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August 5, 2016 / oneworld82

Beautiful English countryside! Cotswolds (with a stop in Gloucester)

Come the weekend, and it was time to explore some of the much talked-about English countryside. Blame it on the stunning location of Downton Abbey if you like, but I have been longing to visit this part of the World for a while now, and some research quickly convinced me that the Cotswolds – a stretch of countryside nestled between Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, was the place we needed to visit.

A quick online search also showed a number of historic manor houses (converted to hotels) in what was and still is a very rich part of the country, so we really only had to chose our favorite retreat and go.

The region is an easy two-hour drive from Heathrow; the major towns (that many uses as base to explore the area) are Cheltenham and Gloucester. The latter was our first stop, as we had heard wonders of the Gloucester cathedral, built as an abbey about a millennium ago and final resting place of King Edward II among other dignitaries.

While Gloucester is nothing special, the cathedral and its cloisters are really splendid – a great example of Gothic architecture with magnificent statues and tombs. Also, while touring the cathedral we discovered that the writer of the tune of the U.S. national anthem was originally from Gloucester – in fact, a U.S. flag is present inside the cathedral to commemorate the fact. If you are interested in learning more about the history of Edward II and the circumstances of his murder, you can read about it here.

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As I mentioned earlier, in the Cotswolds there are plenty of luxury hotels and manor houses, all of which are splendid. One in particular caught our attention, at the very doorsteps of the region, right outside of Cheltenham (which, by the way, is supposedly a beautiful, Regency city with a very famous horseracing track): Ellenborough Park.

As soon as we arrived to the hotel – which has 61 rooms – we realized that we had found the perfect place to spend a romantic night in the English countryside. The house is beautiful (it was restored in 2011), all built in stone and bricks, with magnificent lawns all around. The staff was very courteous and helpful – they escorted us to our room and carried our luggage while offering to park our car as well.

The common areas were gorgeous – this house was built in the XVI century and still retained all its charm. The bar and the main restaurant (Beaufort Room) were very atmospheric and quintessentially English.

Ellenborough Park

Ellenborough Park

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The room, located in one of the former stables, was fantastic – bedroom on the lower level and bathroom/studio on the upper floor, with a very comfortable bed and great amenities including luxurious robes, heated floors on the bathroom, and Noble Isle products (I loved them, by the way).

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The pool deck of the hotel was gorgeous, and the water – heated at a comfortable 30C – allowed Olivia to have the first swim of her life – it was such a special moment for us and the surrounding made everything perfect (not even the thin, constant rain could spoil it).

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As I like to treat my wife (and she deserves every bit of it, given how hard she works inside and outside the house!), we had a bottle of Billecart-Salmon ready for us in our room, delivered perfectly chilled in ice with two flutes. While that was great, dinner at the Beaufort Room was even better, as the service was outstanding and food excellent.

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The room is very attractive – upscale traditional English manor house with wooden panels all around and nice white table cloths. Our server (she was Portuguese if I am not mistaken) came right away to introduce herself and to offer us drinks and menus. Service was excellent throughout the meal.

Bread was brought to our table – a neat loaf that was half wheat and half white.

The menu featured a good variety of meat and seafood, and the fish of the day was sea trout. Executive chef David Kelman is a 3 Rosettes recipient and makes excellent modern-British food. All the food at the Beaufort Room is locally sourced, and the website provides a neat breakdown of where everything comes from.

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We started off our dinner with a couple of appetizers, which were great!

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As main course, Thuy had the pork while I opted for the sea trout – a fish I hadn’t had in ages but that I always liked a lot. Both dishes were exquisite – my fish was delicate and moist.

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Sea trout

Sea trout

We had our food with a carafe of Languedoc rose wine – light and enjoyable with any dish (and a nice complement to the previous Billecart-Salmon).

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For dessert, Thuy had the blood orange Alaska (which she enjoyed a lot), while I decided to try some of the cheeses from the tray. Just like at Launceston Place, the Beaufort Room has an amazing cheese cart with lots of cheese, which our server proceeded to illustrate one by one with great expertise. I picked five, and they were served with assorted crackers and jams, making me a very happy camper (a glass of Tawny Port to go with it helped as well!).

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Overall, the meal was fantastic, and we left very happy (admittedly, the wine and the fact that Olivia slept all evening helped a lot :D).

But while we came here to relax, we also came to explore, given the wealth of interesting towns and attractions that the Cotswolds have to offer. We set off to Broadway, driving through charming Winchcombe. All the towns in the region retain a peculiar, centuries-old charm, given by the high-quality houses built with the wealth that the wool trade brought to the area.

Winchcombe

Winchcombe

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Broadway was very charming and picture-perfect, with its stores, restaurants, and tea houses lined up along the main town’s road. As one could expect, when we visited it was drizzling – a feature that if anything makes the Cotswolds look even prettier and gives out a lot of green.

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We stopped by a local tea room to have cream tea (I believe it was Broadway Deli), which is tea served with scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam – an authentic English tradition and definitely a tasty one. The tea house we visited was clearly a local’s favorite – as the various older ladies chatting over tea demonstrated. Like most of the shops around here, it had wooden furniture and rock walls, which kept the temperature constant inside and that added to the authenticity of the place.

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After we left Broadway we drove to Chipping Campden – one of the towns we definitely wanted to visit, but once we got there we realized how exhausted we were and so we headed to our port of call for the night, the King’s Arm Restaurant & Hotel in Cots-on-the-Wold, about 20 minutes away.

Cots-on-the Wold is a charming village (population: 2000) that features a large, beautiful town square where a large wool market used to be held – the old stocks can still be seen along the square. The town is also famous for its antique stores – which to be fair can be found in most placers around here.

Cots-on-Wolds church

Cots-on-Wolds church

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We checked in into our hotel, The King’s Arms – a neat traditional pub with a few rooms – and we really liked our simple yet oh-so-local room – a cottage on two levels with an under-roof bed – nothing fancy but definitely charming.

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Breakfast at the hotel was very good…

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…and the pub had a pleasant atmosphere.

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King's Arm restaurant menu

King’s Arm restaurant menu

We explored town, with its church and alleys featuring neat shops and restaurants. For dinner, we headed to the Butcher’s Son – a highly-rated restaurant serving some delicious food.

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As you might have already understood, the theme of the trip has mostly been relax, let our daughter have some good fun, enjoy the countryside, and eat well. I strongly believe than you travel with all your five senses, and taste is certainly something that adds up a lot to any trip, hence we do not mind trying good restaurants whenever we can (although our waistline might think differently, which means that once back home diet and exercise become paramount. After all, we plan to go to Sanya later this Fall, and since that will be a beach vacation it will require us to be sort of in shape!).

For the night, we visited the highly-rated Old Butchers, a trendy-yet-traditional establishment just off the main market square (the heart of town). We started dinner by sharing an appetizer – tempura style courgette flower. It was very light and flavorful, and we definitely enjoyed it.

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Then, as main course, Thuy had a very good asparagus risotto while I went for stewed oxtail, which was amazing as the meat was very tender and the sauce really flavorful.

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We ended the meal with a pot-au-chocolat – good but nothing memorable. Overall, it was a delicious dinner that set us for less than 50 pounds – a bargain if you ask me!

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The day after we went back to Chipping Camden, looking for one of England’s national symbols – the bluebell. While usually these beautiful flowers blossom in regions farther north, we heard that the highly-rated Hidecot Gardens in Chipping Campden had them, and so off we went. We drove through some small and winding country roads to get there – the landscape was truly bucolic rain notwithstanding. As we stopped by roadside to take some photos, we couldn’t help but notice the myriad snails happily enjoying the rainy weather – and we wondered why they weren’t a more common feature on local menus.

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On the way to Chipping Campden

On the way to Chipping Campden

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The town misted in fog...

The town misted in fog…

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Once we got to the gardens we found more people than expected given the rainy weather – I guess Brits don’t mind being outdoor with rain. We did not find bluebells, but we found an amazing English garden that kept us entertained for about one hour and half, as we wondered through the various areas of a perfectly-tended garden. Also, primulas were blossoming – very pretty flowers.

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After we left the gardens we set off to explore Chipping Campden town center while looking for some lunch. Needless to say, the town was very pretty with tea houses and restaurants all along the main thoroughfare, and in the end we ended up having lunch at the Lyons Arms hotel’s restaurant, which focused on traditional Cotswolds dishes featuring meat from animals raised on the family farm. Here Thuy had the fried chicken – served with chunky chips and green peas – while I had the steak, stilton, and ale pie – served with chips and peas as well. I washed what was an excellent meal with some local Golden Fleece beer. The highlight of lunch was the English couple sitting next to us: we chatted with them while waiting for our food for 15-20 minutes, and we had a very enjoyable time. They were from Windsor, and they were visiting for the weekend.

After lunch we started our journey back through Moreton-on-Marsh, and in a couple of hours we were at Heathrow where we checked in for our next flight to Oslo.

While waiting we had the chance to try the Aspire Lounge at T5 – it was small and busy and the spa charged very high rates for showers and treatments, but the food spread was good and overall it was ok for an hour or so.

What can I say… we REALLY enjoyed our couple days in the Cotswolds. While we explored only a few towns, the scenery was so beautiful that we are already longing to go back! The region offers a lot – including Stratford-Upon-Avon nearby for Shakespeare enthusiasts, so you can rest assured you will never get bored. I highly recommend you get out of London next time and you explore the beautiful English countryside – it will definitely be worth your while.

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