Last weekend we celebrated the husband’s birthday with a quick getaway to the English countryside. The last few years, it sort of become a tradition to celebrate his birthday on a weekend trip (like Wroclaw in Poland last year). And let’s be honest: it’s a perfect excuse to get out of town.
Cotswolds Road Trip
This year we decided on the glowing hills and the charming cottages of the Cotswolds. An area in south central England roughly located between Oxford, Bath, Cheltenham and Stratford. You can find the cutest little towns here and I bet this is how you always picture England. And since it’s only a 1 hour flight from Amsterdam to Birmingham, it’s the perfect weekend getaway destination. Pick up a rental car and follow our 3 day itinerary to cruise along the cutest towns, the nicest shops, and the best restaurants.
Staying in Stow-On-The-Wold
We booked a lovely room in a recently opened boutique hotel in the charming market town Stow-On-The-Wold. The Stag Lodge is not really a full service hotel, it has only 13 rooms and it’s connected to the White Hart pub. So if you’re looking for room service, a daily wake up call, or other services, this might not be the place for you (check out The Old Stocks Inn next door). But we loved the charm of this cozy, little place, and how adorable is this room? Duck wallpaper. It doesn’t get better than that.
Since The Stag Lodge is located right on the Market Square, we could explore Stow on foot. There are so many cute shops (stop by Meggie’s for lovely gifts and stationary, and check out Baggott Antiques) and even more great places to eat. A few tips for those fellow foodies out there.
For breakfast, you cannot go wrong with Huffkins. This fantastic bakery has been serving the Cotswolds since 1890, and their bread is simply amazing. For real. It’s great. You can find them in four other towns in the area, and I can highly recommend the Eggs Royale or the Mashed Avo & Poached Eggs. Oh, and pick up their famous lardy cake for your mid-morning snack. You’re welcome.
The Porch House
While you’re in Stow, you can’t skip on the opportunity to have a drink at the oldest inn in England. That’s right people. I’m not really sure how one proofs this, but let’s just go with it. There has been an inn operating at this exact location since 947 AD. And that my friends, is pretty damn old if you ask me. And being a proper inn, you can also spend the night at The Porch House.
The Old Butchers
Our first night in town we had dinner at The Old Butchers, which used to be – wait for it – a butcher. Mind blown, right? To be honest, we went total rebel because we didn’t eat any meat here. Well, wat can I say? Who needs meat if there’s oysters, mussels and lobster on the menu? Everything is super delicious at this casual yet amazing restaurant, and it’s a true local favorite. I especially loved the Rockefeller Oysters. Yeah, with that name they must be luxurious, right? So much YUM.
The Old Stocks Inn
I don’t know if Masterchef is one of your favorite shows as well, but when I read a Masterchef: The Professionals (with established head chefs) semi-finalist has his own restaurant in Stow-On-The-Wold, I didn’t look any further for the husband’s birthday dinner. Holy moly, that Wayne Sullivan can cook.
We had amazing cocktails, fabulous wines, and a delicious 4 course meal. The Old Stocks Inn menu changes pretty regularly, but if there’s either the lamb or the rabbit on the menu: go for it. You will not be disappointed. And get the banana desert. Oh, and obviously go for the local cheeses. Just do it. Treat yourself. What an amazing dining experience.
Stow-On-The-Wold Pro Tip
Try to find the door to Narnia in St. Edward’s Church, near the Market Square…
Strolling in Chipping Campden
One of the first towns you encounter when you enter the Cotswolds from the north is Chipping Campden. This little medieval market town (chipping means market) is famous for its charming High Street, which now houses lovely little boutiques and pubs.
Like most towns in the Cotswolds, the market of Chipping Campden involved mostly around the wool industry. You can still see the 17th century market hall. Pop into The Lygon Arms for some tea and a piece of Victoria Sponge cake. You’re in England after all.
Hiking to Broadway
The Cotswolds Way is a hiking trail with over 100 miles, across the western side of the Cotswolds. It starts in Chipping Campden and runs all the way down to the city of Bath. The first stretch of the Cotswolds Way is between Chipping Campden and Broadway. If the weather is not too bad, you can hike the 6 miles from. You will cross the Broadway Tower on your way over there.
Don’t forget to pop into Broadway town for some shopping, especially if you’re into antiques. Like many towns in the Cotswolds, Broadway has a wonderful antique shop (Fenwick & Fenwick) where you might score a unique find.
Afternoon Tea in Bourton-On-The-Water
Bourton-On-The-Water is apparently considered as one of the larger market towns in the Cotswolds. Okay fine, it is slightly bigger than the other towns, but that’s mostly because the other ones are so tiny. The main draw here is the fact that the cute limestone houses on the High Street are built along the river Windrush. There are several small bridges that cross this small river, which totally contributes to that charming Cotswolds vibe.
We specifically came here for the afternoon tea at Smiths, a wonderful tearoom on Victoria Street. I read a lot of great reviews about this place, claiming this is the best place for afternoon tea in the entire Cotswolds. And I have to say, it was pretty finger-licking good. We went for one regular afternoon tea and one gentleman’s afternoon tea, and I think this is the perfect combo of sweet and savory.
Also recommended in Bourton-On-The-Water, especially if you travel with kids, are the Model Village and the Cotswold Motoring Museum & Toy Collection. But unfortunately they were still closed for the winter season.
Shopping in Burford
A few years back the little Oxfordshire town Burford was in the Forbes Magazine top 6 of most idyllic places to live in Europe. Well, I don’t know about that, but it for sure is a pretty cute town. Too bad all those big, fat Range Rovers are spoiling its charm since there’s always a traffic jam on the beautiful Main Street. There are a lot of great boutiques here, so if it’s shopping you’re after, you can’t go wrong in Burford.
Don’t forget to check out St. John The Baptist Church just off Main Street. We were looking at the beautiful tombs outside the church when a lovely older gentleman approached us and gave us some historical insights. He told us that these graves are known as bale tombs since the top of the tombs were designed to represent bales of wool. They are only seen in the Cotswolds, and this churchyard has some pretty amazing ones. We were also encouraged to enter the church since it has a pretty interesting design, and it’s named one of England’s top 15 churches. Just for the record: there are around 50.000 churches in England. Crazy.
Cottage Vibes in Bibury
If you’ve ever seen the inside of a UK passport, you’ll probably recognize these lovely cottages. This is Arlington Row, and I think it’s the cutest row of houses I’ve ever seen. Well, maybe it’s a tie with the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. You can find Arlington Row near the tiny Cotswolds town of Bibury. It was a cold Saturday in February, so we didn’t had to share these cottages with a lot of other tourists. But in summer this place gets CRAZY busy with tour bus after tour bus. So time your visit well: either in winter, or very early in the morning the rest of the year.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black swan before (though I seriously saw one yesterday in the Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam). But right when we parked our car, we spotted this beautiful creature. She/he is quite the local celebrity since we spotted a lot of “Greetings From Bibury” postcards featuring this black swan.
Apply to Hogwarts in Gloucester
Okay, confession time: I am a Harry Potter fan. Nay. I am a Harry Potter freak. I’ve read the books multiple times, I’ve watched the movies multiple times, and yes, I once pretended to be Harry Potter at a high school dance. Side note: my BFF was Draco – and we thought we were quite awesome. Which we totally were. True story.
Anyway, if you’ve ever dreamed of going to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (WHO HASN’T?!) then a trip to Gloucester Cathedral is a must. It was used as a film location for the Harry Potter movies; the Hogwarts hallways, the girl’s bathroom were Hermione was trapped with a troll, the toilets that Moaning Mertle flouded, and remember ‘The chamber of secrets has been openend’ written in blood on the wall? Gloucester Cathedral.
Since we already made the trip to Gloucester we also explored the historical docks that trace back to the 1800s. This Victorian port once was the hub of all overseas inland import coming from the West. Pretty cool to roam around this old industrial area.
Pampering in Cheltenham
On the west border of the Cotswolds you will find a wonderful regency spa town. Its natural springs were discovered in 1716 and Cheltenham is still referred to as Cheltenham Spa. It has beautiful Regency architectural buildings and broad tree-lined lanes, giving everything a very luxurious vibe. In summer, you can take a dip into the Lido, one of the largest outdoor pools in the country. Since it was raining cats and dogs, we only did a short stroll along the boutiques at Montpellier Street and the beautiful Promenade.
Grab a delicious sandwich at The Swallow Bakery, and don’t forget to stop by Olive Clothing where I bought an adorable shirt with tiny ice creams embroidered on it. Hello: TINY ICE CREAMS! Had to buy #sorrynotsorry. This lovely little shop was recommended to me by one of my favorite UK Instagrammers @rebecca.kathryn, who also sells her beautifully illustrated cards (@wildflowerillustrationco) at this shop. Go check her out!
Brunch in Oxford
If there’s one thing that we absolutely LOVE when it comes to food, it is brunch. We heart brunch oh so much. Maybe because it’s not really a thing in Holland – although Amsterdam is catching up quick. We love going for brunch when we travel, and if you’re anything like us you will ADORE (yes people, shouty capitals are needed here) this amazing spot in Oxford. Gee’s is one of the best places for brunch in town, and it definitely did not disappoint.
It is set in a beautiful glass house surrounded by gorgeous plants, and the food is mighty, mighty fine. Of course I had the Avocado with Salmon and Poached Eggs, and of course the husband went for their take on a Full English Breakfast. Oh and what can I say: if there’s Banana Bread on the menu, you order it. No doubt about it.
Roaming Blenheim Palace
Not far from Oxford you can find one of the greatest palaces in all of England, a World Heritage Site, and the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Welcome to Blenheim Palace.
It was built in the early 18th century as a gift to the Duke of Marlborough, and it is still owned by the same family (we’re currently on the 12th Duke of Marlborough). The palace itself is simply stunning, but I especially loved the gardens. You can either buy a ticket to see both the palace and the gardens, or only the gardens. And what I really appreciate is that you can claim a free annual pass if you donate the price of an entry ticket. We saw a lot of locals walking their dogs on the expansive – and I mean EXPANSIVE – palace grounds, and I can’t think of a better place to walk your dog.
After our visit to Blenheim Palace it was time to head back to the Birmingham Airport for our evening flight back home to Amsterdam. We’re definitely coming back to the Cotswolds to explore even more of those lovely market towns, and hike across more beautiful hills. Put the Cotswolds on your UK wish list. Just do it. Trust me. It’s great.
While I can imagine the Cotswolds being absolutely beautiful in summer, with all those English roses blooming everywhere, I prefer the calm and quiet of the winter season. The Cotswolds get pretty swamped with tour buses in summer, but we barely saw any tourists on our February trip. And I think that grey sky and soft fog make for a magical romantic vibe. Looking for more travel inspiration to the UK? Check out our trip to the gorgeous Scottish Isle of Skye in February last year here.