There’s a reason why the number of professionals escaping London to commute from country to city is steadily rising. Thanks to cleaner air, a quieter weekend life and even the odd fashionable neighbour (Soho Farmhouse, anyone?), the appeal of leaving the hustle and bustle behind is something even the most hardened city-dweller can’t deny. But if you’re not quite ready to make the move, what greater luxury is there than taking temporary leave from daily stress and heading for the hills in style?
Brummell did just this, deciding on a road trip around the Cotswolds to sample some of Britain’s best artisanal spirits, wine (for passengers only, of course), cheese and produce. Our vehicle of choice – the new Bentley Continental GT First Edition – means that the relaxation begins the moment we start the engine. In the words of Bentley’s design director, Stefan Sielaff, ‘We had the dream to do the ultimate Grand Tourer. There is enough luggage space and the interior gives you the comfort of a lounge’. It’s clear that this car is built for a swift but stealthy journey through the country lanes and motorways of England.
When you grow produce in its natural season, you need to make the least effort to influence environmental conditions
First stop is the Cotswolds Distillery (cotswoldsdistillery.com) in Shipston-on-Stour, which has been making English whisky and gin since 2014. It uses local ingredients such as Cotswold lavender in its gin, and all the botanicals used in the still are at a far higher density than in an average gin. We tried the award-winning Cotswolds Dry, and took home a bottle of the delicious Cream Liqueur. Head distiller Nick Franchino says, ‘There’s a wealth of top-quality raw ingredients grown around the distillery that we can use to make our products, and a real feeling of a shared passion among the local farmers, cheesemakers, butchers, foragers and brewers.’ This sense of gastronomic community continues as we head to the renowned Daylesford organic farm, just outside Kingham.
Daylesford (daylesford.com) is a farm-to-fork dream, an exemplary exercise in organic farming where visitors can eat, stay, take part in a cookery or garden workshop and relax in bucolic perfection. After a lunch of garden salads, organic salmon and Eton mess made with strawberries picked minutes before, we meet the man behind the produce, Jez Taylor, who manages the market garden – where more than 300 varieties of organic fruit and vegetables are grown. ‘Our remit is to grow as wide a range of produce for the Daylesford cafés and farmshops as is seasonally possible,’ he explains. ‘Eating in season is more sustainable and it’s one of our guiding principles. When you grow produce in its natural season, you need to make the least effort to influence environmental conditions.’
Before long, it was time to meet with another organic enthusiast, Alex James. The Blur bassist is an award-winning cheesemaker and farmer of a 200-acre organic estate here in Kingham. ‘[When we bought the farm] the land was knackered; we had the water tested and it was so toxic, from years and years of intensive use, but after 10 years we converted to organic and you can drink the water,’ he says. James sells a small selection of mouthwatering artisanal sheep and cow’s milk cheeses, with suitably rock star names like Goddess and Blue Monday. We’re lucky enough to taste a few, with the man himself recommending that we pair them with a local apple juice or cider.
With a day indulgent enough to make even Henry VIII blush, we head to Thyme Hotel and Restaurant on the Southrop Manor Estate (thyme.co.uk). The manor and farm date back to 1086 and have been lovingly restored by owner Caryn Hibbert. The estate’s kitchen garden and farm supply Thyme’s kitchen, spa and cookery school with seasonal produce. ‘All the dishes at Thyme revolve around the garden, the land and produce from local suppliers,’ explains chef-atlarge, Charlie Hibbert. ‘It makes all the difference in flavour and reflects the Cotswold countryside.’ Our fresh juice at breakfast the next morning was firm proof of this, using chard, beetroot and apple from the garden.
Refreshed and ready for the last leg en-route back to the city, the final stop is at Daws Hill Vineyard in Radnage, High Wycombe (dawshillvineyard.co.uk). Known for its award-winning English sparkling wine, the vineyard is run and managed by Holly Morgan. ‘Each season has its inspiration,’ she explains. ‘However, in the late summer and autumn when the grapes are ripening and have turned from fruit to alcohol, it is fascinating how small decisions can change your end product. So the anticipation of tasting a new release vintage is always exciting.’ We get to do just that, indulging in the crisp and delicious White Sparkling Brut 2009.
It’s time to head back to London, replete and relaxed in the comfortable and luxurious surroundings of the Continental GT – another example of fine British craftsmanship. As Sielaff puts it, ‘Bentley fulfills the wish of our luxury customers, not only by offering a perfect technological product but on top, the heartfelt artisan abilities of talented human beings. And this is one of the secrets of modern luxury.’