By Lisa Loverro
I’m a city girl at heart but often love to head out to the clean, fresh mountain air. So during a recent trip to London I opted to take an excursion from the city to the area of England known as the Cotswolds.
Often referred to as the “heart of England,” the Cotswolds are a range of rolling hills and green meadows in west-central England where you are more likely to have an encounter with a random sheep than another person while strolling through its countryside. Largely comprised of small towns with homes constructed from the Cotswold stone, a type of limestone, you can easily spend hours exploring quaint villages, churches, and castles that are sprinkled within the region.
While there are a multitude of accommodations within these various villages, the newly opened Ellenborough Park Hotel (www.ellenboroughpark.com) located about 10 minutes outside of Cheltenham, one of many quaint towns here, has revitalized the area with 5-star luxury country comfort. This English Manor House, named in honor of its former resident, the Earl of Ellenborough, sits on approximately 90 acres of lush, green land and meticulously landscaped gardens. Its neighboring farmlands and rolling hills offer excellent nature hikes, where you might just stumble upon a family of sheep gracefully grazing in nature’s backyard. The majority of my trip was spent exploring the nearby towns, and the magnificently manicured gardens of Sudeley Castl (www.sudeleycastle.co.uk), considered among the very best in England. From the Castle’s centerpiece Queens’ Garden, billowing with hundreds of varieties of old fashioned roses, to the Herbal Healing Garden, the Castle has changed hands over a dozen times during its history and today it is the private home of Lady Ashcombe (whom I had the pleasure of meeting). Also on the grounds, St Mary’s Church houses the remains of Katherine Parr (the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII).
Beyond my days of meandering through the tony towns filled with eateries, shopping and their famous thatched-roofed cottages, I ventured one evening into an odd little restaurant named The Pudding Club (www.puddingclub.com) located on the premises of the Three Ways House Hotel in Gloucestershire. The Pudding Club pays homage to traditional British Puddings (known as desserts to us Americans), where I indulged in a variety of puddings including Sticky Toffee and the always-popular “Spotted Dick.” A strange club indeed, although a fascinating glimpse into the traditional art of English-style dessert tasting.
But beyond all the touring, tasting and sheep spotting, it was my stay at the Ellenborough Park Hotel that proved to be the most magical. The tranquility of the grounds, the sophistication of its staff, and the impeccable accommodations made me feel like a Queen in my own castle. The Hotel offers a Spa and a heated, outdoor swimming pool. Their Beaufort Dining Room is regal and elegant, providing a perfect setting for more formal dinners with an a la carte menu featuring classic British dishes that use only the freshest local ingredients. The Tudor Club Brasserie was a more relaxed restaurant for a casual lunch or dinner. But it was their Great Hall, perhaps the most stunning of all the rooms here at Ellenborough, which captivated me from the moment I entered the property. Perfect for Afternoon Tea, the Great Hall has been beautifully decorated by internationally acclaimed interior designer Nina Campbell. The stone walls are adorned with large mirrors and original Tudor paintings and the sofas are large and comfortable. Outside on the grounds and just beyond the house itself, there is a nature path perfect for a brisk morning hike which takes you past sheep, meadows and rolling hills high above the lush landscape. A perfect way to begin a day in the country.
My trip to the Cotswolds was a romantic adventure into the English countryside and provided me with an appreciation for the art of proper British hospitality. It’s the perfect escape just outside of London for some peaceful rejuvenation.