A stone’s throw from the big smoke yet wonderfully rural. Historic Watlington is on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, red kites wheel above beech woods and the Ridgeway runs through. The 17th-century building has been part pub, butchers, bakery and shop in its day but is now an inn to the core. The bronze buddha on the bar gazes serenely over pumps with Brakspear Bitter and Oxford Gold, the carpeted bar is cosy and simple, there’s an open fire, sofas and an elegant separate dining room with oriental rugs. Consider smoked chicken and foie gras terrine, fig chutney and sourdough toast; fillet of pollock, chick pea, chorizo and sherry stew with saffron aïoli; lemon financier and thyme ice cream – just some of the delights from chef Mark Gambles and quite simply divine. Staff and owner are delightful and the whole place hums along on this team’s super-friendly and engaging manner. Set well behind the bustle in several old barns are a variety of bedrooms – some with signature beds and trappings, all with antiques, beams and small neat bathrooms.