Being a fully fledged Londoner for a good 5 years, it is safe to say my appreciation of lush green spaces has been warped. With Spring now gracing us with its presence, words cannot describe the excitement when blossom starts appearing on the trees of the carefully manicured park gardens, or the lunch breaks sat on a cramped park bench smiling at the 4-square foot patch of lawn before me. Of course, that’s if one is able to take lunch breaks.
So, in an attempt to break from the capital’s hustle and bustle and reconnect with nature, I shoved my wellies in a bag and headed to the luxury Cotswold escape – Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThymeÃ¢â‚¬Â boutique hotel. A cool 90 minutes away from the old smoke, this honey-hued limestone beauty transports you to an idyllic, serene utopia. Any looming deadlines, stresses and worries were left at Paddington train station.
Despite the Cotswolds being target destination for these swanky retreats, Thyme is shaking up the stereotype. It has this magical craft of balancing a luxury escape but without being too-in-your-face or elitist. On the surface, you appreciate the sheer beauty of the buildings themselves, centred around an immaculate courtyard, not to mention the home-grown cuisine (animals and plants alike). But a closer look and you’ll be blown away by the care and attention to detail that Caryn Hibbert and the tight-knit team have put into every single experience.
It is safe to say that Thyme resonates the infectious, bubbly character of Caryn. Draped in a beautiful cape, flamboyant ruby red lipstick and carrying a basket full of fresh-picked lemon balm, she warmly greeted us with her beaming smile and amiable affection.
Coincidently, I was told the room I would be staying was named Ã¢â‚¬Å“Lemon BalmÃ¢â‚¬Â, to which Caryn insisted that a fresh batch was bought to my room before bed as Ã¢â‚¬Å“It’s far better than any bagged stuff one can get!Ã¢â‚¬Â. Caryn’s vision for the hotel was carried out by a Ã¢â‚¬Å“dream teamÃ¢â‚¬Â of interior design Roger Hall and gardener Bunny Guinness – Thyme’s accommodation comprises of eight bedroom suites in Thyme House, three cottage suites and two beautifully restored cottages.
The Plush Interior
Every bedroom is different, though each room is decked out with heavenly four-posters and plush mod-rustic furnishings. After collapsing on the luxuriously welcoming mattress, I was delighted to see a mason jar filled with homemade cookies Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a perfect accompaniment with the Lemongrass Lime and Root Ginger tea available (or the lemon balm tea later). Caryn also mentioned that they were working with an organic pharmaceutical spa company, whose research will create a fantastic toiletry line based the lanolin from the resident sheep’s wool Ã¢â‚¬â€œ yet another detail in the library of creative and carefully executed aspects in this beautiful hotel.
On the estate, the wonderfully named Ã¢â‚¬Å“Baa BarÃ¢â‚¬Â has a cosy chalet feel, with adorable life sized sheep statues and hand woven blankets draped across sofas that you can melt into (three cocktails later and you might find it hard to leave!).
But first… a cocktail?
The first cocktail on the list was Rhubarb and Leghorn Fleece Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that’s pisco, lemon juice, rhubarb and ginger syrup, angostura bitters and egg whites from Thyme’s very own hens. No wonder it was the mixologist’s first recommendation Ã¢â‚¬â€œ delectably balanced and not too citrusy.
All of the botanicals and infusions are home-grown and seasonal, and any of the spirits used were sourced as locally as possible (with the team being able to tell you exactly where that particular ingredient came from). After a few more cocktails from the list it was time for supper.
The estate has grown organically over the years and The Swan Pub (based literally a stones throw away from the main farmhouse) was rescued by The Hibbert Family and has now in it’s own right, become a much-loved cosy-yet-cool institution. The food once again is sourced direct from the estate or from suppliers to champion localism.
Chef Matthew Wardman rewrites the menu each week but dishes are mostly British, with a little Italian and French influence. For starters I wolfed down the wild garlic, Lilliput capers & lemon risotto. It was a hard choice I am not going to lie, but thankfully the other guests let me sample a few other delights that they had ordered including the enviable Matt’s Scotch Egg which was accompanied with a rather ironic yet delightful tale of the pigs escaping into Caryn’s garden Ã¢â‚¬â€œ with made for a slightly hard swallow of the scotch egg post-story, but rest assured these pigs live a charmed life with beautiful grounds to frolic about in.
The house wines available are also very reasonable. Mains, again another impossible decision, but once again the table ordered something different which resulted in me consuming the incredibly light but hearty Cornish Hake, with serrano ham, pelourde clams, samphire, and Pedro Ximenez in the sauce.
Finally, the sweet stuff. A toss up between a Peanut Butter Parfait or a Rhubarb and Almond Puff Pastry Tart, the Peanut Butter was the ultimate winner.
Doused in chocolate sauce and praline, this really topped off my indulgent escape quite nicely, and thankfully the waddle back to the farmhouse (guided by the electric lampshades given to guests in their rooms) was not too daunting on a full stomach!
The ‘Breakfast’ part of B&B
Breakfast the next day however was absolutely outrageous. Home-pressed selection of seasonal juices, an oversized bowl of homemade granola with lashings of thick Skyr-style yoghurt, followed by Coln-smoked Salmon, home-reared scrambled eggs and home-grown wilted Swiss chard.
A walk around the grounds attempted to burn off the gigantic, flavourful breakfast Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but the uncomfortable full sensation was soon forgotten when we had the opportunity to meet the permanent residents of Thyme Estate Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the abundant supply of rare breed animals (and gardens) which really does add the charm and appreciation of the place.
The beating heart of Thyme – The Cookery School
The cherished cookery school is another string to the ever-classy bow. These intimate but state of the art facilities are ogled after by numerous esteemed master chefs who are desperate to bring their Soho-chic crafts into this beautiful little corner in the Cotswolds. There are numerous classes taking place daily, ranging from baking and pastry classes through to Vietnamese street food.
It’s no wonder it’s catching the attention of a-listers and tastemakers alike. An amble around the immaculate courtyard, you sense time is a classy place to stay. So maybe throw a chic little number in that suitcase of yours..
Thyme Boutique Hotel. Southrop Manor Estate, Lechlade, Gloucestershire. (01367 850174). Room rates start at £260/night for a double room inc. the gorgeous breakfast.