Tag Archives: countryside

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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3 good reasons to visit Tuscany now…

Let’s face it: sipping a glass of vino rosso overlooking the Tuscan hills is possibly one of the best thing you could do on a sunny day in Italy. While plenty of people choose to visit Tuscany during the summer, the wiser (and the luckier) that can plan to visit out of peak season will be pleasantly surprised by the peacefulness of one of the richest region in Italy in terms of history and natural beauty paired with great food and wine – and friendly locals! Plenty of people from all over Europe (and the world, I would say) choose Tuscany as their second home, as well. And if you spend a few days in this corner of Italy it’s not difficult to understand why.

Up to a couple of years ago, quite sadly my knowledge of Tuscany was limited to Florence and Siena, two stunning cities that it is impossible not to fall in love with. It is only when I seriously thought of moving here that I started to explore a lot more, discovering some amazing towns, villages and hidden corners of a region that offers absolutely everything for everyone (I still haven’t tested its seaside yet….just waiting for the great weather to start!) Life goes at a much more relaxed pace than life in the north of Italy where I come from and I suppose that is another good reason that it attracts plenty of people from all around the globe, for just a few days or for a lifetime.

As for many regions in Italy, when to visit is the key. In some Italian regions most tourist related businesses completely shut down during the late autumn/winter months until early spring and then become unbearably busy and congested with skyrocketed prices during the peak summer months (mid-June to mid-September) making the whole travel experience less enjoyable and less relaxed.

Probably Tuscany will never feel too congested (with the exception of its main tourist spots) since it’s not too difficult to get out of the main towns and get lost in stunning countryside lanes where you barely meet anyone but it’s no doubt that part of Tuscany’s charm is to be able to enjoy its beauty without stress and without crowds.

Why should you choose to visit Tuscany now? Here are 3 good enough reasons why you should not wait for summer – if you can!

1. It’s very quiet. Unless you like visiting towns and cities surrounded by crowds of tourists, having almost to push to enter to any major tourist attraction, having to queue in any restaurant and having to book your accommodation months in advance to avoid disappointment…THIS (and the late summer too) is the perfect time to visit. Tuscany in general can get very busy but it is also true that – generally – people tend to concentrate in some specific areas: Florence, Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano or a bit further down in Pienza, Montalcino and Montepulciano. As soon as you leave these main cities/towns, you will be pleasantly surprised to notice how some charming and pretty villages barely get any visitors out of season. The big crowds will not arrive until mid June and if you plan smartly you may have a town or a village all by yourself (such as the tiny villages of Monteriggioni, San Quirico d’Orcia or in Bagno Vignoni). A great opportunity to enjoy the peace and the quietness that Tuscany should convey to any tourists.  

 

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Framing Bagno Vignoni in Val d’Orcia

 

 

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The pleasure of not having to queue for a table…in Bagno Vignoni

 

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San Quirico d’Orcia

The same goes for traffic. Whilst traffic in Tuscany is quite an overstatement compared to where I have previously lived (Milan, Madrid, London), during the peak months car parks tend to fill up pretty quickly, roads can get busy (particularly around the big cities, such as Florence and Siena) and make the whole experience less enjoyable, if you are planning to drive (which in Tuscany is undoubtedly the best option to reach some of the most fascinating places). Being quieter, generally also means that you will receive a better service in cafes, restaurants, hotels etc: staff are at the very beginning of their working season and they haven’t got the stress of the whole season on their shoulder – yet!

 

2. It’s more affordable. Visiting Tuscany in peak season (particularly July – August) can be obscenely expensive. In the main cities (namely Florence and Siena) most businesses that cater to tourists will be open all year round but in the small/mid size towns in the countryside, most businesses will generally close from November to March/April for lack of tourism. This is typical of many regions in Italy (including two other stunning regions like Puglia and Sicily) and unfortunately it is as a real limit of the Italian way of thinking: having more businesses and services open all year round would encourage more tourists to come off-peak, particularly in regions where the weather is reasonably good all year round. Anyway, it’s in this time of the year (March – May) that you should still be able to find good prices. Though it’s true that cities like Florence and Siena are generally expensive all year round, hotels and bed and breakfasts near the most touristy towns (San Gimignano, for example) have far more affordable room rates than the peak season. To save a bit of money, choose an accommodation to use as a base to explore near to the main tourist towns without having to pay the premium of sleeping in it.

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Your very own private terrace in Montepulciano. 

3. It’s beautiful. Against this argument you could probably say that “it’s beautiful all year round” and that it’s absolutely true but its beauty is also in its peacefulness and, above all, its colours. Though autumn offers arguably a more interesting palette of colours, spring is the perfect time to visit: trees start to blossom, the air is crisp and clear and days are wonderfully bright. After a long winter (this year actually not so long and cold), sun is finally shining, swifts are out and about, days are getting longer and sunset are getting gorgeous. During day time temperature can go up to 25C, whilst in the evening you will still need a medium weight jacket. Overall: DIVINE!

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Door detail, Sovicille (SI)
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Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

 

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Enjoying an healthy portion of local cold meats and cheeses at Enoteca di Piazza, Montalcino
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A quiet evening outside Palazzo Salimbeni, Siena
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Enjoying the sunset having a glass of wine on top of San Gimignano towers

For more information on accommodation, restaurants and places to visit, have a look at my other posts on Tuscany!