The Cotswolds is hands down one of the best areas in the UK. Sure it might have that David Cameron / Jeremy Clarkson reputation of the ‘Chipping Norton set’ but when you’re driving through those little picture-postcard villages or gawping at the scenery, it’s not hard to see why all the celebs choose to have their first/second/third homes there. There are lots of lovely hotels to stay at for us mere mortals too, many of which we’ve been lucky enough to visit before, but we have to say that we’ve found a new favourite on a recent trip – the absolutely brilliant Thyme.
First of all, Thyme is on the very edge of the Cotswolds, technically in Gloucestershire, well away from the Chipping Norton area, and we found the location to be much more chilled but no less beautiful. Rocking up to Thyme, you enter through its own ‘Estate Drive’, bumping over cattle grids until you reach a cluster of stunning Cotswold stone buildings that make up the hotel, spa, restaurant and cookery school. It almost fees like a little self contained village, with meandering pathways connecting the various historic houses and converted farm buildings that make it feel like one of the homeliest hotels we’ve stayed at.
The feeling of having been invited to a friend’s country pad for the weekend perhaps makes even more sense once you know that Thyme is indeed a family affair. Owned and run by Caryn Hibbert, her son Charlie is Head Chef and her daughter Milly leads the design, brand development and boutique retail range, and both grew up here. Developed over time (yes the ‘Thyme’ pun opportunities are ripe during your stay), beginning with just one barn building back in 2002 the hotel has slowly grown to include several more historic houses and agricultural buildings, all of which have been lovingly and sensitively restored.
Food is a huge part of the Thyme story – when it first opened it was actually as a cooking school with accommodation for only a handful of people. There are now 32 rooms across houses and cottages, plus a spa, a chic outdoor pool, the Oxbarn restaurant, the new modern cooking school, and several lounges and bars. Charlie’s Kitchen Garden is one of the most impressive we’ve seen at any hotel, with a huge array of fruit, vegetables and herbs (including thyme of course) set out in a series of connected square plots away from the main buildings. it’s well worth a walk down there through the fields of grazing sheep, horses and clucking chickens.
With the vast majority of what ends up on the menu coming from Thyme’s own farm, Charlie’s menu sensibly lets the produce do the talking, without too many bells and whistles. The menu is intensely seasonal; on our visit fresh asparagus was bursting into several of the dishes, served simply with bottarga as a starter or as an accompaniment to mains such as the beautiful whole lemon sole. All across the menu you’ll spot spoils from the estate – a salad of beetroot, leaves, and egg with fresh horseradish being a brilliant example of a dish made entirely of produce from Thyme. One dish we avoided however was the spring lamb, having spent a lot of time looking at the flock leaping across the fields earlier – we just felt too guilty and went for an excellent rabbit dish instead!
Rooms vary hugely depending on which building you are in, which is another great thing about Thyme – you could have several repeat visits and feel like you’d come somewhere slightly different. Our room was ‘Forget-me-not’, actually one of the modern constructions rather than a historical building, but which still had the slight appearance of an old barn with a sloped roof and high ceilings. Glass-fronted sliding doors open out on to a private garden with fire pit, while inside the room there’s comfy chairs, a huge comfy bed, freestanding bath tub and epic rainforest shower. Oh and the treats – the cookies, cheese straws, and homemade vermouth are worth the journey alone.
Thyme has that little extra bit of magic that turns a good hotel into a truly great one. We hope we’ll be back time and time again.
Thyme, Southrop, GL7 3NX