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Christmas In The Cotswolds

Our countdown of seasonal events, markets and activities will put you in the festive spirit in the run-up to Christmas.

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1 foodie feast

Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the big day – Hotel du Vin Cheltenham are laying on a festive spin on a traditional afternoon tea throughout December (£45 for two people) – including mince pies, turkey and cranberry sausage rolls, gingerbread men and plenty of other festive treats to tuck in to. Served with a choice of teas and a glass of Champagne.

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2 chances to meet Father Christmas

Dean Forest Railway is running Santa Specials on selected dates from Saturday December 8 up until Christmas Eve. You can meet the man himself on his own steam train, enjoy a warm mince pie and all children will receive a free gift. Booking is essential.

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Father Christmas has made himself at home at the Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Families can visit him in his grotto, full of festive cheer and presents. Santa’s Coming to Slimbridge will be running on 15/16 and 22/23 December – tickets must be booked in advance.

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3 of the best Christmas markets

Choirs will be singing and the scent of mulled wine and sizzling chestnuts will fill the air as Oxford’s Broad Street is transformed into an outdoor Christmas Market until 22 December. Full of independent stall holders offering homemade crafts, festive foodie treats and perfect stocking-fillers.

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The ever-popular Cheltenham Christmas Market runs until 15 December. Soak up the atmosphere – and a hot mulled cider or two – whilst browing over 40 stalls of gifts, artisan foods and decorations.

Taurus Crafts Christmas Market will take place on 15/16 December, 10am-5.30pm where over 30 independent traders will create a lively hub for Christmas shoppers to meet and pick up unique gifts, all to the backdrop of live performances, choirs and carolling.

4 illuminated shows

This Christmas, Blenheim Palace will be transformed inside and out, with celebrations promised to be even bigger and better this year. Running until 13 January, day visitors can enjoy a new indoor Cinderella experience taking over the Palace State Rooms, and in the evening, there’s the opportunity to stroll around the estate’s winter wonderland of illuminations.

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Home to the country’s largest private collection of trees and shrubs, Batsford Arboretum will be welcoming some very special helpers to its beautiful surroundings this Christmas. The Big Batsford Elf Hunt runs until 6 January, when little visitors can hunt for Santa’s missing little helpers around the trail.

Westonbirt Arboretum is holding an Enchanted Christmas event to celebrate the beauty of Westonbirt’s trees. Visitors can walk along a stunning illuminated trail full of light spectacles and interactive displays, ending up at the all-new Christmas village – full of festive food, traditional fairground rides and festive characters for little ones to meet. The event is running on the evenings of December 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22 and 23.

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The grand setting of Sudeley Castle will be the backdrop to a mesmerising display of colour and special effects this December. Enjoy an array of festive food and nurse a mulled wine or hot chocolate while your stroll around the castle’s grounds. 12-23 December and 27-30 December.

5 family events not to miss

Gloucester Cathedral are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Christmas classic, The Snowman with three performances of the animated film – with live orchestra – singalong, optional. 1pm, 3pm and 7pm on Friday, December 14. Tickets are available from the box office on 0344 8000 410 or online here.

Wrap at warm and bring your best singing voice along to Carols in Montpellier Gardens. Hosted by the Friends of Montpellier Bandstand and Gardens, enjoy a sing-a-long en masse, with a collection of traditional and modern carols. The evening is free with donations to charity welcome. 5pm 14 December

The large open-air ice rink will be open daily at Gloucester Quays, up until Sunday January 6 (except Christmas Day). The perfect Christmas activity to burn off some of those festive calories and excitement.

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Add a bit of traditional nativity magic to your festive week by meeting Albert, the Christmas Donkey at Miserden Nursery, 10-4pm 16 December. Guess how many carrots are in his Christmas sack and win hot chocolate and cake!

If you’re looking for a traditional Panto, Aladdin at The Theatre Chipping Norton is a firm family favourite with the Sharvell team, an intimate setting that captivates each year, without fail. As a alternative, at the Everyman's Studio Theatre in Cheltenham The Velveteen Rabbit is hopping onto the stage for an enchanting show, raising festive cheer with live music, songs and the chance to join in. To book: Call (01242) 572573, email admin@everymantheatre.org.uk, or visit everymantheatre.org.uk directly.