The Cotswolds boast some of the most beloved villages in England, capturing the hearts and imaginations of individuals across the globe. When thinking about the Cotswolds images of tiny thatched-roof cottages or golden-hued buildings always spring to mind. With these buildings comes 787 square miles of rolling hills that conceal the most beautiful villages in England. But nowhere brings quite a quintessentially British aesthetic to life as the five Cotswolds villages included in this guide! With twee pubs, rustic hotels or Airbnb’s, swans and other gentle birds flying high, honesty boxes and ancient history, these five prettiest villages in the Cotswolds are the perfect locations for a peaceful day trip from London or Wales or for a weekend break in England. To help you navigate and plan your ideal trip to the Cotswolds, this guide has all the essential information you need to know to get started.
Castle Combe is undoubtedly the most beautiful on my list of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. If there’s one thing you should know, it’s that visiting Castle Combe is like stepping back in time or into a fairy-tale story. Situated in the breath-taking countryside of Wiltshire, the Castle Combe village has a magnificent gothic cathedral, emerald ivory making its way up the building walls, and a quiet stream flowing under a quaint bridge. There’s also barely any cars. It’s as if nothing has changed around here for centuries, and I couldn’t help but think Belle’s charming village in Beauty and the Beast has nothing on Castle Combe.
It is believed that Celts initially settled in the area in ancient times and that the village owes its name to a Norman Bailey castle 1/3 mile to the north. While this castle no longer exists, there is a 14th century market cross erected where the three principal streets of the lower village converge. During the 15th century weekly markets were held and prospered under Millicent, the wife of Sir Stephen Le Scrope and then under Sir John Fastolf, a Norfolk knight who was the lord of the manor for fifty years. This is the same knight who inspired William Shakespeare’s Falstaff and who promoted the woollen industry. As a result, Castle Combe became a medieval village with a special place in English history, as the centre of a thriving wool trade!
For a small village, Castle Combe has some wonderful places to eat. The Old Rectory Pop-up Tearoom has a delightful selection of homemade cakes, savoury nibbles, sandwiches, and afternoon tea served on china. Equally fantastic and appropriately named is The Old Stables, where a cup of hot tea can be enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. At the marketplace, there are two pubs: The Castle Inn and The White Hart. The Castle Inn has an outdoor terrace, private dining spaces and 12 bedrooms. However, if you’re looking for a luxury hotel in the Cotswolds, then head to the five-star Manor House as it has a Michelin-starred restaurant, The Bybrook, and an 18-hole golf course.
Second on my list of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds is Lower Slaughter. Over a thousand years ago, Lower Slaughter was built on the banks of the River Eye, a slow-moving stream that connects Lower with Upper Slaughter. Yes, this might sound like the last place in the world where you’d find the most elegant and picturesque village in England. However, the towns name isn’t as sinister as it may seem. It derives from the Old English ‘slough’, meaning ‘wet land’.
In the village, you’ll discover a stunning 13th century Anglican parish church dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. There’s also Lower Slaughter mill, an incredible 19th century Water Mill that includes an undershot waterwheel and a chimney for additional steam power. The sound of melodious birds chirping adds to the serenity of the water, making this quaint village the perfect location for a peaceful afternoon!
Lower slaughter’s country inn, officially known as The Slaughters Country Inn, is a cosy pub made for guests to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. There’s excellent food made from the finest Cotswold produce, comfortable furnishings, superb local ales and afternoon tea, should you feel like participating in an ancient British tradition. In addition, there are 31 bedrooms, and each is designed to fit harmoniously with the house’s oldest architecture. A five-minute walk away is the equally charming The Slaughters Manor House. Not only does it look like a building plucked out of a Jane Austen novel, but it also has a lovely restaurant and a slew of bedrooms that are full of character.
The Lower Slaughter to Upper Slaughter walk is under twenty minutes and well worth the effort as you’ll pass rolling hills, grazing wildlife and jaw-dropping architecture that make rural England so famous. While Upper Slaughter is connected to Lower Slaughter, the two villages have an entirely different frequency. The latter is situated on a long, flat terrain. In contrast, Upper Slaughter commands higher ground with parts of the village, including the church, towering over acres of tiny, thatched cottages. The distance from the water also changes the atmosphere completely. In Lower Slaughter, everything was calm and tranquil, but Upper Slaughter is full of energy; from two pheasants mating to the cherry blossom trees budding early, there’s life and activity all around. For this reason, Upper Slaughter is the third choice on my list of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.
The history of Upper Slaughter is unusual but uplifting as it’s the only village in England not to lose a single man in World War One or World War Two. The 17th century style, Eyford Manor House, with its Baroque details and classic Cotswolds stone, adds to the idyllic nature and charm of the village. So it’s not surprising that the poet John Milton was inspired by its grounds to write his legendary Paradise Lost. In Upper Slaughter, the Lords of the Manor Hotel is the most praised luxury hotel in the Cotswolds, featuring a 3 AA Rosette restaurant.
Chipping Campden is slightly different to the other villages suggested in this guide to the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. The reason for this is that it is much larger and indeed populated by more people. Historically it was an old wool merchant’s town that still retains its elegant terraced High Street. Dating from the 14th century, the towns’ place name, like many Medieval settlements, reveals the purpose behind establishing the area. ‘Chipping’ derives from the Old English cēping, meaning ‘a market; a marketplace’. Wonderfully, this tradition evades time as locals repeatedly set up camp each day, selling local produce products, including very rural things like animal skin rugs.
Proceeding down the High Street, quirky shops, old inns, hotels and restaurants are all housed in the characteristic honey-coloured limestone buildings. However, Chipping Campden is set apart from other Cotswold towns as it boasts a wealth of fine vernacular architecture. This is a style characterised by using local materials and knowledge, usually without professional architectural training. These vernacular houses include a wide range of buildings, building traditions and methods of construction. This brings to life the individuality of the town and the unique and changing identities of its previous residents. The town’s age is evoked by the weathered stones, while the grand early perpendicular church of St. James pays homage to the original wool merchant, William Grevel. There is a plaque describing him as “the flower of the wool merchants of all England”.
There are many historic buildings to feast your eyes on in Bibury, from Bibury Court to the distinct Arlington Mill. However, Bibury’s claim to fame and the reason it earned its stripes as the most beautiful village in England is the picturesque Arlington Row cottages. Think Poldark meets Lark Rise to Candleford, and you’ll just about imagine its quirkiness and quintessentially English vibe! Originally built in 1380 as a monastic wool store, these buildings were later converted into a row of cottages for weavers in the 17th century. They are now in the care of the National Trust. But if you’d like to stay in one, number 9 has been converted into a guesthouse with two bedrooms. You can check the house’s availability here.
These cottages overlook a water meadow and the Arlington Row River. It is easy to imagine an elderly labourer of the 17th century sitting on a bench here, contemplating life while smoking a tobacco pipe. It has the appearance of having been left behind in another century. However, due to its National Trust status, Bibury sees more tourists than any other Cotswold village. For this reason alone, Bibury takes fifth place in my list of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. The amount of people, cars, and busses shatter the illusion of a small country village, and to avoid this, I’d recommend coming here early morning.
Exploring each Cotswold village is a unique experience, and this guide to the five prettiest villages in the Cotswolds will help you prepare for any upcoming trip. If you are looking for more quaint, picturesque villages, check out my Portmeirion Day Trip Guide, my guide to the best off the beaten track locations in England or Lacock: A Quintessentially English Village.
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