Population: under 1,000

Eat at: The Green Dragon Inn

(01242 870271)

Why? The menu at this 17th-century inn includes spicy cauliflower and spinach balti pie, and oven-roasted ling fillet.

Drink at: The Golden Heart Inn

(01242 870261)

Why? This 16th-century building has log fires on cold days and a large garden for the summer. Think real ales, ciders and a comprehensive wine list.

Stay at: Cowley Manor & Spa

(01242 870900)

Why? Cowley Manor has 31 beautifully decorated rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and grounds managed with conservation and wildlife in mind.

Walk along the scenic River Churn and Gloucestershire Way through these villages and you’ll find history writ large in its Iron Age hill forts, burial mounds and barrows. Ermin Street, the Roman route linking Gloucester and Cirencester, runs near Coberley, and it’s here that a villa was excavated in 2007, revealing mosaics, coins and brooches. A dig on National Trust land near Crickley Hill yielded evidence of an ancient and fierce battle, with around 400 arrowheads found at one gateway alone. Cold War bunkers lurk along Greenway Lane, where hush-hush operations are said to have taken place underground. This is officially an area of outstanding natural beauty, so once you’ve taken in the ancient history, live in the present and spot the rare and protected wild orchids in the surrounding grasslands.

Most noted for... Cowley Manor, which was bought by pharmacist James Horlick in the 1890s following the success of his famous malted drink in the United States.

While you’re here... Visit the highest church in the Cotswolds, the golden Norman church at nearby Elkstone. It stands nearly 1,000ft above sea level and has a rare dovecote in its roof.

But try not to... Lose your heart. A favourite warhorse, Lombard, is buried in the churchyard at St Giles church in Coberley, along with the heart of his owner Sir Giles Berkeley, who died in 1294. The rest of the knight’s body is interred in St Giles, Little Malvern.

Who’s who

Lord Mayor of London, Richard ‘Dick’ Whittington was reputedly born at Pauntley Court in the 1350s. His tale of rags to riches is still a favourite pantomime. The grounds of Cowley Manor are said to have inspired visiting author Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland.

Antarctic explorer Edward Wilson, who was also a naturalist, artist and doctor, grew up at Crippetts Farm. His statue can be seen in Cheltenham.

Cerney Gardens

The late Lady Angus and her daughter Barbara developed the beautiful gardens at Cerney House, six miles from Cowley. The highlight is the Victorian walled garden with its organic kitchen garden, herbaceous borders and knot garden, but don’t miss the orchard, rockery, rose border and rediscovered icehouse. cerneygardens.com

Cotswold Alpacas

Adaptable, loveable and unforgettable, alpacas are principally bred for their wool. Bridget and James Tibbs-Hamilton offer weaving, looming and felting workshops, teach alpaca husbandry and sell from their breeding stock at their Cowley farm. cotswoldalpacas.co.uk