The Cotswolds have always appealed to an “elite set”. But it was the events of 2020 that sent interest in the rolling hills of the South West sky high. “During Covid a lot of people started relocating out here,” former Vogue editor Plum Sykes tells me over the phone from her own Cotswoldian digs, nestled on the hills between Cheltenham and Cirencester.

“I’m talking about these mega rich hedge funders and people who were normally working in London. The giant palace in Holland Park was swapped for a giant flat in Holland Park. Then the house was swapped for a giant manor house in the country. They moved that domestic centre to the countryside rather than it being in London. And then everything became elevated.”

And now the area is set to be even more so, with Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce said to be pitching camp for the European Eras tour in a £3.3 million home in Great Tew near the Cotswolds’ social epicentre, Chipping Norton. The picturesque town is already stocked with big names, including David and Victoria Beckham, Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron. And Tayvis are just the latest Americans flocking to this stretch of the British countryside. They’re joined by Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Ariana Grande. Oh, and Swift’s new friend, Kate Moss, has a home 30 minutes away in Little Faringdon.

While the area has long been registered as an AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty), it’s quickly becoming closely associated with another acronym: UHNW (ultra high net worth).

It’s this group of people that Sykes’s latest novel, Wives Like Us, centres around. The “Country Princesses” of Oxfordshire with their dinner parties, disagreements over diamonds and doting butlers. Because if you think the English countryside is all green wellies, muddy Land Rovers and grey-haired ladies in tweed, you’d be wrong.

As it turns out, there’s a brand new way to “do” the Cotswolds in 2024 which has attracted the fresh crop of starry socialites. That means out with theBarbour and Hunter wellies, in with the mixologists and Marfa Stance. We asked Sykes to fill us in.

Where to eat

Plum highlights The Woolpack Inn, situated in the Slad Valley of Stroud, as a favourite. The 300-year-old pub offers verdant countryside views and vine covered terraces, as well as a fireside tavern in the winter. Expect cod’s roe and radishes, rainbow trout and ricotta dumplings. Then there’s The Fox at Oddington, run by Carole Bamford (of Daylesford Organic supremacy), where you’ll find a Sunday roast that’s less sad, dry meat and more whole Cornish brill, complete with caper beurre noisette, pink fur potato and tender stem broccoli. Sykes also suggests the Bull in Burford, Matthew Freud’s intimate 18-bedroom hotel which contains four restaurants. One of them, Hiro, is a 10-seat omakase restaurant led by sushi masters Nobuyo Cash and Miya Cratchley, which can be a welcome escape from the endlessly (yet deliciously!) English food offering of countryside pubs.

Where to stay

As for welcoming overnight guests to the Cotswolds, Sykes is particularly excited by The Pig’s new opening in Barnsley, Cirencester. This latest addition to The Pig’s eight-property strong portfolio opens in September, with a nearby outpost called The Village Pub which is already open for bookings. Sykes says, “I’ve stayed at The Pig in Devon and it’s amazing,” says Sykes, “so hopefully that will be as good.” Next, she recommends the much-lauded Estelle Manor, which is part country house hotel, part private members club, with a 3,000 square metre Roman-inspired spa. “The uber rich with Bentleys and the private jets coming in from the south, they’re all going to Estelle Manor,” she says. “It’s an incredible setting [...] It’s definitely one of the best spas.”

Where the “new” set are going

You might have noted a certain Soho Farmhouse-shaped absence in that above paragraph, but don’t worry, Sykes insists it’s still where all the hot young Cotswolds set hang out. Expect to spot Cara Delevingne playing pool, or Jason Statham and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley arriving in their helicopter. On the first weekend of August, there’s the young Cotswolds social event of the year. “All the nepo babies are going to Wilderness Festival, which is in Cornbury,” Sykes says. She’s not wrong — Wilderness is quickly becoming the next Glastonbury in terms of star-power, having hosted the likes of Florence Pugh, James Norton, Eleanor Tomlinson and Jodie Comer over recent years.

How to throw a Cotswold dinner party

Countryside living means that the usual fun and frivolity of “going out” suddenly all happens when “staying in” in the Cotswolds. “It’s all that thing of showing off your home,” Sykes says. But if it isn’t catered, it isn’t happening. Sykes notes the latest obsession of bringing in a mixologist from London to make bespoke cocktails for guests, because not only are these dinner parties catered, they are staffed. “The butlers were all in tailcoats, and all the waitresses were in the same Liberty print shirt,” she said of a recent party.

What to wear

You might think you know the Cotswolds dress code, but you’re probably 20 years behind. The mere suggestion of Barbour and Hunter wellies is ridiculous to Plum Sykes. “Not chic,” she says, before advising Le Chameau boots instead. “They’re lined in neoprene, they’re really comfortable,” she says. “They kind of suck onto your legs, so they’re quite skinny.” As for the new Barbour, it’s all about Marfa Stance these days. “It’s like the new version of a Husky,” says Sykes, referencing the coat most often associated with the Queen. “It’s a quilted coat, but the shapes are very modern and cool. They’re so expensive — but that’s what they’re all wearing in the countryside.”

Where to shop

Farm shops are the centre of the Cotswolds universe, and Sykes knows which you’ll want to be in orbit of. First, there’s Jolly Nice in Cirencester. “They do the most incredible homemade ice cream, butchery and fish,” she says.  Then there’s Stancombe Farm Shop, near Bisley, with its roaming chickens and local honey. “No pretensions, it’s just fruit and veg,” declares Sykes. The Cotswold Cheese Company, “which has some of the best cheeses you could wish for”, has three branches in the area, including Burford. And The Old Butchers, a butchers-come-restaurant, which Sykes hails “best butcher in Stow-on-the-Wold”, sits opposite. Meanwhile, for interiors, there’s Brownrigg in Tetbury.

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2024-06-20T09:33:02Z dg43tfdfdgfd