THE COTSWOLDS

When searching for holiday cottages, apartments, lodges, houses, canal boats, and other rental accommodation in the Cotswolds and neighbouring Shakespeare Country, there are many different websites to trawl through. We have tried to make finding your ideal holiday rental as easy as possible by already doing most of the donkey work for you and searching out hundreds and hundreds of the best available holiday properties - both directly from individual owners and from some of the best booking sites, with 24/7 online availability and secure booking facilities. Our booking partners include 9Flats, CityBase, Cottages,com, CottagesOnline, HelpfulHolidays, HolidayCottages, Hoburne, HomeAway, Hoseasons, Interhome, Manor Cottages, Mulberry Cottages, OwnersDirect, QualityUnearthed, Rural Retreats, Sykes Cottages, TripAdvisor, YHA

The Cotswolds is one of the most beautiful areas of England and the largest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England & Wales. Sheep-strewn pastures & enclosures (cots), gentle hillsides (wolds), honey-coloured stone buildings, unhurried villages, cathedral-sized 'wool' churches and mile after mile of golden dry stone walling: the Cotswolds is the quintessential English countryside and a perfect base for sightseeing, walking, exploring, afternoon tea, or just a quiet trawl through the many antique and ephemera shops.

As the largest AONB in England and Wales, its 800 square mile area spreads across five counties – Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire – offering plenty of activities and lots of space in which to find them.

Laurie Lee - the author of 'Cider with Rosie, a beloved bucolic homage to a Cotswolds childhood – lived his whole life within 2 miles of his birthplace in Stroud, travelling only as far as Slad to end his days.

As well as literary royalty there is also an abundance of genuine royalty and royal connections in the area. Probably the most impressive is Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site set in a Capability Brown landscaped parkland, home to the Duke of Malborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Highgrove, the private estate of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, is located near Tetbury and the famous organic gardens are open to the public on a limited basis on selected days of the year. Nearby is Gatcombe Park, home of the Princess Royal, which hosts a number of Horse Trials and events throughout the year. Also in the same neighbourhood is Nether Lypiatt Manor, a 16th century neo-Classical mansion, once the home of Prince & Princess Michael of Kent but sold to subsidise the £120,000 annual rent for their 5 bedroom apartment in Kensington Palace. Berkeley Castle, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is a traditional Royalist stronghold which has played a part in a number of historically significant events, including as the assembly point for the west country barons en route to meet King John for the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215; and the murder there of King Edward II in 1327. Katherine Parr, last wife of King Henry VIII, lived at Sudeley Castle, near Winchcombe. And, living like royalty, in Toddington Manor, a 300 room mansion built in the style of the Houses of Parliament, Damien Hirst the artist.

There are some seriously impressive cultured cities on the fringes of the Cotswolds, and amongst them can be found: the Regency glory of Cheltenham to the west, birthplace of Gustav Holst and home of festivals; to the north and sheltered by the majestic Malvern Hills, so beloved by Sir Edward Elgar, the lovely cathedral city of Worcester – of sauce and porcelain fame; to the east, the dreaming spires of the Oxford, home to the second oldest and top ranked university in the world, to ultra-hi-tech industries and, of course, Inspector Morse; towards the centre, the Roman settlement of Cirencester with its Roman Amphitheatre and 3,000 acre Great Park; and to the south the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city of Bath with its 2,000 year old Roman Baths, Georgian crescents and Jane Austen.

For horticultural delights, visit the aboreta at Batsford – with the largest private collection of shrubs and trees in the country – and the sublime Westonbirt – with 600 acres and over 15,000 specimens from around the world forming The National Arboretum.

Gardens to visit include the aforementioned Highgrove and Blenheim as well as: Abbey House Garden, Malmesbury; Barnsley House Garden; Bourton House Garden near Moreton-in-Marsh; Cerney House Garden, set above the Churn Valley; Colesbourne Park; Cotswold Lavender – which can be seen at the top of this page as our webpage header; Hidcote Manor Garden, one of the great British gardens; Kelmscott Manor Gardens; Kiftsgate Court Gardens; Mill Dene Garden, Moreton-in-Marsh; Miserden Manor Gardens; Painswick Rococo Garden, a unique 18th century secret garden; Rodmarton Manor Garden; Rousham near Tackley, a fine example of the work of William Kent and a precursor to the English Romantic Garden period made famous by Capability Brown; Sezincote House Gardens, an early 19th century Indian fantasy style; Snowshill Manor Gardens, with 2 acres of formal gardens divided in to individual garden rooms; Stanway House Gardens, featuring the highest gravity fountain in the world; Stowell Park, featuring one of the most outstanding Cotswolds gardens; Sudeley Castle Gardens, a thousand years of history.

If Stately Homes and Historic Houses are your thing, there is an abundance to choose from, including: Ablington Manor, a grade I listed manor house which is open by appointment only; Acton Court, believed to be the most original Tudor house in the country; Berkeley Castle, for over 850 years the home of the Berkeley family; Blenheim Palace, set in 2,000 acres of formal gardens and Capability Brown parkland; Chevanage House, a 16th century manor house with many Civil War connections (including an overnight stay by Oliver Cromwell); Charlecote Park, home of the Lucy family for 900 years and a reputed site of deer poaching by a young William Shakespeare (whatever became of him?); Chastleton House, built in 1607, and with Gunpowder Plot connections, this unrenovated house has been featured recently in the award winning BBC drama series Wolf Hall; Cornwell Manor, set in landscaped gardens and one of the settings featured in the Hollywood movie 'The Holiday'; Dr Jenner's House, an 18th century Queen Anne style house and home of the vaccination pioneer; 18th century Frampton Court, situated near the banks of the River Severn - with limited public access the opening times should be checked before setting out; Hardwicke Court, a Georgian country house dating from 1816; Kelmscott Manor, a 16th century gabled manor house which was the home of William Morris for more than 25 years; Newark Park, dating from 1550 and built as a hunting lodge for Nicholas Poyntz, a courtier of King Henry VII; Owlpen Manor, a Tudor Manor house dating from 1450; Rodmarton Manor, constructed in 1909 and one of the last traditionally constructed country houses to be built in England; Sezincote, an exotic Moghul landscaping adventure transported to 18th century England; Sudeley Castle, with a history going back 1,000 years; Stanway House, considered by many to be the archetypal Cotswold manor house; Upper Slaughter Manor, an Elizabethan Manor House with some Jacobean and 14th century features; Upton House near Edgehill of English Civil War fame and with a superb collection of accessible Old Masters; Westonbirt House, a fine Victorian concoction and genesis of the arboretum; Whitminster House, an evolving family house on a site which has been inhabited since Saxon times; Whittington Court, started in 1550 and featuring Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture; Woodchester Mansion, an unfinished Victorian house built in the Gothic style.

The Cotswolds are pretty, the landscape is pretty, the architecture is pretty....but which are the prettiest Cotswold villages? Some choices are unarguable, others may be more contentious. But here are a few to consider: Ashton-under-Hill, one of the lesser known but worthwhile, picturesque Cotswold destinations; Barnsley, dismiss South Yorkshire industrial towns from your mind - this is a chic foody destination with a country house hotel and an annual garden festival; Bibury, on the banks of the River Coln and described by the English designer, poet and novelist William Morris as the most beautiful village in England and location of Arlington Row the oldest inhabited houses in England; Blockley, the village of a hundred silk mills, well six or so, but none in operation since the late 19th century; Bourton-on-the-Water, known universally as the Venice of the Cotswolds and achingly pretty with dinky little bridges and lots of attractions to keep visitors entertained; Bradford-on-Avon, unsurprisingly on the banks of the River Avon and in close proximity to the Kennet and Avon canal and very handy for a trip to the magnificent city of Bath; Bredon, not somewhere that springs instantly to mind when thinking of Cotswold villages but well worth a visit; Burford' known as the Gateway to the Cotswolds and once voted as one of the six most idyllic places to live in Europe; Broadway, recipient of yet another 'of the Cotswolds' accolade, this time 'the jewel' and overlooked by the Broadway Tower folly (the second highest point in the Cotswolds) which, although a reasonably strenuous climb, is well worth it for the views of sixteen (yes 16) counties (on a clear day and from the very top of the tower) and the reward of a cream tea at the adjacent Cotswold Stone Barn; Chedworth, home of the eponymous Roman Villa; Chipping Campden, with what many have claimed to have the most beautiful high street in the country, a wonderful 17th century market hall and, of course, the Olimpick Games which the town has hosted since 1612; Kingham, which has in the past been voted Englands Favourite Village; Castle Combe, a film-makers favourite, and rightly so, having been featured in such films as Stardust, The Wolfman, Dr Doolittle (Rex Harrison not Eddie Murphy), and Warhorse as well as some of the settings for the Downton Abbey TV series; Lower Slaughter, regularly in the prettiest village listings and not as sinister as the name may suggest (slaughter being a derivation of the Old English word for muddy place); Mickleton, handy for Hidcote and Kiftsgate gardens and reputed to be the model for JRR Tolkien's village of Weathertop in the Lord of the Rings; Naunton, an unspoiled and lesser-visited village set in the delightful Windrush Valley; Painswick, sometimes referred to as the Queen of the Cotswolds; Stanton and Staveley, joined by a delightful meadowland stroll with, at one end, the highest gravity fed fountain in the world and, at the other, a delightfully quintessential Cotswold village with an equally delightful pub....the list goes on and some of your favourites may well be missing but these are an excellent starting point from which to plan your journey through the Cotswolds.

Some other things to look out for include: Aeroplanes, at least 200 on display at the world's greatest airshow – the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford; Aunt Sally, the traditional 17th century throwing game played in pubs throughout the Cotswolds and culminating in the annual World Championships in Charlbury; Bisley Well Dressing, originally a pagan custom of thanking the gods for a pure water supply, the Bisley Well Dressing was first held in 1863 to mark the restoration of the Village's Seven Springs; Cotswold Water Park, no flume rides or splash zones, just 40 square miles of nature reserve with 150 lakes and some very expensive holiday homes (some of which can be rented - Self Catering in Cotswold Water Park); Horse Racing at Cheltenham, home of the world famous Gold Cup; Lavender, with scenes more reminiscent of Provence, Cotswold Lavender at Snowshill offers breathtaking views of fields of lavender from mid-June to mid-August; the Randwick Wap is a series of processions and events dating back to mediaeval times and originating as a celebration of the completion of St John the Baptist Church sometime in the 14th century; Rollright Stones, a 2,000 year old Neolithic stone circle; Slimbridge, Sir Peter Scott's lifework and the winter home of up to 35,000 wildfowl; The Cotswold Lions, not the roaring kind but the bleating kind, Cotswold sheep introduced by the Romans nearly 2,00 years ago and the source of the most of the wealth in the region in mediaeval times; The Cotswold Way, 164 kilometres of wonderful walking amidst wonderful scenery; The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, providing 25 miles of steam driven nostalgia; The Romans, whatever else they did for us they left some magnificent artefacts including the Roman Baths at Bath, Chedworth Roman Villa, Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre, Cirencester Roman Wall, Great Witcombe Roman Villa, Lydney Park Roman Camp - The Corinium Museum in Cirencester houses one of the finest and most extensive collection of Roman artefacts in England; The World Shin Kicking Championships, part of Robert Dover's Cotswold Olimpicks held at annually at Dover's Hill near Chipping Campden.

More information