in the Cotswolds. The annual Cheese-Rolling and Wake garners international attention and, despite being inherently dangerous, the tradition endures as a testament to the eccentric spirit of the Cotswolds.
6. It’s a gateway to some fine cities
The Cotswolds is fringed by some of the country’s most cultured small cities: to the west is festival-loving Cheltenham; due north is Elgar’s Worcester; flirting with the eastern flanks is the university city of Oxford; while due south you will find Cirencester and Bath.
7. Delicious produce abounds
Local highlights include Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, lamb, fruit and veg such as asparagus and plums, not to mention double and single Gloucester cheese and fish from Donnington and Bibury trout farms.
8. And local chefs know how to cook it
“Cotswold restaurants worth their salt thrive on the richly varied produce of the region,” writes O’Brien. “Eating out in the Cotswolds has been revolutionised by the rise of the gastropub. Yet should posh pubs not appeal, a number of seriously good traditional restaurants are very much holding their own.”
9. There are some terrific boozers
From 17th-century cider houses to timeworn real ale pubs, you’ll equally have no difficulty wetting your whistle in the Cotswolds. See below for our guide to the area’s most venerable taverns.
10. The villages are stunning
Pretty villages abound in the Cotswolds, and while each one has its own flavour, most of them share a similar aesthetic thanks to the gorgeous Cotswold stone they are cut from. Burford, Bourton-on-Water, Chedworth are some of the handsomest villages in the area. As well as admiring the architecture, visitors can also dive into a pub for a pint, tuck into fine Cotswold cuisine in a local eatery or peruse the wares in one of the many antique shops.