The Rectory Hotel, Crudwell: hotel review

The Cotswolds foodie guide: where to eat, drink and stay

This quaint corner of England is home to cosy hotels and some culinary surprises, among them artisan Israeli baking, hip burger vans and fragrant Asian broths

Looking for where to stay in the Cotswolds? Want to find Cotswolds hotels for foodies? Check out our guide to the best places to eat, drink and stay in the Cotswolds….

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The Cotswolds is all your chocolate-box fantasies rolled into one – honey-hued cottages, gardens brimming with hollyhocks huddled around duck-paddled ponds. The names are as pretty as the scenery: Moreton-in-Marsh, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold. Even the local rare breeds (Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs) have a bonny ring. The Cotswolds is Cider with Rosie country: a bucolic idyll packaged for tourists who traipse here to mooch around antique shops and take afternoon tea.

The Cotswolds is quintessentially quaint. It’s also unexpectedly vast. Count its counties: Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, plus corners of Wiltshire, Somerset, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. From north to south it’s a 100-mile schlep. Off-the-beaten-track is a concept the Cotswolds lost long ago, but its central belt – a lopsided oblong with Burford, Cheltenham, Stroud and Lechlade at the corners – does fly slightly below the radar.


Stroud Farmer’s Market

Kneading up a storm in Painswick, near arty Stroud, is Israeli baker Ori Hellerstein, whose Nelson loaves have a cult following. Named after Nelson Mandela, they’re packed full of pumpkin, poppy, nigella, sunflower, sesame and linseed, plus yogurt and golden syrup. The result is heavy but healthy with a sweetness that goes perfectly with cheese or smoked salmon. Make a beeline for his stall at the award-winning Stroud Farmers’ Market where you can find him every Saturday from 9am-2pm (fresh-n-local.co.uk).

Ori Hellerstein
Israeli baker Ori Hellerstein with his Nelson loaves

Also at the market is Hobbs House Bakery, of Fabulous Baker Brothers fame, though their lardy cakes, the local sweet and sticky spiced fruit bun, weren’t quite as moreish as those at Huffkins in Burford. Fill your bag with red wine and fennel salami from the Cotswold Curer, yogurt from Jess’s Ladies Organic Farm Milk and a bunch of multi-coloured carrots.

stroud famers market

Jolly Nice café

At Frampton Mansell, on the road between Stroud and Cirencester, the Jolly Nice café and farm shop is a gourmet pit-stop set up by Rebecca Wilson in a disused filling station. There’s a deli, a butchers selling meat from the family farm’s rare breed Shorthorn cattle, a meadow for summer picnics and a wood-burner-warmed yurt to retreat to in winter with one of the kitchen’s Jolly Nice burgers: a brioche bun piled high with salad, cheddar, smoked bacon, caramelised onions, rapeseed mayo and ketchup, the burger’s key ingredient – Shorthorn beef – still shines.

Definitely leave space for Harriet’s ice cream, though. It all started with an ice-cream maker picked up at a car boot sale on her 15th birthday. The journey to the filling station was a meandering one that involved a mobile ice- cream parlour and years of experimentation. Today, flavours range from brown bread, rhubarb and custard to chocolate and crystallised bergamot. My choice? Pistachio and orange blossom.

jollynicefarmshop.com

jolly nice ice
Ice cream at Jolly Nice café

The Royal Oak, Tetbury

Husband and wife team Richard and Solanche Craven have refurbished The Royal Oak in the Cotswolds to breathe life back into Whatcote’s village pub. The kitchen focusses on British wild food ‘shot to order’ by gamekeepers, and works with local suppliers, along with others in Scotland and Cornwall, to create seasonal dishes. Try pig’s head and black pudding lasagne with cider reduction; fallow buck with salt-baked turnip; or rabbit wellington with mashed potato and farmhouse cabbage. Comforting desserts include preserved pear with hogweed and ‘cobnut bits and bobs’, and South African wines (a nod to Solanche’s heritage) feature heavily.

The Cravens are committed to retaining the local-pub ethos in the bar and have sourced beers and lager from DEYA in Cheltenham, Clouded Minds near Banbury and Warwickshire’s Purity. The gin cabinet also boasts Countess Grey from the Cotswolds (check out our favourite British gins here).

The Royal Oak, Cotswolds

Where to eat and drink in Cirencester

Asian flavours are also on the menu at Made by Bob in Cirencester (foodmadebybob.com). Ciren is a real foodie hub with a cluster of gourmet hangouts that includes Jesse’s Bistro (jessebistro.co.uk) – the meat sourced from the adjacent butcher’s shop at the front – and Jack’s Coffee Shop (@jacks_shop). But the town’s hottest table is arguably Bob Parkinson’s fuss-free restaurant and deli a couple of streets away.

Cotswolds born and bred but returned from a stint in London, Parkinson is passionate about Asian cooking. His restaurant in the town’s old Corn Hall has a huge open kitchen and is a great place to grab lunch. On the daily changing menu you’ll often find geng jeut, a fragrant and clear Asian broth bobbing with chicken, shiitake mushrooms, coconut and deep fried garlic; and a real winter warmer – geng paneang, a rich red beef curry sprinkled with peanuts and Thai basil. There’s also a strong Italian influence – think grilled bruschetta with marinated peppers, artichoke, mozzarella, capers and basil oil – with Sardinian ingredients sourced from London-based Stefano Chessa.

Lucky onion

Where to stay in the Cotswolds for foodies

No 131, Cheltenham

Stay in  the Cotswold oblong’s northern corner at No 131 in Cheltenham. An elegant Grade-II Georgian hotel with a restaurant and handful of quirky rooms (ours had a free-standing tin bath and a knitted cosy on the teapot), it’s part of the Cotswolds-based Lucky Onion group, a clutch of restaurants, hotels, pubs and b&bs owned by Julian Dunkerton.

Much of the restaurant’s produce is sourced from local farmers and producers (order eggs for breakfast and they’ll have come from Cackleberry Farm in Burford). Our lunch of Wiltshire lamb fillet with merguez sausage, caponata and tzatziki, fregola primavera (a vibrant spring green) and beets was a riot of colour and flavour.

Beets No 131 Cheltenham

The Wheatsheaf, Northleach – gastropub with rooms

As glam as it is cosy, former coaching inn The Wheatsheaf Inn, set in a restored 17th-century Cotswold stone building, has three log fires, as well as a wood-burning stove in the snug. Get comfortable with some craft beer or a bottle of wine from the 300-strong list. There’s culinary clout too with seasonal, daily changing dishes, such as grilled whole lemon sole, grapes, capers and limes, or meltingly rare beef from Cirencester. The 14 stylish rooms here are more bourgeois bolthole than humble inn.

theluckyonion.com

Downstairs in the Wheatsheaf Inn

Barnsley House, Barnsley

Once the home of renowned garden designer Rosemary Verey, the gardens of this luxury hotel remain a highlight. Produce picked by the chefs take pride of place in dishes such as tangy Barnsley House pickled beetroot, creamy goat’s cheese curd and candied hazelnuts.

Amid such ultra-local provenance it’s easy to be caught off-guard when you discover that head chef, Francesco Volgo, is Italian and that the house speciality is vincisgrassi, a rich mushroom and truffle oil lasagne. Wandering up to bed after dinner there were two surprises in store: a packet of Little Gem lettuce seeds on the pillow instead of chocolate and, in the fridge, a handful of fresh mint for tea – reminders that outside the window was a fruitful English country garden.

barnsleyhouse.com

Barnsley House

The Rectory Hotel, Crudwell

An 18th century former rectory in the heart of picturesque Crudwell, recently refurbished The Rectory Hotel is all about intimate dinners, fireside cocktails and country walks followed by hearty food. Originally the rectory to the village church, this ancient stone building oozes relaxed country manor. Homemade cordial welcomes rosy-cheeked walkers into the drawing room, where you can warm up by the log fire and sink into pretty peacock feather-hued cushions.

The 18 rooms are all unique, with the first floor hosting more spacious rooms, and the second floor benefitting from exposed oak beams. The team at The Rectory Hotel has freshened up the interiors to preserve original features (little fireplaces, sash windows, panelled walls) and antiques, but add a checklist of little hotel luxuries (Robert’s Radios, tea and coffee from local roasters UE and Jeeves and Jericho). Beds are like huge armchairs, with velvet curved headboards in mustard yellow and forest green.

The kitchen focuses on refreshed classics. Unfussy comfort food includes fish pie, and pretty salads using fresh produce grown in the allotments behind The Potting Shed pub over the road (sister business to the hotel). The grill section includes flat-iron chicken with lemon, aioli and fries, Chateaubriand for two with roast beetroot, crispy shallots and wild rocket, and grilled catch of the day (turbot from Dorset on our visit, served with buttery Lime Regis new potatoes, watercress and a ramekin of Hollandaise).

The breakfast spread, taken in The Glasshouse overlooking the gardens, is impressive. Graze on homemade granola, fresh fruits, mini pastries and ham and cheese before taking your pick from the made-to-order hot menu (French toast, avocado on sourdough, eggs any style) and topping up from the DIY bloody mary station.

The Rectory Hotel, Crudwell: hotel review

Thyme, Southrop

Set deep in the rolling Cotswolds countryside, in the quiet village of Southrop, Thyme is exactly what you want from a rural escape. A 150-acre estate, it is home to a cookery school, pub, holiday cottages, cocktail bar and restaurant while the 15th century manor house at its heart (and various outlying barns) is now a boutique hotel. The renovation of the latter was a labour of love for its energetic, and charming, owner Caryn Hibbert and it shows. Crunch over a gravel drive and you arrive at an impressive, honey-stone Tithe Barn, home to The Baa (yes, really) with its great cocktail list. Not a bad way to kick off a stay.

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Sign of the Angel Inn, Lacock

Dating back to the 15th century, this former coaching inn sits in the heart of Lacock village. With its rough stone walls, well-worn tiled floors, moody oak-panelled snugs and imposing inglenook fireplace it’s a cosy setting for some hearty West Country food and an early night. Out at the back, a garden leads to a stream and a paddock.

West Country ingredients are put to good use in the regularly changing, seasonal menu from the 2 AA rosette kitchen. Expect local game in the autumn, hunks of blushing lamb in the spring and plenty of veg, potato and pastry all year round. Whenever you visit, though, expect to kick things off with homemade bread, slabs of cold, salted butter, oil and balsamic vinegar and a little canapé – on our visit a comforting offering of sliced white enriched with blue cheese, brown flecked with rocket and lemon, and mouthfuls of pressed rabbit, apple and fiercely pickled red onions.

There are five bedrooms at Sign of the Angel and each is comfortably chic. With little else to do in the village after dark – there’s only one other pub within walking distance – prepare for an early night. At the foot of our sink-into bed, topped with duck down and feather pillows and fringed with a homely grey blanket, thick, large towels beg to be used after a long soak in the tub.

Sign of the Angel Inn, Lacock

The Bell Inn, Langford

There are plenty of contemporary-chic gastropubs in the Cotswolds but not all manage to retain the laid-back feel of a village boozer after their Farrow & Ball transformations. Happily The Bell, a 17th-century inn in pretty Langford, on the fringes of west Oxfordshire, does.

Its combination of rustic, wood-fired comfort food, stone-flagged dining rooms, and affable service, makes it a congenial space to unwind. Eight stylishly simple bedrooms mean you can settle down to sample that cooking, relaxed in the knowledge you don’t have to drive anywhere afterwards. Digest with a stroll to Langford’s pink-towered Saxon church across the fields, then enjoy an early night.

Beautiful double room at The Bell Inn, Langford, with it's own secluded terrace

Artist Residence, South Leigh

In a sleepy village in rural Oxfordshire Justin and Charlie Salisbury, the duo behind quirky Artist Residence hotel group, have restored a 16th century Cotswold-stone farmhouse and opened it as their fourth property, Mr Hanbury’s Masons Arms. A community-focused pub, with five perfectly put-together bedrooms upstairs, Mr Hanbury’s is split into two areas – a cosy bar area with a classic pub menu and a more sophisticated dining room where guests can enjoy a fine dining menu.

Each of the five bedrooms here has its own unique quirks. Room number 4 boasts a ginormous free-standing copper bath to sink into with Bramley bubble bath, while number 2 has Sri Lankan tea chests as bedside tables and a window that looks out onto the vegetable patch. 

Mr Hanbury's Masons Arms Artist Residence Oxfordshire

The Painswick, Painswick

With affordable room rates and a playful aesthetic (note the neon sign in the reception area), this is designed as a younger, more affordable addition to the Calcot Collection’s properties (and, possibly, a Cotswolds riposte to The Pig hotels).

Bedrooms are decorated in muted natural shades, lounges come with open fires and mountains of cushions, a lawn is perfect for sprawling on sunny days, there are two treatment rooms for facials or massages and, in the hallway, scrolls of printed walking routes and a stack of help-yourself wellies invite guests to tramp out into the neighbouring Slad Valley (of Laurie Lee fame).

The Painswick Hotel Bar

The Churchill Arms, Paxford

Set the SatNav and, whichever way you approach The Churchill Arms in Paxford, you’ll travel along winding roads, lined with thatched cottages, through sleepy Cotswold villages. Your destination is equally quaint – a honey-hued pub dating back to the 17th century but re-opened after a sympathetic refurbishment earlier this year. You’re made to feel at home as soon as you step through the door of this family-friendly hostelry. Stand with the traditional inglenook fireplace on your right and choose from the bar, on your left, or a cosy dining room on your right (reached across a flagstone floor).

The pub’s owner and head chef, Nick Deverell-Smith, is a local boy and grew up eating here with his family. But while he is clearly passionate about this pub, Deverell-Smith also brings the kind of depth to his cooking that can only be won through stints in Michelin-starred kitchens.

Book into one of the pubs two, simply furnished, bedrooms and you’ll find walls painted in muted, chalky colours, original beams, hardwood floors and soft, white cotton sheets. Sit and take in the view over rolling fields from the cushioned window seats or relax in the bath after a long walk.

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Pineapple Spa, Stow-on-the-Wold

With its quirky interiors, this unique Grade II listed holiday cottage set in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds has an open log fire, free-standing copper bath and a garden with views of the stunning countryside. This quiet and cosy holiday cottage makes for the perfect weekend away.

Pineapple Spa, Stow-on-the-Wold: holiday cottage review