56km (35 miles) W of London
At the eastern edge of Oxfordshire, Henley-on-Thames, a small town and resort on the river at the foothills of the Chilterns, is the headquarters of the Royal Regatta, held annually in late June and early July. Henley, which lies on a stretch of the Thames that's known for its calm waters, unobstructed bottom, and predictable currents, is a rower's mecca. The regatta, which dates from the first years of Victoria's reign, is the major competition among international oarsmen and oarswomen, who find it both challenging and entertaining.
The Elizabethan buildings, tearooms, and inns along the town's High Street will live up to your preconception of an English country town. Henley-on-Thames is an excellent stopover en route to Oxford, though its fashionable inns are far from cheap.
The Thames: Liquid History -- Stretching for 289km (180 miles), Thames Path is one of more than a dozen government-protected national trails in England. You can choose any part of this river for exploration, our favorite being the "secret" section between Kelmscott and Oxford. Between the two towns, you will find 48km (30 miles) of lonely meadowlands of grazing sheep and cattle. You'll come across a stone-built bridge leading to a Thames-side pub with a mellow atmosphere. The Thames Valley has more than 60 river-bordering marinas and boatyards. The best deals are made with Kris Cruisers in Datchet (tel. 01753/543930; www.kriscruisers.co.uk). The outfitter rents the largest fleet of fully equipped cruisers on the Thames, boats containing between two and eight berths. From Datchet, you can travel upstream to Windsor and Eton or on to such towns as Maidenhead. Heading downstream you can visit such attractions as Runnymede, with its associations with the Magna Carta.