An odd kind of countryside
The Cotswolds attract money and crowds
Few bits of the English countryside attract as much slavering attention as the Cotswolds. This stretch of central and southwestern England, covering 787 square miles between Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath, is uniquely appealing. It is the English countryside as both natives and tourists imagine it to be: green rolling hills, idyllic golden-stone villages and quaint medieval churches.
The price of such charm is popularity. A lot of people visit the Cotswolds, and the most popular towns - many of them with the sort of English names designed to charm and amuse transatlantic tourists, such as Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water - can be very busy. There were 38 million day visits made to the Cotswolds in 2016, according to the local tourist board. Beauty is harder to enjoy when you're shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other day-trippers.
And, anyway, the Cotswolds is a very odd kind of countryside. It's defined by money, with far more than its fair share of London bankers and celebrity residents. Sadly, cut-glass accents are gradually elbowing gentle West-Country vowels out of the local shops and pubs. (For the latter, see This Country, one of the best British TV comedies of recent years, which focuses on the lives of young working-class Cotswolds residents).
Location: The Cotswolds is in south-central England, and runs through Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.
Take a trip up to the South downs
East Kent is less crowded but also has beautiful countryside
But if it's verdant folds, chocolate-box villages and a taste of eternal England that you want, try East Kent, about an hour on the train from London. This area, where England meets the North Sea and the Channel, is home to wonderful landscapes, beautiful towns and villages, and a culture that offers a bit more excitement than the staid Cotswolds.
Its rolling downland, like the Cotswolds, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a national accreditation that recognises places "with significant landscape value." There are acres of orchards and hop gardens (this is the home of the East Kent Golding, England's most famous hop). The best time to visit is late June and July, when Kent's incomparable cherries are in season. Look out for Kent Naps, a rare-but-delicious strawberry-and-cream-coloured variety.
In Kent, the look is white weatherboard and orange-red roof peg tiles, and many of the churches make the Cotswolds look rather "Johnny-come-lately": The oldest continuously in use place of worship in England, St. Martin's in Canterbury, dates from at least the 6th century. (The Cathedral has quite a history, too.)
There's plenty here for food lovers as well. Whistable is famous for its native oysters, and the Sportsman, a gastropub 3 miles to the west, is widely regarded as the best in the United Kingdom. Much of the food is raised, grown or caught locally, including delicious salt-marsh lamb. As a regular visitor over the years, I can vouch for its excellence.
And there are thrills. Margate, a once run-down seaside town, is rapidly regenerating around its historic amusement park, Dreamland, while nearby Ramsgate has one of England's best small breweries, Gadds, whose beers can be enjoyed at the Montefiore Arms, the town's top pub.
If you're lucky, it might be beach weather. East Kent has Botany Bay, with its noble chalk stacks, Ramsgate, which is sandy and south-facing, and Margate, which spreads languidly in front of the town, to name just three. Back in Margate's 1950s heyday, a hot day would see every inch of sand covered by a Londoner on holiday. Fortunately, it's a bit less busy now - which is more than can be said for the Cotswolds' hot spots.
Location: The county of Kent is in southeastern England: East Kent is the area east of Rainham, in the north, to New Romney, on the south coast, taking in Canterbury, Dover and Margate.