Staycations in The Cotswolds have become the minibreak of choice for the fine and fabulous. Interiors and lifestyle stylist Leanne Eccleston gives us the inside scoop on where to see and be seen ….
Northumberland may have utterly stolen my heart but if there is one place that could lure me away from the the breathtaking beauty of our wild and spacious county, it’s The Cotswolds. With its rolling hills, honey-coloured picture perfect villages and an abundance of heavenly country hotels, indulgent restaurants and independent boutiques nestled in each picturesque High Street, it has become home from home over the past few years. The cherry on the cultured Cotswolds cake, is that it is only 90 minutes from dazzling London by train. Blessed with a mere 48 hours, I packed our itinerary to the rafters and hit the road…
Where to stay
Four and a half hours later we arrived at the cute-as-a-button Little Cotswold Cottage and felt immediately at home. It was as though we had stepped into that infamous cottage from The Holiday and we were soon living the rustic cottage dream. From the reclaimed wood salvaged from RAF Brize Norton which has been painstakingly crafted into the perfect cottage kitchen and window seats, to the dainty winding staircase which leads all the way to the bijou freestanding bath in the master suite in the eaves, to the in-cottage sweet shop, everything has been so thoughtfully considered. The cottage is nestled in the village of Great Rollright, ten minutes drive from both Daylesford Organic and Soho Farmhouse.
Daylesford, which is a substantial Organic farm in the heart of Gloucestershire, also contains 4 beautifully converted farmhouses and one cottage located a couple of minutes walk away. Daylesford accommodation is the epitome of understated luxury and guests benefit from treatments at the blissful on-site Haybarn spa where yoga, pilates, meditation and regular retreats are held, for those weary souls who need to press the restore button. There is also an excellent cookery school for budding chefs and mini chefs alike and a full programme of events and workshops, with everything from spoon carving to floristry courses taking place in the new Garden workshop space. Throw in a garden store, cookery interiors and antiques stores and a cafe and restaurant selling beautiful seasonal food direct from the farm, and its easy to see how you can wistfully while away a whole holiday without setting foot off the farm. Having said that, you would not want to miss out on The Wild Rabbit, Daylesford’s own ‘British pub with rooms’, although to describe it in these terms might prove rather misleading, as The Wild Rabbit has been the proud holder of a Michelin Star since 2016 and is a bolthole of refined elegance set in the stunning village of Kingham. It also has 12 rooms and a further 3 self contained cottages within the village.
Soho Farmhouse is rather akin to an exclusive holiday camp for the the A list and media darlings alike. Although it’s a Members Club with a stringent entrance policy (which isn’t showing any signs of relaxing anytime soon as the Beckhams are currently renovating their barn conversion next door), there is some limited availability for mere mortals midweek and largely minus children. For those who manage to make it through the hallowed gates and board the on-site retro milk floats which serve as transport during your stay, you will be treated to 100 acres of lush Chipping Norton countryside filled to the brim with sheer indulgences. The accommodation ranges from the chicest rustic cabins known to man to a farmhouse, cottage and the most extravagant bell tents. Catering for every celeb whim, The Boathouse has an indoor-outdoor pool, there is an Electric Barn cinema, the Main Barn houses restaurants and the Mill Room, a country pub. There is even a Teeny Barn for children, a Farmshop and deli, the Cookhouse Cookery School and the infamous Cowshed Spa for those in need of relaxation.
Should you prefer slightly less pretentious, but no less indulgent luxury, I can highly recommend The Painswick in the chocolate box Village of Painswick, near Stroud. A member of the luxury Calcot group, the interiors are tastefully designed by talented interior designer Nicky Farquhar. Beautifully stylish yet warm and welcoming, you are guaranteed a delightfully relaxing stay. It’s hard to beat a sunny day sitting under a parasol on the terrace with an icy cold G&T, looking out over the stunning Slad Valley. The wisteria covered balcony is straight out of Romeo and Juliet and the staff happily hand out warm woolly blankets so you can make the most of the views, no matter what the weather. Inside, a roaring log burner will guarantee you feel suitably sleepy. In every season, The Painswick is equally enchanting and those mornings when you rise to see snow blanketing the slopes of the valley, as the sun slowly rises over the hills, are magical indeed. Grown up and refined sister hotel Barnsley House and the more child friendly Calcot Manor are also located in The Cotswolds (and luckily for those of us in the North, The Lord Crewe Arms is this group’s hidden gem tucked away in the North Penine hills).
Where to eat
Whilst I really appreciate a Michelin Star restaurant every now and again, on the whole I prefer simple, beautifully cooked dishes, using the best, preferably organic, ingredients. While my lunch at The Michelin Star Wild Rabbit, which was followed by coffee and their delectable Madeleines on the sun filled terrace felt like an indulgent treat, it was the rainy afternoon game of Scrabble accompanied by one of their heavenly cheeseboards and a perfect glass of red which was truly memorable. Or the simple Saturday evening supper at the Old Spot restaurant in Daylesford where we ate the hottest, freshest pizza straight out of the wood oven. Here it was the starter which stole the show. A simple plate of heritage tomatoes picked from the farm, with their finest Burrata, olive oil and micro Basil. Proof that the simplest plate of food using the finest, seasonal, organic ingredients is often the best. The village of Kingham is also home to the award winning Kingham Plough, which prides itself on serving up the finest local produce in a family friendly dining room. The Five Alls in Filkin, known to be the local of Kate Moss, serves up a hearty and delicious Sunday lunch in a cosy setting. Think big open fires and twinkly lights. Barnsley House, with superb head chef Francesco Volgo, serves up incredibly fine food, often straight from the kitchen garden, in an elegant dining room called The Potager, which overlooks the exquisite gardens designed my Rosemary Verey. For more informal dining, head across the road to The Village Pub in the village of Barnsley, where delicious food is served daily in a relaxed setting.
Where to shop
As an avid lover of interiors, my excitement levels peak when a trip to The Cotswolds is imminent because of the array of independent stores selling unique and cool homeware which I know awaits my arrival. During this particular trip I discovered the deceptively grand Cotswold Grey on the pretty High Street in Moreton-in-Marsh. The knowledgeable team at Cotswold Grey clearly take their interiors very seriously and have curated a beautiful space packed to the rafters with unique homeware pieces. With separate barns in the garden for vintage and antique pieces and rugs, this is a spot you might want to spend some time in! Even more cavernous is the feast for the eyes that is The Burford Garden Company. A magical garden and interiors emporium spanning 15 acres near the beautiful Buford High Street. This is a truly magnificent space which houses an inspiring mix of plants, gardenware, furniture, homeware, art, clothing, food and a children’s room to fire a growing imagination. It also boasts a sizeable cafe to refuel hungry shoppers. The recently opened Dovecote in Daylesford sells an array of interesting antiques, and paired with the spacious Interiors and Garden store, this is a must for the discerning Cotswold customer. The Cotswold Company, which sells furniture and accessories to suit luxe country life have a fascinating space in Stow-on-the-Wold. A myriad of quirky rooms make up their flagship store, which feels much like wandering around a quintessential Cotswold cottage gathering interiors inspiration galore.
Where to go
It has become quite the tradition to walk from Lower Slaughter to Upper Slaughter during our trips to The Cotswolds. It’s a short walk, perfect for little legs, but both villages are quite majestic. Lower Slaughter, with a meandering stream running through it and its own enchanting Water Mill. In Upper Slaughter you can expect plenty of thatched roofs, crooked honeycomb cottages and splendid front doors with adorable wooden porches. We always end our walk with a glass of champagne and game of croquet (when the weather allows)on the lawn of The Lords of the Manor, a very charming and secluded Country house hotel which offers Michelin star dining. Soo la di da!
A petite pitstop at the renowned Arlington Row in Bibury is always worth it for the sigh of happiness this little row of cottages evokes. A more higgledy-piggledy street it would be hard to find. Such an adorable spot is always going to attract plenty of attention, so head there in the early morning or evening to avoid the tourists. A splendid sunrise over this picture perfect row is definitely worth the early start.
Another first for us was a trip to the splendour that is Blenheim Palace. A British Stately Home, current home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and the birth place of Sir Winston Churchill, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of epic proportions. Touring the gardens could easily take a day in itself. For any fashionistas out there, you may recall Blenheim Palace as the place the glitterati gathered for the Dior Resort 2017 show and it has been used as a filming location for many a movie, from The BFG to Mission Impossible to Cinderella. Little people are really catered for here too, with a miniature train to the Pleasure Gardens which contains the Marlborough Maze, Butterfly House and Children’s play area.
Every time I leave The Cotswolds it gets a little harder to say goodbye but hopefully I will be back again by the time all the Christmas lights are twinkling and Christmas wreaths adorn the rustic cottage doors..….