With its honey-stone villages and swathes of pristine countryside, the Cotswolds offers an idyllic weekend escape less than two hours away from London. It’s not all quiet walks and early nights though – pitch up at one of these local pubs and you’re sure to find hearty food, strong ales and a colourful array of locals…(including me!)
The Wild Rabbit, Kingham
Best for: Posh nosh
This chi-chi gastro-pub is brainchild of Lady Bamford, the wife of JCB magnate and owner of nearby Daylesford Organic farm shop. With her former private chef Adam Caisley manning the kitchen, the menu offers spruced-up traditional fodder that is served to well-to-do diners in a rustic-chic restaurant – think exposed bricks and flagstone floors. The four guestrooms are surprisingly affordable after one Bellini too many.
The Chequers, Churchill
Best for: Saturday night scandal
With its killer cocktails, cheeky bar staff, and guest list of celebrity drinkers (Rebekah Brookes, Alex James and Amanda Holden just some of the regulars), the Chequers is the go-to for weekend wickedness that reveals the spicier side of the sleepy Cotswolds. People watch from leather-bound chairs in the open-plan restaurant or, for a more discreet dinner, ask for the tucked-away table upstairs.
The Kings’ Head, Bledington
Best for: Hobnobbing with the locals
Nestled behind a pristine village green, this quintessentially English pub is quaint, cosy and full of character with its low-beamed ceiling, strong ales and trusty band of merry local drinkers propping up the bar. For a proper knees-up, time your visit for one of the pub’s famous quiz nights or join in with when the Irish fiddlers come and whip up a jig and a sing-along.
The Kingham Plough
Best for: Gourmet grub
Cooking up a storm in this gastro pub is head honcho Emily Watkins, former sous-chef to Heston Blumenthal. She provides classic pub food with a good dollop of sophistication – perfect for foodies wanting to please the palate in a casual pub setting. Those on a small budget can settle for the dangerously moreish bar snacks – duck fat-doused chips, tubby pork pies and scotched quail eggs.
The Bell Inn, Sapperton
Best for: Walkers’ paradise
Those hankering for a wholesome escapade will find The Bell a popular hangout for wellie-wearing ramblers. Stock up on country air by following the well-trodden circular walking route through thick woodland and down leafy lanes that ends back at the pub for a hearty lunch and well-earned pint.
The Hollow Bottom, Kineton
Best for: Horsing around
Racing aficionados hedging bets on the Cheltenham Festival can score a tip or two at the Hollow Bottom where racing memorabilia plasters the walls and jockeys meet to celebrate their win. Just a few miles from the race course, the pub offers special packages during race week and even a free mini bus service to cart betters back and forth.
The Wild Duck, Ewen
Best for: Lazy Sundays
Low-hanging beams and surly portrait hangings give bags of character to this unfussy pub that gets it right with its huge Sunday-lunch portions and faultless Bloody Marys. Roaring log fires and a sunny outside terrace makes it a good all-rounder come rain or shine. The proximity to Prince Charles’s country pad, Highgrove House, means you can go for a post-roast snoop around the Royal gardens should it take your fancy.
The Fox Inn, Great Barrington
Best for: Alfresco drinking
While the bar may be small and a little dingy, the Fox’s overriding draw is its vast beer garden flanked by a gurgling river and overlook bucolic Cotswold hills – picturesque to the extreme. Come summertime, the lively atmosphere steps up a notch with weekend barbeques, its own music festival (the aptly-named Foxstock) and the arrival of popular local circus, Giffords, which pitches its big top next door.
Lords of the Manor, Upper Slaughter
Best for: Weekend with wow factor
This 17th-centry stately manor house won’t fail to impress with its antique furnishings, manicured lawns and lavish Michelin-star dining. Those planning an overnight stay should be prepared to splurge on rooms that, with four-poster beds and freestanding baths, resemble a scene from Downtown Abbey. Otherwise, an afternoon cream tea and stroll around the surrounding woodland still offers a spark of magic.
The Swan, Swinbrook
Best for: Diplomatic dining
This sweet cottage pub rose to fame earlier this year when David Cameron strolled in with his new pal, French President François Hollande. Make like the leaders and find a discreet corner to pull up a pew and put the world to rights over potted shrimp, rainbow trout and apple crumble. If you’re less inclined for business talk, the gourmet burger night on a Thursday is a good way to chew the fat with the locals.