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The Best Places to Stay in the UK

Thames Valley and the Chilterns

Most people's first impressions of the countryside west of London are from a car window barrelling along the M4 or M40. These bustling commuter routes flanked by hi-tech business parks barely hint at the tranquillity and history beyond the hard shoulder. There are glimpses – Windsor Castle, red kites wheeling over the hills – but to see why this is one of the UK's most desirable and prosperous regions, you need to leave the motorway and roam the B-roads and byways – or take to the Thames, the ancient and elegant arterial route which binds much of this region together. Both the Thames Valley and Chilterns are rather vague territories, comprising chunks of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and occasionally Bedfordshire. The Thames Valley runs west from London, via Windsor, Henley-on-Thames and Reading, before heading northwest to Oxford (and continuing beyond Oxford, though this guide does not). For centuries a bolthole for London's rich and famous, the region is sprinkled with grand country houses, affluent riverside towns and gourmet restaurants. Shopping, dining and messing about in boats vie for visitors' attention. If you're not in a rowing boat or a pleasure cruiser, it's a great region for a stroll, too: the Thames Path runs continuously along the river, making for idyllic walks past swans, rowers and weeping willows – and you're never far from a good pub. The Chilterns run northeast from the Thames in a broad swathe of rolling hills that reaches up into Bedfordshire: in motorway terms, roughly from the M4 to the M1, just beyond the M25. Their inner fringes are almost London suburbs (Amersham is at the end of the Metropolitan Line), but it's a predominantly rural region of great walks and cycles through wooded valleys and chalk grassland, and with some wonderfully blustery high points. Buzzards and red kites – reintroduced very successfully from Spain in 1989 – are a common sight, and give a wild frisson to the genteel villages of South Bucks. Combining fine countryside, easy access and increasingly chic places to stay and eat, the Chilterns are a deservedly popular getaway for frazzled Londoners.

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Thames Valley & the Chilterns

Idyllic walks, and you're never far from a decent pub. Frazzled Londoners apply here.
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