Cotswolds: Look Local

A place of pheasant-filled fields, Champagne picnics and chubby Labradors lazing by fireplaces, the Cotswolds is England at its best. But the most authentic way to experience the region is to live like a local. Here are some tips, gathered over many visits, one Wellie-booted walk at a time.

Understand the different sub-regions. Like any large, spread-out district, the Cotswolds consists of multiple areas, each with their own very specific reputation. Those who prefer the southern Cotswolds refer to their neighbors to the north as "posh," "trendy." (Soho Farmhouse is located here.) The south, which includes towns and areas around Cirencester, feels more like wild farmland, and everything feels more rustic, from the restaurants and pubs to shops and sightseeing. Without a doubt, even a first time visitor will note a difference in the towns; simply, you're more likely to pass by on country roads Range Rovers in the north, and tractors in the south.

For heaven's sake, get your pronunciation straight. Few things make Brits chuckle more than hearing Americans mispronounce town and city names. The Cotswolds area is home to a few tricky titled villages. Here are some pointers, and when in doubt, ask a friendly cab driver or hotel concierge to take pity on you.

  • Cirencester ("sy-ren-sess-ter")
  • Gloucestershire ("gloss-ter-sher")
  • Tetbury ("TET-berry")
  • Bibury ("BY-berry")
  • Cheltenham ("cheltnum")
Rent a car

. Bopping along the country lanes on your own is a big part of enjoying the region, so anyone who is comfortable with driving on the left should definitely rent a car for a stay in the Cotswolds. Be very careful, particularly when making turns, err on the side of letting other cars go first, and most importantly, rent a car with a GPS. Many addresses are convoluted, so the best way to make your way to your destination is to find out the postcode ahead of time, and plug that into the navigation before departure. British postcodes are far more precise than American zip codes, particularly in the country, and are more effective in getting you to your destination than even an accurate address.

Dress (down) the part. No one in the country dresses up, so pack jeans, cozy cashmere sweaters and your Barbour jacket. Shoes should be limited to flats, sneakers and Wellies. To wear heels in the Cotswolds would simply be nonsense.

Know your Normans from your Saxons. History runs deep in the Cotswolds, where most roads were built by ancient Romans (the straight, uncurving ones, all the better for soldiers' marching). You'll come across churches and chapels that were built when the world was considered flat and Florence's Duomo wasn't yet in the planning stages. Beef up on ancient and medieval English history prior to a visit, so as to further appreciate the age of villages, and to note the difference in architecture.

Be cool. Chances are high that you will come across a member of the royal family—or at least casual mentions of them—while in the Cotswolds. Do not be starstruck. Feign nonchalance to references and proximity of royalty.

Know the pub is not just for pints… The Cotswolds is home to some spectacular dining institutions, many of which happen to be pubs. In fact, the term gastropub was born here, and meals in these bars are a far cry from the beef and kidney pies of past. Make it a point to dine out in as many pubs as possible, and ask for (and order) the special. Some favorites include The Wild Rabbit, The Wheatsheaf and Village Pub.

… but bring a hollow leg. The region is home to some excellent microbreweries and a fabulous craft truffle vodka maker. Afternoon tea is often served with Champagne, there are always an array of fine whiskeys available, and restaurants' wine lists are of extremely high caliber.

Know the towns worth visiting. The Cotswolds is home to a seemingly endless number of small cities, towns, hamlets and villages, so it's important to know which are worth visiting and which can be skipped. Tetbury, home to Prince Charles's Highgrove, is a charming town full of beautiful antiques stores and a cute café. Cirencester, too, has some excellent spots worth checking out, including some very good restaurants, like Made by Bob.

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