The Best British Boltholes Just Outside of London

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Even the most dedicated city slicker needs to take some time off. Thankfully, you don’t need to travel too far from London to discover charming villages, historic royal places and sprawling parks. Here’s where to head when you want a rural retreat.

Explore Oxfordshire’s historic haunts

From the ancient redwoods that cast a majestic shadow over the wildflower meadows of Harcourt Arboretum, to the Baroque brilliance of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire is bursting with atmospheric attractions. Revel in the area’s rich history with a detour to White Horse Hill, which has a well-preserved Iron Age fort at its summit, and spend an afternoon discovering how Oxford got its romantic nickname – the ‘city of dreaming spires’ – with a visit to the architecturally stunning university, Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera. As the day draws to a close, the historic village of Great Milton and its 15th-century manor house turned hotel Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons offers a tranquil place to relax and recharge.

The old-school surroundings are home to chef-owner Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-star restaurant and, if you are feeling inspired to create your own culinary masterpieces when you return home, there’s the on-site cookery academy that makes great use of Le Manoir’s produce-packed kitchen garden and botanical glasshouses. 

Le Manoir's Japanese Garden

Credit: Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons

Immerse yourself in Kent’s green spaces

Find out why Kent has been nicknamed the ‘Garden of England’ as you explore its lavender fields, apple orchards, vineyards and oast houses. Not only have fruit and hops (used to brew beer) been harvested here for centuries, the coastal towns of Whitstable, Margate, Deal are also home to heaps of fresh produce – from oyster beds to seaweed that features in locally made beauty products. From seaside to the countryside, the county is packed with tranquil green spaces just waiting to be explored – in fact, the Kent Downs have officially been named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The perfect base for rural rambling, the team at The Pig at Bridge Place provide colourful wellington boots so you can embark on your own explorations. Follow the winding tributaries of the River Nailborne, which gently trickles through the property’s back garden, before wandering down the road to Howletts Wildlife Park where injured or unwell animals are nursed back to health.

The Restaurant at the Pig at Bridge Place

Credit: Jake Eastham

Soak up village life in The Cotswolds

It’s no wonder The Cotswolds draws visitors from around the world, thanks to its charming villages, thatched-roofed cottages and cobblestone streets. Stroll down Burton’s medieval main road, gaze at the Georgian-era marketplace in Woodstock and explore Bampton, which fans of the TV show Downton Abbey might just recognise. Then there’s the picture-perfect village of Broadway and the famous Lygon Arms hotel, which dates back to the 13th century and once hosted Oliver Cromwell. Enjoy your very own slice of Cotswolds life at Dormy House. Having started out as a farmhouse many centuries ago, the original flagstone floors and oak beams have been given the boutique treatment and rooms now feature hot tubs and jacuzzis. 

The Blue Lounge at Dormy House

Credit: Dormy House

Make like a member of the royal family in Berkshire

The county of Berkshire revels in its regal connections. Home to Ascot Racecourse, which was founded by Queen Anne in 1711, and a prestigious polo club where the Prince of Wales tournament is held, it’s rumoured that Prince Harry stayed at Coworth Park the night before his wedding. It’s hard to believe this 18th-century manor house turned into a modern hotel is just 25 miles from London as it’s surrounded by the rolling hills of Windsor Great Park. Once the private hunting ground of Windsor Castle, today its award-winning gardens, ancient woodland, historical monuments and forest trails are open to members of the public. Make like a king or queen and enjoy the hotel’s afternoon tea – a decadent selection of sandwiches, scones and pastries that’s been voted one of the best in Britain – before asking your butler (ok, your partner) to prepare the huge copper bathtub in your room for a pampering session that’s fit for a king or queen. 

A Suite at Coworth park

Credit: Coworth Park

Sample some of Sussex’s award-winning sparkling wines

Who needs French champagne when you’ve got delicious sparkling wine being made using traditional techniques right on your doorstep? Sussex is home to lots sprawling vineyards packed with chardonnay, pinot noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, which are picked, crushed and blended to make some award-winning bubbly. The restaurant at Gravetye Manor showcases the offering from Ridgeview – a family business that’s been producing wine at the foot of the South Downs for more than 20 years. If you can tear yourself away from the sumptuous suites – think four-poster beds and heaps of original features – and the stunning landscaped gardens at Gravetye Manor, it’s also worth raising a glass of the fizzy stuff during an open day at nearby wine producers Nyetimber or eating lunch overlooking the vines at The Eighteen Acre in Bolney Wine Estate.

Gravetye Manor

Credit: Gravetye Manor

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