Alexandra Fraser continues her tour around the British countryside and discovers a hidden gem, encased in Cotswold's stone and conveniently close to the wonderful Wildlife Park.
International travel is so lauded in our culture (when conducted sustainably, of course) that when one wishes to escape the rat race for a weekend, it’s become more commonplace to turn to the sights of Paris or Prague than to the landscapes of the Cotswolds and Kent.
I myself fell victim to this habit; aside from the odd school-trip to a sleepy seaside town to undertake activities with a questionable standard of safety for a group of ten-year-olds, up until a year ago my exploring of our beautiful isle had been limited to 30 miles in either direction from the town where I grew up.
A 31-mile trip to rural Oxford began my domestic mini-break education and stoked a desire to get to know Britain better. My next trips took me to York, then Devon, until the opportunity I had been longing for fell into my lap: the Cotswolds.
For someone who has described Cotswolds stone in every conceivable fashion for the past year on the Country Life Instagram account, driving through Burford was like driving up to the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland (an experience which was slightly disconcerting for my flatmate, already shaken from her first trip on the motorway in my car).
The yellow-stone-road Burford to Stow-on-the-Wold melted away our city thoughts, and by the time we pulled up to The Bell at Stow we were already more relaxed than we’d ever been in our two years of cohabitation.
Where to stay
The Bell at Stow is, in a sentence, exactly as it should be. Comfortable, warm and friendly, it sits at the entrance to the town like a benevolent gatekeeper, welcoming visitors within its buttery walls for a pint or two after a long trip.
We were fortunate enough to remain there for the rest of our stay. The rooms at the Bell are individually, quirkily designed in a rustic style, obscenely comfortable and come with a spot bottle of ruby port or sloe gin to enjoy before sinking into a peaceful sleep in their lovely beds. The bathrooms are full of lavender-scented products and fluffy towels on heated rails – a must, now that the temperatures are sinking ever lower.
Rooms start from £85 for single occupancy and £165 for double occupancy per night. Best rate guaranteed at www.thebellatstow.com.
What to do
Sleep was not on the cards for us – yet. After a gentle wander around the town and a perusal of the many antique shops (if you’re looking to expand your rare 50p collection, this is the place to go) I decided it was high time to announce to my flatmate, the most ardent animal lover inside the M25, that we were going to the zoo.
An absolute oasis, the Cotswolds Wildlife Park plays host to every single creature imaginable. Centred around Bradwell Grove, the Heyworth family home, the Park and gardens are lovingly laid out, perfect to amble around and admire sights one does not see every day.
One of these sights, and the one I was most looking forward to seeing, is Monty. Monty made headlines this year for being the first rhino to read Country Life. With the help of head gamekeeper Mark (the rhino whisperer) I managed to thank Monty for his loyalty with a scratch behind the ear, before meeting his newest offspring, the adorable Stella.
Make sure you leave enough time to properly breathe in the whole place, including the house and the gardens – it’s really a spectacular setting for a wonderful park. Other highlights include the lions and the giraffes, positioned a short stroll past the rhinos’ plain.
Tickets for the park start from £14 for adults, £9.50 for children and seniors and free for children under two. Book at www.cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk
Where to eat
Excitement over with, it was time to return to our temporary home for a hard-earned meal.
The day-to-night routine at the Bell is a wonder to behold; transformed from family-friendly village pub to delicate eatery in just the flick of a switch and the strike of a match. Little touches make you feel simultaneously at home and at a very special celebration; a beautiful bunch of fresh Cotswolds flowers, a comfortable cushion on which to rest your weary back, wine glasses the size of small bowls to ease away a day of walking.
I recommend trusting your waitstaff when it comes to recommendations; the prawn starter special was delicious and their surprisingly extensive wine list really shines under adult supervision. Like any pub worth its salt, their steak is cooked to perfection and their seasonal dishes will always be delicious; we tried the pork belly, but the rump of lamb now on the menu looks particularly tasty.
To finish, indulge in the dark chocolate nemesis. Paired with mint chocolate ice cream, it’s somehow both decadent and refreshing. Witchcraft.
Their breakfasts are equally well made – I’d recommend the eggs royale to properly set you up for a long drive home.
If you’re looking for a Cotswolds bolthole to escape from the city and embrace the best of the countryside in all of its forms, this is it. You may even spot me in the corner of the restaurant as I’m sure to be returning as soon as I can convince someone to endure my country-lane-driving again.
Yes - really. Monty the rhino enjoyed his Country Life fame so much that he had to have a look
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