Simon Wittenberg experiences Thyme in the quaint village of Southrop, taking ‘time-out’ to re-connect with nature in a luxurious setting
Thyme is set in a stunning 150-acre country estate accessed by a single track road which leads to the peaceful village of Southrop. It’s situated around six miles away from the famed picture-postcard village of Bibury and opened last September following a soft launch. The atmosphere is friendly and informal at Thyme, which was always the desire of owner, Caryn Hibbert, a medic turned hotelier. The person that you see on the reception desk will then become the bartender, and is also the one to show you to your room.
Following 12 years of renovations, Thyme is today made up of a 15th-century manor house, medieval barns and a Norman Church. There are eight bedroom suites and three cottage suites, as well as two beautifully restored cottages on offer.
We stayed in “Lemon Balm” a room bathed in yellow tones with a central mock four-poster bed overlooking the perfectly manicured courtyard of Thyme House. The ensuite bathroom can be described as cosy, featuring a black and white tiled floor, a sink lined with nicely scented toiletries from Miller Harris and a bath complete with a soothing rain shower.
Partnered with Mr and Mrs Smith, there is plenty to do at Thyme, and they are able to organise activities in advance of a stay, including private beauty treatments in suites or cottages, clay pigeon shooting, a scenic cycle tour, or walks around the hotel’s farm which houses many different types of vegetables and animals – chickens, Cotswold lambs and horses, to name but a few.
The pièce de résistance of Thyme is its Cookery School. Courses are run pretty much every Thursday and Saturday, and can accommodate up to 16 people at a time. Prices range from £145 to £450 per person depending on the class. There is everything from the Flavours of Japan, Italy and Thailand to bread-making, so it’s worth checking what the course is before you book, and any specific dietary requirements are very well catered for.
We participated in the three-hour “Short & Sweet – Cakes & Sponges” session under the expert guidance of freelance chef, Sue Naismith. After being handed an apron with each of our names on it, the five of us were then each allocated a workstation with all the necessary ingredients, some of the world’s best cooking equipment, and a copy of the recipes – the first being a carrot cake with icing, and the second being a rhubarb crumble, neither of which I had attempted before. This doesn’t matter though as the school accommodates “students” of all skill levels. Whether it’s refining or learning new techniques such as folding and cutting fine pieces of fruit using your finger nail as a support, it’s great fun, and with Derek on-hand throughout, dirty equipment miraculously disappears and comes back clean, which is normally the downside of baking at home.
The reward for putting in the effort was a demonstration of how to make (and eat more importantly!) a Swiss roll which was divine. It’s actually quite surprising that when you put your mind to it and follow some well-versed instructions, you emerge with something that looks presentable and edible enough to take home.
For a more sedate experience, there is The Baa, where you can play board games at the dining table, sip a cocktail on the sofas whilst surrounded by model sheep, as well as consume drinks which have been concocted by Thyme using their own home-grown ingredients.
There is no restaurant on-site, but this is set to change as part of the exciting expansions plans that are currently going through the planning process. However, all is not lost as Thyme owns The Swan at Southrop, an ivy-covered 17th-century inn which is a five-minute stroll up the main street.
Guests can borrow a branded umbrella and a LED lantern as the area is not well lit. This eatery follows the same well-heeled mantra of using locally farmed produce, and the results are impressive. Accompanied by a glass of house white and some freshly-baked bread, we tried a deliciously creamy green pea soup (£5.50) and a melt-in-the-mouth halibut carpaccio with salmoriglio, capers and calendulas (£10.50). This had been an excellent opening chapter, and the service provided by our hosts had been just as good.
The mains, which took the form of salmon fishcakes, garden leaves, aioli and lemon (£14.50), and the chargrilled rib eye steak with chimichurri, thyme salad and skinny fries (£26.50) were so filling that when it came to dessert, we did not have enough room to accommodate one, despite it being highly tempting. Instead, we had to settle for chocolate sorbet and ice cream, but as we remarked to the waitress, not having one of the baked sweets this time around was an extremely good excuse to return to The Swan.
With our lantern in hand, reminiscent of a scene from a Charles Dickens novel, we made our way back to Thyme, where we retired to The Baa for a fiery Prince & Sons lemongrass, lime and root ginger herbal tea and a game of backgammon. Then, it was onto Lemon Balm where we were greeted by some homemade Rhubarb-flavoured vodka, drawn blinds and atmospheric lighting, the perfect prelude to a good night’s sleep.
The only disturbance at sunrise is birdsong, such is the complete tranquillity of this location, and therefore this was our wake-up call, an invitation to venture to the architecturally magnificent banquet-hall-like Tithe Barn for a wholesome breakfast. There are no extensive buffets that stretch over several counters, but a few carefully picked options such as granola yoghurt, fruit, croissants, home-made preserves, freshly-squeezed juices and organic sourdough. There are also some hot dishes, including the Coln valley hot smoked salmon with chilli roasted tomatoes and poached eggs which I opted for, and fried eggs with Portobello mushrooms that my other half put to the test. Both were superb.
Thyme is a gem of the Cotswolds countryside and is the perfect setting for a romantic break or for those looking to sit back and reflect on life, whilst indulging in nature’s finest ingredients.
Thyme – Where and How?
Thyme is located at Southrop Manor, Southrop GL7 3NX. For further information, or to make a reservation, visit www.thyme.co.uk. Rates start from £260 per room per night including breakfast.