As any English person knows, it pays to be prepared for all four seasons, especially in the depths of winter. A crisp, sunny day can quickly turn into a torrential downpour. Still, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of shaking off your brolly after a wet and wuthering walk, and entering an inviting establishment in one of the most bucolic destinations in the United Kingdom.
With its rolling green hills and charming pastoral villages, The Cotswolds, England, between Oxford and Cirencester, is classified as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” by the British government. This picturesque region is a famous retreat for some of the U.K’s biggest celebrities, including Kate Moss, and Victoria and David Beckham. During the summer, the Cotswolds is a popular destination for nature walkers and celeb spotters alike. The weather might be more precarious in the winter, but the area is just as inviting. These are our favorite cozy places to go when the rain stops play.
Known as “the Gateway to the Cotswolds,” Burford is just a 25-minute drive from Oxford and it’s where you’ll find a garden of eden off the A40. Burford Garden Centre has been selling plants since 1975 and is a popular destination for locals, even during the winter. With its vintage timber greenhouses, a visit here is like being inside a living terrarium.
Once you’ve explored the foliage—ranging from local ferns to tropical plants—head to the art gallery to discover striking but affordable local pieces. Finish your visit with a tipple at the cafe, which boasts vintage mirrors and shabby chic furnishings. On occasion, famous chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi host evening meals here.
Just a short drive from Burford is the equally delightful Woodstock, a town created by King Henry II who retreated here to meet Rosamund Clifford, his mistress at the time. A stone’s throw from the town’s market square is stately Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. The Baroque edifice and expansive grounds—created by Henry Wise and Achille Duchêne—date back to 1704 and are now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Blenheim boasts gilded interiors and works by the likes of Delacroix. The 2,000 acres of formal gardens and parkland mean you can spend hours traipsing over bridges and admiring the flora. Like many other costly aristocratic estates, Blenheim has doubled as a film set for movies such as Young Victoria with Emily Blunt to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.The latter featured a cedar of Lebanon tree that has since become a tourist attraction.
After you get your fill of Blenheim, head back to The Feathers, a boutique hotel in Woodstock, for a drink at the Gin Bar, which once held the record for having the most gins in the world—400, if anyone asks.
For those who prefer to spend their time cuddled up with a good book instead of a tumbler of mother’s ruin, a trip to Jaffé and Neale in Chipping Norton is written in the blurb.
This independent bookstore has been open to the public since 2006. Spread across three floors in an old stone townhouse, Jaffé and Neale boast hundreds of tomes ranging from poetry analogies to science fiction. The owners, Polly and Patrick, hold regular events and talks with visiting authors. Listen to them read from their works as you savor a homemade gluten-free Clementine cake.
Looking for something a little more indulgent? Then a visit to Wild Rabbit in Kingham will be right up your alley. Owned by the Daylesford estate, one of the U.K.’s most sustainable organic farms, the Wild Rabbit is a fine-dining establishment-cum-hotel. The restaurant interior is as modern as its takes on British classics—such as venison Wellington—that feature locally sourced seasonal ingredients. For a more low-key visit, head to the relaxing bar where you can snuggle in one of the brown suede armchairs by the double-sided fireplace (maybe with a book bought at Jaffé and Neale).
Any trip to the Cotswolds isn’t complete without a stop at Bourton-on-the-Water, one of the most idyllic villages in the area. Split in two by the shallow river Windrush, visitors flock here for its low-lying bridges and sandstone Jacobean and Georgian cottages, which exude a honey glow when the sun hits them the right way.
As the sun doesn’t always shine in winter, Bourton’s Mousetrap Inn is the place to be to meet friendly locals and have a pint or two. Sunday dinner is especially inviting with rich stews of roasted meat and vegetables. Settle under the low-hanging wooden beams and let the soundtrack of chattering locals and the crackling fire wash over you. Soon the wintery weather outside becomes but a distant memory.