Say what you will about men and sports cars ... I won't hear you over the 270 thrashing thoroughbreds under the gleaming red bonnet in front of me. I slip the Ferrari 328 GTS into gear and roar off, gravel waves churning in my wake, down a picturesque English country lane lined with lavender and ancient stone walls. Forget autumn in Paris, it's all about summer in the Cotswolds. By classic car has to be the best way to experience the Cotswolds, a postcard-perfect part of England that is close enough to the traffic jams of London to make it viable for a weekend escape and far enough away from the city to make it a godsend for the jet-set looking for a reprieve. Summer sun and the wind in your hair soon dispel the image of Britain as being wet, grey and rather stodgy. The Cotswolds represent the England most expatriates reminisce about; a land of green pastures, rustic farmhouses and quaint, meticulously well-maintained village churches, all looking as if they came straight from TV show Midsomer Murders. In summer, the whole area seems to bloom, gardens are a delight for the eyes and the nose, colours intensify and the menus of village gastro-pubs are ripe with locally sourced produce. Although the region hosts well-known tourist towns such as Bath and Cheltenham, it's the dozens of tiny villages, the wide open farmland, the proud castles and the ancient forests that captivate. With an abundance of tiny B&Bs and guesthouses dotted across the landscape, you can spend days exploring the country lanes by classic convertible, or the cobblestone high streets by foot. On the outskirts of the village are historic houses, occupied by families that have called the Cotswolds home for centuries. Many are happy to open their doors to visitors (look for the brown tourism signposts), usually for a small donation to their upkeep. England's castles and manor houses prove you don't need a waterslide, food court and mini putting course to have your interest piqued. One stunning example of living history is Chavenage ( www.chavenage.com ), near Tetbury. This striking Elizabethan home, framed by stables and manicured lawns, features a private chapel, some fine tapestries, relics of the Cromwell era and its share of resident ghosts. If you want to reach even further back in time, visit the thick stone walls and battlements of Berkeley Castle. This edifice is rumoured to be the place where King Edward II was tortured to death with a red-hot poker and tours are filled with stories of revenge, romance and intrigue. Many of these beautiful homes now double as hotels and you can stroll along their corridors or lounge in the elegance of the gardens like a master of the house. New Hall ( www.newhalluk.com ) - located in Warwickshire and, at 800 years old, said to have England's oldest moat - is now an elegant hotel, complete with charming guest rooms, croquet lawns (the challenge is to beat the general manager), a fitness centre with an indoor pool and and the option to dine al fresco if weather permits. The Cotswolds are not all ancient ruins and church fetes, however. Calcot Manor ( www.calcotmanor.co.uk ) may sound like a boarding school but it is actually the perfect fusion of the Cotswolds' past and present. Regularly cited as one of Britain's best country hotels, the low-rise former farmhouse is surrounded by green lawns, citrus trees and stone walls that date back to the 14th century. Croquet is played before dinner, usually with a gin and tonic in hand, and there is the typical country pub with an impossibly low ceiling for winter nights. In the summer, the daily agenda includes dining in the gardens and being pampered in the modern day-spa. The 89-hectare estate is great for naturalists and mountain bikers alike and in the rooms, olde worlde elegance meets rain shower-heads, designer toiletries and broadband. If we are going to change our thinking about England's weather then we should do the same when it comes to its cuisine. Chefs have descended on areas such as the Cotswolds, where they can test their innovation using high-quality local produce. Food miles now appear on menus, sustainability is taken seriously and pubs are producing some top-class fare. Tetbury's Priory Inn is run by American couple Dave and Tanya Kelly, who tired of the international hotel scene and decided to descend on rural England. They utilise a stunning array of local meats, cheeses, ales and other produce to create innovative summer menus, which are served in their sun-drenched garden. Beyond the Cotswolds, Ludlow, which has seven restaurants in the current Michelin guide and fantastic markets, is another foodie destination. The markets take place in the square of a 900-year-old castle, one of 500 heritage-listed buildings in the thriving Cittaslow or 'Slow City'. If you feel like being outside, picnics can be spiced up with small-batch cheeses, raspberries, blueberries and even candied figs and quince. Every store seems to sell something unique, hand-made and utterly delicious. For the ultimate picnic, take your hamper and cold champers to Trentham Gardens ( www.trenthamleisure.co.uk ). Located in Stoke-on-Trent, the gardens recently benefited from a GBP100 million (HK$1.5 billion) restoration. First mentioned as a royal estate in the Domesday Book in 1086, the sprawling gardens have passed from family to family and monarch to monarch - and at one bizarre moment in the past monkeys were introduced. (The Monkey Forest, with its troops of Barbary macaques, continues to be one of the biggest draw cards.) With the sun hanging low in the sky, we head back to our accommodation, bursting at the seams with new-age cuisine, and still pulling looks from passers-by who fancy our red racer as much as we fancy ourselves. Then we have a crash. 'Crash' might be too serious a word - more like prang. Determined to explore one last village, in this case the beautifully quaint town of Painswick, also known as the Queen of the Cotswolds, the Ferrari had been parked on a slope in a back lane. As we walked away, there was a terrible crunch. Having calmed a rather irate grandmother (whose Ford Escort fared better than the Italian Stallion) we return to the hotel, our pride deflated but with a new-found understanding of the diversity and beauty of the English countryside. In my mind, a fair trade. Getting there: Cathay Pacific ( www.cathaypacific.com ) and Virgin Atlantic ( www.virgin-atlantic.com ) offer daily flights to London from Hong Kong. Transfer to the Cotswolds and learn a bit on the way with Back Roads Touring ( www.backroadstouring.co.uk ). For something a little more on the vintage side, try Classic Cars UK ( www.classiccars.co.uk ).