The trinity of village happiness requires a medieval church, a pretty village green and a handsome pub offering good food and bonhomie.
For commuters settling into country life, the pub is the centre of communication, where they make new friends and take their weekend guests.
The 2012 Michelin guide, Eating out in Pubs, lists 500 hostelries with exceptional food and good atmosphere.
Homes & Property felt it was its duty to search out great pubs within easy commuting distance of London. For those readers who have decided to seek rural bliss this year — the quality of the local pub could be the deciding factor.
Great Totham, Essex
Essex is a popular spot for the City commuter, but what makes Great Totham great is The Bull. This 15th century pub has a fragrant lavender garden and a menu with Maldon oysters and casseroles of Epping Forest venison. The village itself is less than five miles from Witham, where commuters get the fast train to Liverpool Street in 45 minutes — an annual season ticket costs £3,620.
The village comes with a cricket pitch on the green, a shop (specialising in fresh-baked bread), a garage, a florist, and Great Totham Primary School (old boys include England cricketer Alastair Cook) rated "good" by Ofsted. Seniors go on to school in Malden or Colchester. It is surrounded by open farmland, and sportsmen will love the Forester Park Golf and Country Club with tennis and a pool.
Great Totham is not as posh as its neighbouring villages Wickham Bishops and Beacon Hill, according to David Sherwood, a consultant at Fenn Wright estate agents, but the homes are cheaper.
Property in Great Totham: you can buy a four- or five-bedroom detached period family house for under £500,000, or a modern three-bedroom house for under £300,000. Big manor houses on the outskirts with a few acres will be £1 million-plus.
The Fish House
Chilgrove, West Sussex
Nestled in the South Downs National Park, is Chilgrove, West Sussex. You will pay a premium to live here but the property in this gorgeous village is quite fabulous. The village is small but The Fish House is the centre of activity with its low ceilings, beamed bar, 300-year-old fireplace and a formal dining room, too. The speciality is fish, and there is an oyster bar. The pub also has rooms.
Homes in Chilgrove include plenty of 16th- and 17th-century cottages and farmhouses, as well as some good high-spec barn conversions. Mark Astley, a director at Jackson-Stops & Staff, says you would expect to pay around £400,000 for a two- to three-bedroom cottage, from £750,000 for a farmhouse, but could easily spend £2 million-plus on a big barn conversion or manor house.
"Chilgrove is one of the most popular spots in this part of the South Downs," says Astley. "It really is very pretty, with undulating countryside all around."
The market town of Chichester is about five miles away for shoppers, but commuters tend to head to Petersfield, 10 miles up the road, for a faster service. Trains to Waterloo take just over an hour, and an annual season ticket costs from £3,604. The nearest school is West Dean CofE Primary School rated "outstanding" by Ofsted. Chilgrove is a walker's paradise with the Downs and Kingley Vale, a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The Hinds Head - and more
If you are looking for a village with bags of charm that is also foodie heaven, try Bray, famous for its restaurants The Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn — with three Michelin stars apiece — and a trio of top-rated Michelin pubs, The Hinds Head, The Crown and the Royal Oak.
Bray is a commuter magnet thanks to its proximity to Maidenhead, two and a half miles away, with trains to Paddington taking 40 minutes (season tickets start at £2,496).
Mix with the celebrity locals Nick Faldo, Michael Parkinson and Rolf Harris who turn out for summer cricket matches on the green, or take a brisk walk along the Thames pathways to work up an appetite for your feast.
Bray doesn't have a corner shop but Maidenhead is a walk away for shops and schools and Windsor is only six miles away. Heathrow is about 17 miles west.
Bray has a patchwork of property styles. Fiona Copeman, an associate at Savills, says a three-bedroom cottage costs around £570,000 but a bigger family home goes for £1 million. If you have come into money head upstream of Bray Lock, where homes at The Fisheries, with views of the Thames, sell for about £4 million.