The Cotswolds: the very English answer to Tuscany

 

If there is a place in England that I particularly love, it is definitely the Cotswolds. Designated as one of the 46 AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) in the United Kingdom, if you choose to visit you will soon understand why: lovely and charming villages, stunning rolling hills and beautiful countryside views, amazing local pubs with even more amazing food and, above all, that feeling of being in the true heart England, which is somewhat lost in many big towns/cities in the UK.

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Views near Stow on the Wold
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Countryside near Lower Slaughter
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Windrush

Where: The Cotswolds area is located in South Central England and it stretches from the south of Stratford upon Avon down to Bath, covering 5 counties (Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire) over nearly 800 square miles.

See Cotswold Area of Outstanding Beauty Official website for a detailed map of the area.

How to visit: The best and easiest way to visit the region is undoubtedly by car, allowing you to make detours and longer stops according to your tastes. Some tourist spots are also linked by public transport but, as always, if you want to explore more, having your own means of transport would be the best bet. Of course, since walking in this beautiful area is a must, you should allow yourself enough time to explore the countryside near the most visited towns to get the real feel of the Cotswolds. Trails and paths are well posted and easy to follow, even for someone with no orienteering sense like me!

When to go: English weather is quite unpredictable by definition but a great moment to visit would be Spring/Summer, when you will definitely have more chances to enjoy the Cotswolds in the sun. The downside is that you will not be on your own, since plenty of other fellow tourists will have your same idea. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, choose the late part of Summer/early Autumn when the colours are great and you will be able to enjoy the area more peacefully. Even winter has its very own charm and a cozy gastro-pub with rooms may be the perfect solution. I have visited on several occasions and in one of them the weather was absolutely miserable but while you wait until it turns, you can always indulge in a rich pub lunch in one of its lovely towns!

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Chicken, ham and leeks pie….while waiting for the day to turn!

Which town to visit: Every town of the Cotswolds has its very own features and charm but if I have to choose a few I would definitely go for the followings:

  • Bourton-on-the-Water: the perfect town to start exploring the Cotswolds: don’t miss a stroll by the river and an afternoon tea in one of the cafes nearby. Once here, it’s also worth to visit Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter, both a short walk in the countryside from Bourton.
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Cooling off in Bourton-on-the-Water
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Lower Slaughter
  • Bibury: a charming English picture town! This extremely picturesque place may look familiar since it has been the setting for many UK films. It is very popular among tourists so do not expect a solitary stroll 🙂 but absolutely worth.
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Arlington Row in Bibury
  • Castle Combe: it will feel you have gone back in time in this small and very well preserved town that has also been called “The Prettiest Town in England”. Worth having a stroll in the grounds of the exclusive Manor House, a wonderful 5 star hotel in an absolute enchanting setting. Though choosing to sleep here may come out quite expensive, a stroll comes for free!
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Manor House, Castle Comb
  • Burford: probably one of the prettiest medieval towns in the Cotswolds with plenty of places to sleep, eat and drink. In summer it gets particularly lively and its high street extremely busy for being such a small town.
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A windy afternoon outside Burford Church

There are plenty more of course and they are all worth a visit: Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh, Windrush, Tetbury…..the list is long! 🙂 Just get in the car and get lost in this stunning corner of England.

Want a couple of suggestions on where to eat once in the area? Conde Nast Traveller and Time Out have some of the best.

I had already visited Tuscany before touring around the Cotswolds and in more than one occasion this wonderful corner of England reminded me of the central Italian region; they may not have the same glorious sunshine nor the ultra famous wines that Tuscany boasts but there are plenty of excellent locally source produce including delicious cheeses, meats, amazing artisan brews, delicious ice-creams…that paired with a stunning countryside scenery makes it really tough to prefer one or the other.

Why choose…? Visit both and I am sure you will love both! 🙂

 

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US1 Key West – Miami: Not a bad highway to get stuck on.

For some strange reasons, this post of mine never saw the light of day…. 🤔

On Food and Travel

If I had to choose an Highway to get stuck in traffic, I would definitely pick US Highway 1, the so called “Overseas Highway” that links the Keys to the mainland. You will easily understand why. It’s without any doubt one of the most scenic roads I have driven on. Miles of tarmac stretch from the Upper Keys to Key West, including the impressive Seven Mile Bridge. You can’t go any further at the end of your drive cause that’s where US 1 ends (actually, it starts here). You’ve reached Key West, the Southernmost point of Continental U.S.A. and you are officially in the so-called Conch Republic (that actually encompasses all the Florida Keys). Following a United States Border Patrol roadblock on the US 1 that isolated the Florida Keys residents, on April 23, 1982 Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow proclaimed that the Conch Republic was an independent state from the U.S.

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Fancy an Afternoon Tea?

Now that I am in Tuscany I am starting to miss a couple (or more) of lovely quintessentially British traditions that I truly think we should export on this side of the Channel. Afternoon tea is definitely one of those and I can’t understand why is not here – yet.

My first memory of afternoon tea is probably linked to the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde: it looked like they were stuffing their faces with cucumber sandwich on a daily basis. Though cucumber sandwich is definitely not my favorite sandwich, I’d happily accept it if it comes in an full afternoon tea package, possibly one of the most exquisite English rituals.

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Afternoon tea sandwiches

Afternoon tea was introduce in Britain in the early 1840s. More than a tea, it’s a meal composed of sandwiches (which are usually cut into ‘fingers’), scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes but there are many more variations. British are extremely proud of their afternoon tea rituals and hundreds of cafes, restaurants and hotel in the UK do offer this option almost daily. You can pay as little as 10£ pp up to 60£ pp (or more!). If you are in London, have a look at afternoontea.co.uk for some suggestions (and offers) of the best afternoon teas in town. If you want to combine a tour around London with an unusual afternoon tea and have a bit more budget on your side, try the BB Bakery: they serve a full afternoon tea on a double-decker bus (and many other options)…. it doesn’t get more British than this! Make sure to book well in advance since it fills up pretty quickly.

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Photo taken from BB Bakery website

If you just can’t get a good excuse to fly over to London to have a proper one, why not make it at home? I had a couple of home-made ones last summer and they were a success. It’s not difficult (at all) and it brings people together. I would say it’s more a feminine thing (and a great way to celebrate baby showers, birthdays, hens do etc) but I am sure lots of men would find it good too, especially if you add a few consistent drinks to it. 😉

 

What you need

 

HOW TO SERVE IT: tiered cake stand, teapot, teacups, cutlery. If you are planning to serve cocktails, make sure you have the adequate glasses too.

FOOD: in my home country, we are pretty traditional as far as sandwiches are concerned but when I moved to the UK I got into another world made of yummy fillings, delicious dressing sand unusual combinations (at least for me!). As my (British) boyfriend always says: “There is a lot more beyond ham and cheese!”. And he’s right. My favorites: tuna filling (tuna, chopped tomato, gherkins, salad cream, salt/pepper/lemon), crab filling (crab meat, watercress, salt/pepper/lemon), chicken filling (shredded chicken breast, leaves, chopped tomato, salad cream).

Apart from sandwiches, quiches are always a safe bet since they are easy to prepare in advance and just need to be warmed through on the day. For some amazing and mouthwatering recipes, have a look at Infinite Belly: you will not be short of inspiration!

You will need to have some sweet stuff as well: scones and cream should be a must in any afternoon tea but any other small pastry or tea cakes – cut down in small pieces, sort of finger food – would do the job. The key is to keep it coloured and not boring: sprinkle some seasonal fruit and make it even more indulgent by adding small pots of hand whipped double cream to dip fresh chopped fruit or anything else.

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TEA SELECTION: I’m not a fan of English Breakfast tea (I have not been converted after 3 years in the UK…) so I would go for any flavored tea or infusion; homemade ginger, lemongrass and honey or Moroccan tea with fresh mint would be my first choice.

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SUMMER DRINKS: Since I moved to the UK, my favorite is by far PIMM’S.

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PIMM’S Summer Garden in London

I rarely ordered any at a pub/bar back in the UK, since I quickly learned they would taste nothing like the homemade ones: almost no fruit and almost no PIMM’S :-(. So make your own is always easier and safer: it’s refreshing, fruity and it screams summer! Go for the original recipe and you can’t get it wrong. Plenty of variations are allowed of course and I found that blueberry and blackberry work great too!

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Can’t have an afternoon tea without PIMM’S.

If you can’t find PIMM’S, it’s worth trying to replace it with APEROL (bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona flavour) or CAMPARI (definitely more bitter and more “herbie”), 2 strongholds in the Italian aperitivo and generally easier to find. It won’t be the same as PIMM’S but you will still have that refreshing flavour that will work perfectly on any spring/summer day.

If you prefer to go easy and not having to prepare cocktails (though that’s part of the fun), a good bottle of cold Prosecco always works!

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I now use PIMM’S for everything…including a quick aperitivo!