An ideal place to begin any exploration of the Thames Valley is the town of Windsor, about an hour's drive west of central London. From there you can follow the river to Marlow and to Henley-on-Thames, site of the famous regatta, and then make a counterclockwise sweep west to the area around Henley-on-Thames. To the north is Oxford, with its pubs, colleges, and museums; it can make a good base for exploring some of the area's charming towns and notable stately homes. If you're extending your itinerary, west of the region but still nearby are the Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon.
- Windsor, Marlow, and Nearby. Gorgeous Windsor has its imposing and battlemented castle, stone cottages, and tea shops, and nearby Eton is also charming. The meadows and villages around Marlow and Henley are lovely in summer when the flowers are in bloom. Mapledurham House near Henley-on-Thames is an idyllic stop; you can take a boat here.
- Oxford. Wonderfully walkable, this university town has handsome, golden-stone buildings and museum after museum to explore. Take a punt on the local waterways for a break. Oxford's good bars, pubs, and restaurants keep you going late at night as well.
- Oxfordshire. Around the Thames Valley are many intriguing stops, including several grand manor houses. Blenheim (birthplace of Winston Churchill) is a vast, ornate, extraordinary place that takes the better part of a day to see. Althorp House, home of the late Princess Diana, is equally alluring.
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