Tag Archives: england

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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A day out on the river

I moved to England in the summer of 2013 and it was a great summer, everyone will tell you that: plenty of sunshine, warm weather, jugs of PIMM’S (the quintessential English summer drink: a dark reddish liqueur that tastes of spice and citrus fruit, usually mixed with lemonade and served with chopped cucumber, strawberry and mint) and days out on the boat. People still talk about it now, over 2 years later. English people do have an exceptional memory as far as remembering their sunny (sporadic) days.

Unfortunately, nobody was bold enough to tell me that England hadn’t experienced such a hot summer in over 7 years….you need to have balls to tell that to an Italian!!

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Richmond riverside on a glorious sunny day in 2013

The last 2 summers here (2014 and 2015) have proved that England doesn’t got proper seasons as such: we are now in December and we have 13 C. Last summer, I had the pleasure to experience 11 C in August. Usually in Italy in mid August my high heel shoes get stuck on the melting tarmac. Here my feet were vacuumed in a pair of wellies 😦

So when I am particularly down because I haven’t seen a ray of sun nor a glimpse of blue sky in weeks….then I go back with my mind to the 2013 summer. I was living in Kingston upon Thames, a great town right on the river (the name gives a good clue…), less than 30 min train from Central London.

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Riverside, Kingston upon Thames
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Riverside, Kingston upon Thames

I have never lived on a river before and since then I’ve missed it. There is always something going on on the river: noise, people, birds nesting, fighting (both birds and humans, actually)…there is life!

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Cygnets on the river bank
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New family exploring the river!

Even in autumn/winter the river is fascinating. And in summer British people do all they can to enjoy it. Every riverside is packed with people enjoying the glorious weather and having a few pints or jugs of refreshing PIMM’S. And there you spot the brave Brits. The pale-white blondish inhabitants of this island that haven’t caught a ray of real sun in ages (Magaluf doesn’t count). They do not wear sun cream. They just lay there on the grass or on the steps near the water edge (or worse, on a boat), no T-shirt on, doing their best to get that lovely lobster red within a few hours. When I see the amount of Brits literally BURNT by the sun I always wander whether skin cancer here is not an issue.

So if you are about to follow my next day out suggestion, please, please, please: bathe yourself in plenty of high factor sun cream, this is England after all 😉

If you live in a big city or if you are visiting England and have a couple of days on your side, in my opinion renting a boat and explore the river is one of the best day out you can possibly have on a great English summer day. Check the beautiful riverside mansions and gardens, stop in one of the riverside pubs for a drink (and a visit to the toilet!) and enjoy the views and the busy river life. Ditton and Hart Cruisers (based in Thames Ditton or Surbiton) offer boat hire with prices that range from around 100£ up to 300£ per day (some of them hold up to 12 persons) so there is a bit for everyone and if you share the boat with a group of friends it comes out pretty reasonable.

Get yourself enough food and drinks for the journey and start exploring!

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Fresh oranges, cucumbers, strawberries…and Pimm’s of course!
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Over a Kg. of cold pasta will keep you going!

Here is a selection of some pictures taken during our day-cruises.

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It is truly a world apart and it’s a breath of fresh air in your lungs, good for the soul and the spirit!

 

 

 

A day out in Whitstable

Whitstable is a small town not far from Canterbury (5 miles), well renowned for its oysters. If you are on your way to Canterbury and if you are an oyster fan, I suggest you plan a quick stop here.

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When we decided to visit, the weather was sunny but particularly cold and terribly windy so we couldn’t really enjoy our walk but what we did truly love was undoubtedly our meal at Wheelers Oyster Bar (8 High Street).

Menu is not particularly extensive (the one pictured below is the bar menu) but everything sounded absolutely delicious. Book well ahead (we didn’t, so we ended up at the entrance bar, which was absolutely fine since we were in for a quick lunch but the restaurant room would have been a better and more relaxed option)! Everything we had was very tasty, particularly the smoke haddock and cheese flan, the herrings and, of course, their oysters!

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Lobster Bisque

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Pickled Herring
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Can’t remember what it was…but it was delicious!
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Bar menu

If the weather is nice, plan a trip on the same day to Herne Bay, a nice seaside town not far from Whitstable.

If you are an oyster fan and you are planning a trip overseas, have a look at my post on Apalachicola, FL….possibly the best oysters I have ever had. 🙂