Bustling London is a fantastic city to visit—the food is going through a culinary renaissance, the list of museums and galleries is endless, and if you can stomach the British pound conversion, it also offers some seriously great shopping. But if you're anything like us, we feel drawn to another area of England when the weather cools down: the countryside. Maybe it's because we've watched The Holiday one time too many or because places like the iconic Soho Farmhouse consistently pop up in our Instagram feeds, but one thing's for sure: A cozy pub, countryside strolls, and a roaring fire sound nothing short of idyllic.
Here's the thing: Great Britain is not a small place, and driving out of Heathrow airport hoping to stumble upon the quaintest British town just won't do. So to help us map out the perfect English countryside escape, we tapped a few jet-setting It girls, from British TV host Louise Roe, NY-based PR maven Dria Murphy, who just returned from a trip to the region, and blogger Stacie Flinner, who has spent the last year traveling the world with her husband. Don't book your ticket across the pond without reading this—here are a few things to do in England that you won't want to miss.
"Bruton, Somerset, has a breathtaking countryside and so much creative energy for such a small city," says Dria Murphy, founder of Alise Collective. "The Hauser & Wirth gallery is not to be missed, along with At the Chapel hotel. If you like cheese, the Westcombe Dairy is a must."
Though British blogger and TV host Louise Roe now lives in Los Angeles, she isn't short of ideas for things to do in the English countryside. "Try afternoon tea—you'll be served a tiered cake stand full of cucumber sandwiches, scones, and clotted cream," she says. "Try a great pub for dinner, a brisk early morning walk, visit a stately home or a castle, go antique shopping (or to a 'car boot sale'—which is sort of our version of a flea market), and some horseback riding. Wearing Hunter wellies, a Barbour wax jacket, and some kind of tweed is a must."
Among It girls, one place stands above the rest: the infamous Soho Farmhouse, located a short drive from Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds. "Soho Farmhouse is special. The cabins are cozy and chic, and some have gorgeous copper baths," says Roe. Though you have to be a member of Soho House, it might be worth looking into if you live or travel to cities like New York, London, or Los Angeles a lot—the members-only private club network counts nearly 20 houses in North America and Europe. "It's a great place for work and play," says Murphy. "During the day, there are plenty of cozy spots to catch up on emails while overlooking the 1000-acre property. The infinity pool that overlooks the lake is gorgeous."
Though the founder of Alise Collective is always plugged in, she says driving around the nearby villages is well worth it: "I love visiting the Cotswolds—every village and landscape is gorgeous and charming. The rolling hills are endless, making countryside drives picture-perfect. The scenery never gets old. Chipping Norton, a small market town, has some gorgeous gardens and a beautiful church. I found the cutest old-fashioned candy shop, Cotswold Sweet Company, that had the most delicious homemade fudge."
While in the Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold is another small town not to be missed: "A day spent antiquing up and down Sheep Street in Stow-on-the-wold, with a late lunch at Daylesford Farm is my idea of a perfect day," says travel blogger Stacie Flinner.
Though you could easily tour the small town in a day, Stow-on-the-Wold is also a perfect jumping-off point to explore much of the region: "The Cotswolds is a large area full of country pubs, cobbled streets, and rolling meadows. It's like going back in time, and it's extremely picturesque," says Roe.
And if staying at Soho Farmhouse isn't an option, Murphy has the perfect alternative: "The Wild Rabbit is an amazing inn with an even more amazing restaurant," she shares. "It's owned by the chic Carol Bamford, who brought her holistic, organic farming approach to the food. Ultimately she created a Michelin-starred restaurant revolving around seasonal produce. The cozy interior feels like home."
Pack These Essentials
Wearing Hunter wellies, a Barbour wax jacket, and some kind of tweed is a must.
"The honey-hued villages in the Cotswolds offer quintessential English countryside charm at any time of year," says Flinner. "Britain's most outstanding natural landscapes are designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), and looking through the list of 46 AONBs is a good way to discover the most scenic areas of the English countryside. When visiting the Cotswolds AONB, you must pull on a pair of Wellies and chart a course through the region's rolling hills—the wolds."
"Taking a country drive was one of my favorite activities while spending time in the countryside. It is so gorgeous," says Murphy. "Topped with traditional English afternoon tea, of course." The discerning traveler stayed at Buckland Manor in Broadway, just a short drive from Stow-on-the-Wold. "Think classic English Manor House experience. This hotel is only 15 rooms, but it's surrounded by beautiful gardens and tennis courts. The rooms also include homemade biscuits. It is elegant."
For Flinner, the perfect base camp for exploring the region is located in Stroud: "I love staying at The Painswick, a Palladian masterpiece overlooking the Painswick Valley, which offers 16 stylish rooms, two living rooms with roaring fires, and a smart restaurant to match," she says. "The restaurant, the Hearth, fuelled our daily walks through the wolds with hearty English breakfasts and welcomed us back at the end of the day for a cozy meal before we'd settle into the deep sofas in the living room to enjoy a nightcap by the fire. The hotel was also prepared with several maps detailing scenic walks with varying lengths and landmarks, and a closet full of wellies for guests. In many parts of England, passing across private property is permitted by law as long as it's done respectfully, so our walks would take us along gurgling creeks, past old mills, and through private pastures and grazing cattle."
Stroll in Style
"Just north of the Cotswolds is the charming and unspoiled market town of Bishops Castle, nestled in the Shropshire Hills near the Welsh Border (also designated an AONB)," says Flinner. "Art galleries, tea shops, and two breweries (the Six Bells Brewery and the Three Tuns Brewery) are ready to help you while away an afternoon. This tiny hillside town is crowned by The Castle Hotel, an 18th-century inn with panoramic views from most rooms, excellent pub food made from local ingredients, and an extensive selection of local ales. Request a room on the top floor for the best views. We liked Shropshire so much that we're planning to return and rent a house with friends next month. The Landmark Trust is a charity that rescues and restores important historical buildings, allowing visitors to enjoy them as holiday homes."
If you only have a day to get away from bustling London, your best bet is nearby Taplow, located a short one hour drive away. "I love Cliveden House, a stunning historical home that used to belong to the Astors," says Roe. "Mackenzie and I spent our wedding night there in a private cottage that leads right down to the river." If this place is good enough for Roe and her husband to spend their first night as a married couple, it's good enough for us.
And now, this is where cool British girls vacation in Europe (and why you should too).