I have always thought that the Italian equivalent of the Cotswolds is Tuscany. It has the same beauty that is the product of a happy conjunction of man and nature, a landscape forged from centuries of history and of aesthetic values. I am able to make that direct comparison because I am in Tuscany now, walking from village to village in 35 degrees celsius of heat. I appreciate the sunshine but that sort of temperature would be unusual indeed in the Cotswolds and when it comes to walking is all the better for it. It is obviously ridiculous to labour the similarities between the two regions: there are, after all, many differences. But the same rolling hills are here, covered in fields and tracks and paths. The fields, as at home, owe their eccentric contours to patterns of ownership and to geology, and, again as at home, are given over to wheat, and although I have seen no sheep as one on our hills (too hot presumably), I know there are plenty around as the local speciality, among many, is ‘pecorino’, which is a sheep cheese. The fields, it is true, are not separated by stone walls, a distinctive feature of the Cotswold landscape, but instead, the tracks are shaded by rows of slender green cypress trees, which stand erect like green sentinels across the Tuscan hills. That is their distinction.
In Tuscany, the villages and towns sit on hilltops, unlike in the Cotswolds, where they tend to nestle in valleys and folds, a difference that is an indication of their differing histories, one, in Italy, of constant war, the other, in England, of resistance to invasion for a thousand years. Yet, these beautiful Tuscan towns are generally in the same state of preservation as our own stone villages – both have the same ability to provoke visual pleasure through their sheer unchanging beauty and both are fiercely loved by their inhabitants. When it comes to high art, however, as is well known, the comparison between the two regions favours Tuscany in quite some way – the Reformation and other debatable factors saw to that. And yet, when Italians pass through the Cotswolds, they appreciate our smaller scales and the craftsmanship that, in its own way, has created thousands of minor masterpieces in the form of cottages and churches. They recognise the strong sense of continuity that impels people to protect what they feel is the true spirit of the place where they live.
Finally, it is no longer fanciful to maintain that we can eat as well in the Cotswolds as in Tuscany. I admit that I would wish our prices to be more reasonable but excellent local produce and good cooking is now normal feature of life here. So, rather than viewing our region, as too many do, as a sort of toy town, we should rejoice in its exceptional qualities, just as Italians do about Tuscany.