Centring on Gloucestershire, with guest appearances from Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds are only a 2-3 hour drive from London. Their genteel hills attract walkers and riders, their perfect honey-stone villages are a magnet for the well-heeled in summer. Their old walled gardens, honey-stoned cottages, lush churches built by rich wool merchants and stone footbridges over trout-flecked streams have been described by A A Gill as "the honey-dipped bollocks"; but the fact remains that the Cotswolds are gorgeous, pastoral England-as-you-imagined-it. No wonder the celebs - Liz Hurley, Kate Winslet, Damian Hurst - have homes here.
Nearer London, the glorious green hills of the Chilterns stretch from the idyllic Thames Valley in Berkshire to Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Along the way their chalky scarps offer some of the finest views and loveliest woodlands in the Home Counties; come in spring for bluebells galore. Dotted among them are pretty redbrick towns – Goring is a favourite of ours – as well as some of the most quintessentially English institutions: Windsor Castle, Henley Regatta, Eton School, the Ascot Races. Flowing through them all is the glassy Thames, so grab a bike and negotiate towpath and river, preferably squeezing in a pretty pub on the way.
Heading west, the Cotswold Hills give way to the wilder woodlands of the Forest of Dean and the serpentine valley of the River Wye, beloved among canoeists, hikers and falcon-spotters. There are gorgeous towns here, too: half-timbered Ledbury, tiny Tintern, or long-beloved Hay, with its endlessly browsable bookshops and brilliant literary festival This is where Gloucestershire and Herefordshire meet Wales, so you can zip up into windswept hills and down into empty valleys: don’t miss Llanthony, with its crumbling priory.