Southern England

An extensive new touring route makes it easier than ever to explore the region’s villages and towns.

When to go: The warm summer months (May through September) attract the most travelers. They also bring some of southern England’s most worthwhile festivals and events, including the Royal Ascot horse races in Berkshire (June 16–20) and the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath (September 11–20).

Why go: In late 2018, the Great West Way, a touring route based on one of the first Great Roads commissioned in the early 20th century by the monarchy, made its debut. The 125-mile route stretches from London to Bristol, connecting small villages in between. A variety of options allow travelers to tackle the route, or portions of it, at their preferred pace. They can drive the Great West Way end to end, hop from town to town via the Great Western Railway, or cruise along the Thames and regional canals aboard privately chartered day and overnight boats. Bike paths and walking trails are ideal for travelers who want to explore the route’s natural landscapes over the course of a day, a week, or more. Trail markers along the route make it easy to navigate. Lodging choices include country campsites, castles, family farms, and high-end hotels. In spring 2019, the bucolic Monkey Island Estate opened just minutes from Bray, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village near Berkshire with three Michelin-starred restaurants. (Despite its high-profile culinary scene, the town lacked a proper luxury hotel before Monkey Island.) Farther west, in the town of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage site, new areas of the ancient baths, including a laconicum (Roman sauna) will open to the public in 2020, as will a new visitor’s center.

Need to know: Direct flights to London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports are available from most international airports in the United States. The Great West Way Discoverer Pass allows unlimited train and bus travel between London’s Paddington station and the Bristol Temple Meads station, with options to branch off in the Thames Valley, the Cotswolds, and Wiltshire (three-day tickets from $126; seven-day tickets from $166). Planning tools on the Great West Way’s comprehensive website include an itinerary builder and individual city guides. —Lindsay Lambert Day (AFAR Magazine, AFAR.com)