I HAD been to England in the past, but had never really seen it until I ventured out to the countryside. From rolling hills to ancient castles, amazing food in the middle of nowhere, and historic pubs, here are ten reasons the UK countryside is the ultimate storybook trip.

[Note: Dayana was a guest of UK Countryside Tours.]

1

The UK has stunning natural landscapes

I’ve always been a fan of Alice in Wonderland, even as an adult (especially as an adult). Touring the UK countryside from Cambridge through Nottinghamshire and Manchester gave me an eyeful. I frolicked through green fields, saw sheep and horses, spent time strolling by quiet rivers. The UK countryside is the ultimate place to go if you’re looking to relax. Waking up early gives you a front row view of the pink, unspoiled sunrise and an hour before sunset makes for the best Instagram shots of your life.

2

You can take a romantic "gondola" ride

My first stop in the UK was Cambridge. This tiny town is super cozy with its cottages nestled closely along the road and charming old colleges. I went on a Charles Darwin themed tour. We walked by the 300-year-old mathematical bridge and headed to King’s College. I swear, if my college had as many tranquil courtyards as this one did, I would have done way better in school. If you’re traveling with kids or are looking to come study in Europe, visiting the Cambridge colleges is a great idea. One of Cambridge’s favorite traditions is punting. This is the English version of a romantic gondola ride, and you can’t really say you’ve experienced the town if you haven’t been on one of those rides. Pop into the Sedgwick Museum of Geology for some seriously cool dinosaur bones and old manuscripts.

3

It has some serious historical fashion

Are you a fan of over the top elaborate dresses from the twelfth century? How about we mix that up with some edgy Alexander McQueen? You got it. The Chatsworth House team has taken it upon themselves to create an incredible fashion exhibit right in the heart of the UK countryside. I met the Duke of Devonshire himself, who explained that the “House Style” exhibition is curated by Hamish Bowles of American Vogue and sponsored by Gucci. It showcases the history of garments and links names from the past 500 years of history, such as the “Empress of Fashion” Georgianna, Adele Astaire, and Stella Tennant who was photographer with her grandmother, the 11th Duchess. You can easily spend an entire day here, between trying to picture yourself in the priceless dresses, being wooed by the architecture of the house and frolicking in the garden.

4

You can feel like a princess (or prince) for a day

I always imagined the UK countryside as a storybook land. Turns out I was right. On my visit to Haddon Hall, I got to feel like a princess for a day. This is where The Princess Bride and Pride and Prejudice were filmed. I lucked out, arriving on the last day before a new movie was set to begin shooting. Haddon Hall was completely empty for about 200 years until recently, when Lord and Lady Edward Manners decided to move back in and open it for visits. I got a tour by Lady Edward herself. The house makes you feel right at home, thanks to its location amid a green field divided by a tranquil river. The rooms felt cozy despite the fact that no one occupied them for two centuries. The cooking area is the best example of Tudor style kitchen in the world. It used to get so hot in the kitchen, that cooks couldn’t even have clothes on. It was all aprons and pure work ethic. I felt instant gratitude for being born in the 21st century. Haddon Hall is an incredibly scenic place, so make sure to bring your camera.

5

UK pubs are on point

I love a good drink. I also love ghosts and weird stories. This is why I was super entertained at The Eagle pub in Cambridge. Covered in graffiti from World War II, this bar is historic for many reasons. It was here that James Watson announced the “discovery of the secret of life” a.k.a the DNA. He did it over lunch, my tour guide told me, and everyone proceeded to celebrate heavily. This is the same bar that is haunted by the ghosts of two airmen who died under suspicious circumstances. The creepy duo supposedly hang out in a room on the second floor, so the window must remain open at all times. Once, someone closed the window and a small fire started inside, urban legend tells us. I would not take my chances.

6

You’ll get to hang out with Robin Hood

Robin Hood is so much more than Men in Tights and Disney. Actor and activist Ezekial Bone embodies the character perfectly as he takes you on a tour of Sherwood Forest. The forest is one of the most relaxing places I’ve been in, ever. This is the home to many famous oaks, including The Major Oak, which is over 800 years old. The forest is a triple SI (scientific interest), and it’s not hard to tell why. Ezekial Bone took us on the secret paths of the forest, which by now he knows like the palm of his hand. He used to work here as a ranger before dedicating his work to the art of Robin Hood which he has represented for 20 years now. If you’re traveling with kids, bring them here. They’ll have plenty of space to play. You will, too.

7

The UK countryside has the best cuisine you’ve never heard of

When I think of “English food” chicken tikka masala usually comes to mind. Even my friend from Yorkshire tells me that by now, Indian food has well replaced traditional English dishes. The countryside is determined to change that. In fact, there’s a vibrant food scene rising in literally the middle of nowhere. I had lunch at The Peacock Country Inn in Henton. The dining room was extremely cozy and service was so good, it felt like the dishes were floating in and off the table, that’s how good the staff was. I had a delicious plate of green risotto with a duck egg and hazelnuts. The buttery, baked parsnips and beets on the side tasted like pure love. Dessert was tea in a porcelain cattle and an assortment of chocolates, butterscotch and toffee. The founder of UK Countryside Tours and New York Times nature columnist, Jim Dixon, said that for 20 years the UK had “forgotten how to cook.” He explained that now it is sexier to know how to cook as a young professional, as opposed to doing finance or any other flashy career that has been glorified in the past years.

8

You can join a real life murder mystery

I’ve been obsessed with the 1985 film Clue for a long time, so when I saw the hotel I was about to spend the night in, I nearly lost it. Ye Olde Bell in Nottinghamshire is a real life murder mystery manor. In fact, they are hosting one this May. The hotel dates back to the XVII century and was well-liked by Queen Victoria who stayed there at a special suite. Each of the 59 rooms here is decorated differently. Mine looked out to a green field and treated me to one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen. Ye Olde Bell is very elegant, charming and mysterious. Despite the fact that it’s been around for four centuries, the hotel and restaurant areas are all equipped with cutting edge technology. Dining here is a great experience - you can pick from an elegant restaurant, a lively bistro, and a garden terrace. There is a large venue designated for weddings and other formal events. The hotel is currently working on building a spa, which will be top-notch luxury and comfort. I’ll be honest, I had real trouble leaving this place.

9

There's a lot for those who love art

The UK countryside is home to a few awesome galleries where classic and contemporary art come together to create one complete experience. On the tour, I visited the Harley Gallery and took a peek at the Portland collection, which belonged to the 5th duke. I was completely into the paintings of rare birds which were sold for only £20 at the time. Crazy, right? I got a tour of the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. The tour began with brunch at their sunny cafe, where I had the impossible task of choosing between a full English Breakfast and the gourmet avocado toast. I had both. The gallery is located right in the park and offers a free entry. The exhibition I saw was on textiles from all over the world. What made an impression on me were all the workshops for parents and children that were taking place that morning. The gallery does much more than just display art. It educates families, hosts Tai Chi classes and helps people with mental disability experience art through shapes.

10

The UK countryside will make you a master chef

Or at least a baker. One of my favorite stops on the tour was the School of Artisan Food, a non-profit organization in Welbeck which happens to serve the best bread and butter in town. Alison Swan Parente, the founder, had us over for a homemade lunch. You can’t even begin to imagine my excitement when I was let loose at a buffet of locally made cheeses, fresh olive bread, cured meats and piccalilli. That last one was a new experience for me, and I liked it. The School of Artisan Food started in 2009 when Alison retired and found herself with “too much time on her hands,” she admits. She wanted to make sure that artisan schools continue to exist, so she channeled her passion into the organization. Today, the school teaches everyone who’s passionate for the craft how to bake the perfect loaf of bread with chef Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, make rich butter, brew beer, do charcuterie like a pro and even make chocolate. Students come from all over the world. One of the most notable representatives is from Iraq. She was farming on the border and all she wanted was to learn to make mozzarella. Alison proudly shared that all of their graduates go on to be successful in their niche. Visitors can take advantage of the classes as well. One of the most popular ones is the “pig in a day” class, where you learn how to skillfully prep a pig in a few short hours. Their brewery led, by Claire, produces 155,000 pints a month. This spot should be on top of your bucket list.

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