Castle Combe? Been there. Broadway? Done that. We’re embracing the great outdoors on a post-lockdown, countryside road trip in a low-emission Volvo Recharge Plug-in Hybrid SUV, skipping tourist hotspots in favour of the Cotswolds’ best under-radar villages, wildlife-rich walks and rustic-luxe boltholes guaranteed to make you swoon.
The Cotswolds is perhaps as close as we’ll get to an English Eden. Two hours from London by car, it’s prime territory for a meandering, long-weekend itinerary that veers away from tourist hotspots in favour of off-grid, rustic-luxe boltholes that tick the boxes for romanticism.
Our curated route is filled with woodland walks, rosy-cheeked bicycle rides and back-to-nature escapism that doesn’t forgo modern luxuries. The perfect travelling partner? The Volvo XC40 Recharge, a plug-in hybrid SUV with thoughtful features that echo the dynamism of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Driver-assist technology, low emissions and integrated entertainment let you navigate rippling hills and narrow lanes with ease, enjoyment and a clean eco conscience.
If the Cotswolds is characterised by its chocolate-box villages, then consider this less of a fixed route than a five-star selection box – no strawberry cream fondants in here – simply pick and choose to suit your travelling palate. Navigating a tangle of lanes (thank goodness for sat nav), you’ll journey between Roman remains and sustainable farms, stopping in great country piles and boutique treehouses en route. Ready? Set. Explore.
Day One: North
The northern reaches of the Cotswolds are perhaps the most visited, with tourist magnets including Broadway, Chipping Norton, Burton-on-the-Water and Blenheim Palace. But we’re setting your compass towards the hidden gems.
Start your trip with a few deep breaths of lavender, a relaxing antidote that eases you away from city stresses and into country life. Stay-on-the-road technology helps you feel confident in the driver’s seat as you make the short but steep drive along the tree-canopied Buckle Street to Cotswold Lavender – tilt the panoramic sunroof and you’ll smell it before you see it.
A short drive away is olde-worlde Chipping Campden, shaped by its once-thriving wool trade and now the host of the Olimpick Games, which involves shin-kicking and dwile flonking (we’ll let you Google that). From here, pick up the Cotswold Line, a railway turned cycle route – make sure to throw your bikes on the towbar-mounted rack.
Rest aching legs on the out-of-the-way Farncombe Estate where the 17th-century Dormy House has traded country-bumpkin vibes for Scandi suave – the luxe Inscription design of the Volvo XC40 really looks the part here. Dip between the infinity pool and state-of-the-art spa before a slow-food dinner in The Back Garden. Alternatively, branch out in a Treehouse at The Fish, where a child-like enthusiasm for adventure and simple pleasures has been upgraded for discerning adults.
Day Two: East
Depart early, flicking on all-wheel drive for the smooth, snaking ride to Stow-on-the-Wold. Seven roads coalesce on this gem of a village – we like to head east to epicurean Kingham for a feel-good brunch at Daylesford which nails the balance between bucolic and bougie. There’s a handful of charging points here, so plug in the XC40 while you pootle around Daylesford’s 2,000-acre farm, take part in countrified classes – seasonal cookery, gardening, wellness workshops – or pick up organic picnic fare before continuing on your journey. The XC40 has a warren of cubby holes for keeping snacks safe.
From Stow-on-the-Wold, other options include following the A424 to Burford, the Cotswolds’ “southern gateway”, or parking at Upper Slaughter for a riverside amble along the Eye to Lower Slaughter. No sweat if you get snap happy on Copse Hill Road; the XC40 has a nifty compartment that wirelessly charges and protects your smartphone – its motto isn’t “unplug and play” for nothing.
It’s an undulating drive towards The Stump, a restaurant with rooms in the sticks north of Cirencester; avail of Volvo’s Power mode for maximum performance and check real-time traffic information to choose the best route. Once checked in, order a top-notch pizza – a welcome change if you’ve had your fill of locavore fare.
For a more isolated, off-grid stay, head east to Southrop’s Thyme, a restored manor and farm where “countryside” is a lifestyle as much as it is a destination. Browse sustainable homewares, unwind in the Meadow Spa or throw on wellies to explore the kitchen gardens before dinner in The Ox Barn. If you like the sustainable ethos here, you’ll love that the XC40 has an interior carpet crafted from recycled plastic.
Day Three: West
Driving west, you’ll pass through the Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve – shift into electric for low emissions and turn up the volume on your road-trip playlist, the Harman Kardon surround sound makes the experience all the more atmospheric.
Continue south through pocket-sized Painswick and the pastoral Slad Valley. Stop by the late author Laurie Lee’s former watering hole (and local treasure) The Woolpack Inn, before chugging lungfuls of Cotswolds air on the circular Laurie Lee Wildlife Way that passes through grassland decorated with rare, wild orchids.
For a real taste of the area, tuck in to local produce at nearby Stroud Farmers’ Market (Saturdays only) or skip the town in favour of stocking up on sustainably made, organic craft beer at Stroud Brewery. Continuing south, you can stop in the market town of Tetbury (the XC40’s bag hooks were made for holding totes choc-full with souvenirs), though you’ll experience natural immersion at its most intense in Westonbirt, The National Arboretum where 30km of walkways thread among towering redwoods and acers – don’t miss the treetop walkway.
For a stand-out romantic evening, opt for the surprise set menu at Wild Garlic or nose-to-tail fare at The Methuen Arms before bedding down in the 13th-century, Grade II-listed The Rectory in off-the-beaten-track Crudwell. Too conventional for your tastes? Fire up the barbecue at The Glamping Orchard and climb to the roof terrace of a revamped 50s caravan for a spot of stargazing. If that doesn’t make you swoon, we don’t know what will.