Gloucester itself is a couple of hours from London or Heathrow by car. Once you're in the shire, the country-lane driving can be magnificent. If you want to hire a car, Smith cardholders get a ten per cent discount at Hertz. Go to www.hertz.co.uk for more details, and quote '635230' when you reserve a car.
Birmingham Airport is the nearest, but it's still an hour's drive from anywhere relaxing. Heathrow is probably a better bet: it's only a couple of hours from most of Gloucestershire.
The Heathrow Express train runs every 20 minutes to Paddington Station, and from there you can pick up a connection to Gloucester, Moreton-in-Marsh or Cheltenham Spa. From London Gatwick Airport, it's easiest to get a train to Reading and, from there, a connection to Moreton-in-Marsh, in the heart of the Cotswolds.
Code for the UK: 44.
Laurie Lee's tale of a childhood in rural Gloucestershire, Cider with Rosie, is a lush, lyrical memoir that's gorgeously evocative of the area. Great British poet UA Fanthorpe lives in Gloucestershire and writes about the area. Try her Collected Poems or Queuing for the Sun. There's a much-loved poem by Edward Thomas about the pure, unexpected pleasures of a small Gloucester village: 'Adlestrop'.
Do go / Don't Go
If you want guaranteed sunshine, you're in the wrong country, even if it's mid-July. The Cotswolds are always beautiful, though: just wrap up in the winter, avoid tourist traps in the summer, and always take an umbrella.
Gloucestershire glows with culinary pride - there's great local produce and plenty of chefs who know what to do with it.
Some of the smaller towns have a very limited taxi service, so book well in advance; ask staff at your hotel to book for you - they'll know the best local companies.
As per the rest of the UK, tipping is discretionary, but 12.5 per cent is appreciated.
Take some decent walking boots and a waterproof jacket if you plan to do any exploring, and leave some space in the suitcase for the slabs of cheese and homemade pickles you'll be tempted by in the local shops.
The Arts and Crafts movement began in the area, and its influence is everywhere. Kelmscott Manor, the house William Morris shared with Gabriel Rossetti, is beautiful (+44 (0)1367 252486; www.kelmscottmanor.co.uk). There are more Arts and Crafts wonders at Rodmarton Manor in Cirencester (+44 (0)1285 841253) and Hidcote Manor Garden, near Chipping Campden (+44 (0)1386 438333). Cheltenham has a year-round array of events, including the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, which has hosted writers as various as Stephen Fry, Maya Angelou and Bret Easton Ellis (www.cheltenhamfestivals.com).
Take a walk through the fabulous Rococo Garden at Painswick (01452 813204; www.rococogarden.org.uk). This extraordinary example of 18th-century Rococo outdoor design was left overgrown until the Seventies, when it was rediscovered and restored. Now you can dine there, get lost in the maze, see an outdoor Shakespeare production, even host a very chichi wedding.
There is great antiques shopping to be done in Gloucestershire, with plenty of Arts and Crafts represented, as you'd expect. Stow-on-the-Wold is the antiques epicentre, but try Burford, Cirencester, Tetbury and Moreton-in-Marsh, too. There are also some excellent local markets: Moreton-in-Marsh on Tuesdays, Tetbury on Wednesdays, and Cirencester on Mondays and Fridays. If you're a foodie, you could spend many happy hours in the House of Cheese in Tetbury, where you can get life-affirmingly wonderful cheeses, as well as chutneys and pickles, or in the Daylesford Organic Farm Shop.
Just north of Stow-on-the-Wold, the Broadway Tower is a glorious 18th-century Gothic folly perched 312 metres above sea level, offering soul-soothing views across the Severn Valley and to the Welsh mountains.
Walking in Gloucestershire is a joy. The Cotswold Way is a well-marked trail that, in its entirety, runs 105 miles from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south. Pick up a walking guide from a local tourist office and choose a section that suits your energy levels.
March If you're feeling sporty, visit the Cheltenham Races, including the Gold Cup (www.cheltenham.co.uk). From April, you can watch the polo at Cirencester Park Polo Club (www.cirencesterpolo.co.uk). October Cheltenham Festival of Literature has big bookish names every year (www.cheltenhamfestivals.com).