The Cotswolds are no strangers to attention. The rural region, which was awarded National Landscape status in 1966, has long been a ‘bucket list’ destination for many travellers; the golden villages and stone-walled fields are the epitome of British rural romance. But the majority of visitors to the Cotswolds go to a small handful of places, such as Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold and Broadway.
These are all fine examples of typical Cotswold villages, but they are overcrowded, underwhelming and all based in Gloucestershire or Worcestershire. Focus on the Bourtons and Broadways and you’ll miss a whole corner of the Cotswolds quietly buzzing with brilliance: it’s time to finally give the Oxfordshire Cotswolds the attention it deserves.
This region naturally attracts visitors. But those who visit the far eastern reaches of the Cotswolds usually converge on two main places: Woodstock for a tour of the behemoth that is Blenheim Palace, and Burford with its sloping high street. In the former case, many tourists will only see the beautiful estate of the Duke of Marlborough, while missing the beautiful little working town that lies next to it, and the latter is still easily missed if you bomb down the A40 with Cheltenham in your car. sights.
Everything else in between – from tiny chocolate box villages that could put the likes of Bibury and Broadway to shame, to luxury hotels and restaurants that give London a run for its money – are left largely untouched by the mass tourism that ravages the popular parts. of this National Landscape. But perhaps not for long: there are new things in the works in this neglected part of the Cotswolds that make it well worth the detour, and there are plenty of other attractions that have always been here, waiting their turn in the spotlights.
The most famous recent project is undoubtedly Estelle Manor, a gigantic resort in and around an imposing country house just outside Witney and the borders of the Cotswolds. You might recognize the name of Maison Estelle, London’s seductive, secretive private members’ club owned by entrepreneur Sharan Pasricha. At their new Oxfordshire outpost there are 108 bedrooms, a handful of luxury homes on site, a heated outdoor pool, padel and tennis courts, an archery range, a kids’ club, a high-tech AI-powered gym and a soon-to-open bathhouse that promises to be a stretch to be better than all the other spas in the area. It’s a worthy one white Lotus place.
However, don’t get excited if you think you’ll stop by for lunch at one of the three restaurants, or enjoy a day trip to the spa. This is for overnight guests and members only, so you’ll either have to find a room (from £450 in low season), or join the waiting list to become a paying member for just £3,600 per year – plus the €500, – registration costs. Sound a little familiar? That’s because Estelle Manor isn’t the only private members’ club to find a new home in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds: Soho House arrived here in 2015 and has been turning away non-members ever since.
Fortunately, it’s not so exclusive everywhere in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, as I discovered on a January morning with the effervescent Victoria Proffitt-White. She is an Oxfordshire resident from Long Hanborough and has been organizing tours in the Cotswolds since 2021. Cotswold Teacup Tours not only restricts travel to the Oxfordshire enclave, but has become a regular feature on Proffitt-White’s most popular routes as it is packed with unintriguing places to visit. “I go to Bourton if I have to,” she told me, “but I try to steer people away from the more popular areas.”
It was a crisp Saturday morning when she picked me up in her chic red and white VW minivan and took me for an early walk to Widford Church. It’s certainly not an exclusive venue – anyone can visit and the 40 minute walk from Burford is beautiful – but it felt like it was exclusively ours that day as there was no one in sight apart from a bunch of dog walkers. their prancing, fleece-wrapped whippets.
“The church was part of an entire community in the Middle Ages, but it was largely wiped out during the plague in the 13th century and now this is the only complete structure left,” she told me as we surveyed the rolling meadows that and were pockmarked at times. destroyed house. This is one of the many places she takes visitors looking for a slice of the ‘real’ Cotswolds, and she says the corner of Oxfordshire is the best place to find just that.
As we headed back to Burford, we bumped into Deputy Mayor Michael Taubenheim outside his eccentric Greyhounds B&B, which has some of the best gardens in the whole of the Cotswolds. He told me how the town, which has long marketed itself as the ‘gateway to the Cotswolds’, was located along a major highway and once prospered, but in the 19th century a bypass was built and the number of coaching inns and shops fell into decline. But today, he says, things are better: 64 of the 68 shops in the city are run by independent entrepreneurs – including five of his own – and attract many visitors to their shopping street.
“The busiest year I ever had was last year,” he told me. Maybe it’s the Estelle Manor effect, or maybe it’s because visitors to the Cotswolds are tired of shuffling through crowds and want a change. That’s the word Richard Martin used to describe it when I visited his shops and exhibitions at Cotswold Woolen Weavers.
“West Oxfordshire has always been different,” he told me. “It’s very nice, but it’s a workplace. There are people who like that chocolate box thing and they don’t care if it’s full of people and it’s artificial in some ways, but there are people who like the idea of coming to a place that’s very beautiful and very is nice, but is actually more real.”
However, you can still find a chocolate box here. Villages such as Churchill, Kingham and Minster Lovell are just as beautiful as their Gloucestershire counterparts. Even Burford has its own version of chocolate box beauty, thanks in part to the 19th century bypass – the Victorians paid scant attention to the town after the new road was built, meaning many of the 16th and 17th century buildings were left standing untouched.
And behind one of those unassuming, century-old facades in the city lies perhaps the most exciting new opening in all of Oxfordshire: Bull. Not Taurus. Not Bull in Burford. Just Bull, an 18-room hotel from the creepy mind of PR mogul Matthew Freud – a Burford resident since 2008 – opened in late 2023 and is looking to do things differently, like the rest of the county.
The hallways are lined with impressive works of art by Grayson Perry and Damien Hirst, including the artist’s controversial chess table that you can sit at on the way to your room, and the bedrooms have a kind of organic, pared-back luxury feel, with a few unusual touches ( hello, wardrobe wine fridge).
There is a 10-course tasting menu at omakase restaurant Hiro, an open fire dinner, outdoors and in all weather conditions (under canvas cover) at Wild, and a communal dining concept restaurant called Horn which is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday for the lunch. The property has brought a new level of innovative and luxurious hospitality to a classic, chocolate box-worthy town in the Cotswolds.
Left-field luxury aside, most of us just want a cozy pub to curl up in, and the Oxfordshire Cotswolds has pubs in abundance. The Lionhearth Group has three great drinkers worth a visit, all well loved by their local communities in Churchill, Ascott-under-Wychwood and Salford – even on a soggy Friday evening in January it was quite a challenge to get a table at the Black Horse. And in Woodstock, if you can tear yourself away from the sepia Blenheim Palace or, better yet, move away from it completely, there’s the brilliant Back Lane Tavern serving internationally inspired small plates.
Combine all this with some fascinating local sights, such as the ancient Rollright Stones or North Leigh Roman Villa, or the FarmED complex with its regenerative growing and farming that feeds their own excellent little cafe (come on Friday for a tour), and you have a lot to love about the Oxfordshire Cotswolds.
There is so much here that I would even go so far as to say there is little need to go beyond the boundaries of the province. Sure, Bourton might have all those lovely bridges, but then there’s the ostentatious luxury of Estelle Manor, the quirkiness of Greyhounds and Bull in Burford, and all those bustling country pubs – plus the opportunity to stop at the legendary city of Oxford – why bother? I would not do it. Instead you’ll find me playing chess by the fire in Bull.
Where to stay
Bull in Burford (bullburford.com) is by far the most exciting new accommodation in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with double prices from £300 including breakfast. For something quieter, the Black Horse in Salford (lionhearth.co.uk/the-black-horse) has a charming self-catering cottage in the beer garden from £185 per night, including a breakfast basket. also offers a grill menu and serves the best Hasselback potatoes outside Sweden. The Swan at Ascott-under-Wychwood (lionhearth.co.uk/the-swan) offers reasonably priced rooms from £99 per night including breakfast.
Where to eat
The Bull in Charlbury gets rave reviews from locals for its fire-grilled food. Sunday roasts can be enjoyed at The Checkers in beautiful Churchill, and the Kingham Plow and Feathered Nest Country Inn are two more acclaimed local pubs.
Charlbury train station has direct services to London and transfers are available if you are staying in Bull. Driving to and around the Cotswolds is easy, but parking can be tricky. Bespoke tours with Victoria Proffitt-White of Cotswold Teacup Tours (cotswoldteacuptours.com) cost from £425 for six people and offer an insightful and stress-free experience.