The Cotswolds. I know what you’re thinking. “Been there, done that, got the chocolate box with the picture of the chocolate box town.” But I bet you haven’t been to this place.
Shipston-on-Stour, on the edge of the Cotswolds between Chipping Norton and Stratford-upon-Avon, is a sleepy haven that has been a regional winner in The Times’ Best Place to Live guide two years running.
It has all the characteristics of the Cotswolds – rows of cute cottages, a pretty high street with cutesy shops, traditional tea rooms, a lovely restaurant and a village feel. It even has a Co-op and free parking.
But it doesn’t have hordes of tourists, and pretty much everyone we spoke to during our visit was a local.
The Bower House is a Grade II listed building in the centre of the town. Owner Andrew Knight, proprietor of the town’s Taste of the Country deli, has lived in the area for 25 years and always felt it lacked a good restaurant.
When two shops next to his deli closed down, he bought them and turned them into the kind of place he’d like to eat and stay.
The restaurant has a series of interlinked rooms, each with its own character, while upstairs there are five gorgeous bedrooms and bathrooms.
The panelled walls of the entrance and bar area are a vibrant kingfisher blue, while the main dining area walls are a rich claret red, interspersed with brickwork and Cotswold stone.
An eclectic mix of prints and paintings cover the walls, while the mismatched furniture sits atop a mix of flagstone, wood and tiled floors.
Our bedroom was large and lovely, overlooking the high street. A beautiful polished dark wood floor was the backdrop to a combination of antique, vintage and contemporary furniture, while glorious bold patterned fabrics by British designers brought the room to life.
The huge custom-made bed assured an incredibly comfortable night’s sleep after
a nightcap from the in-room ‘bar’ – a pretty antique table bearing a silver tray laden with local craft alcohol and pretty cut glasses.
An enormous bathroom with roll-top bath, double freestanding sinks, a walk-in shower and the most stunning unusual duck egg blue tiles was a revelation.
No wonder CN Traveller magazine named The Bower House one of the UK’s most exciting new restaurants with rooms.
On Saturday night, the restaurant was heaving with locals, many of whom were greeted by name.
The menu is gastropub-meets-bistro, with a range of tantalising sharing boards, such as whole baked camembert and a stunning section of breads from the deli next door, which we enjoyed with locally-brewed gin and whisky.
I had plump Evesham asparagus with poached duck egg and crispy shallots, followed by sea bass with roast baby fennel and a straw potato crisp.
My partner went for the tuna and cod ceviche with wasabi sesame dressing and we shared a superb creamed spinach with pine nuts and parmesan and pil pil cauliflower with harissa mayonnaise.
We finished with a white chocolate mousse with apple sorbet and cinnamon crumble and poached peach with chocolate ‘soil’ and peach sorbet.
The Bower House has a great vibe on a Sunday morning too. Breakfast is included for overnight guests, and is so reasonably priced that the locals are drawn in.
Eggs any style with toast are just £4.50; with smoked salmon another £3. Full veggie breakfast is only £6.50.
The coffee is good, the juice is fresh, the porridge is creamy and the granola, a bag of which I brought home from the deli, is the best I’ve ever had anywhere.
There was plenty to do around the area, even without visiting the Cotswold villages. Just under an hour’s drive away is Cheltenham Synagogue, which dates back to the early 1800s and serves a small, but involved community drawn from across the Cotswolds.
Elsewhere, Waterperry Gardens, home to a school of horticulture for ladies from 1932 to 1971, has eight acres of exquisite landscaped gardens with a lovely café, plant and gift shops.
Chastleton is a fascinating Jacobean house. Uniquely among National Trust properties, it has been preserved ‘as it is, not as it was’.
Having been owned by the same increasingly impoverished family until 1991, this house remained essentially a time capsule for nearly 400 years as the interiors and collection gradually yielded to the ravages of time and use.
Visitors should also stop by The Rollright Stones, which are the region’s answer to Stonehenge. A circle of Neolithic and Bronze Age stones, it is said that no matter how many times you count them, you get a different number!
Louisa’s Travel Tips
Louisa stayed at The Bower House, where rooms start at £130 per night. www.bower.house. For details about Cheltenham Synagogue, visit www.cheltenhamsynagogue.org.uk, or The Rollright Stones, see www.rollrightstones.co.uk