Thyme, Cotswolds, UK

If you’re into rambling roses, £20 farmshop jam and the floaty-dresses-and-Hunters uniform of the Cotswolds, then Thyme is the perfect place you.

But don’t we all love those things? It’s like living inside a children’s book, a millennial wonderland with a nice garden and a gift shop. Plus it’s not real life because it’s the Cotswolds: land of stodgy wholesomeness and manicured rural life. But I do love my hotels like a film set. Dress me up and drop me in, it’s not the real world because it’s another world entirely.

Thyme is run by the Hibbert family who describe the hotel as a ‘village within a village’. It’s a neat estate of stone cottages, converted barns and glorious gardens in a silly-pretty part of Gloucestershire.

As a decades-long project for the family, it’s fair to say that Thyme is much more than a hotel. There’s an old stone Manor House (available for exclusive use hire), an esteemed cookery school, restaurant, expensive homeware shop, kitchen garden, spa, outdoor pool and hotel. Guests can borrow a bike and cycle down to the tiny village chapel where Kate Moss got married, or stomp across fields to the family’s village pub and return with a Thyme lantern and full tummy.

So far, so lovely. So very lovely. What’s the catch? For me, it was the room rate. I feel like it’s almost double what it should be for an entry-level room against comparable hotels. It’s like the interior designer left before getting to the cheap rooms.

Bedrooms are scattered across the lodge and farmhouse. Communal corridors are charming and rustic with creaking floorboards and wonky staircases. Interiors lean toward country house chic, but ours, up in the attic, was wildly underwhelming. If you want to come here, you should invest in a larger room or suite. At a price comparable to The Newt, but it’s your money! Our bathroom was a little tired with some maintenance needed – peeling paintwork for example. Toiletries are True Being with a bergamot scent.

The bill from dinner was as expected, and the restaurant seemed to be full of locals when we visited, which is always a good sign. Deborah Meaden and her family were at at a nearby table. Thyme actually opened as a cookery school way back in 2009, and everything else followed, so food has always been at the heart of the estate. It’s truly as Epicurean as the marketing materials attest.

Ox Barn restaurant has an impressive home in the former cattle shed with its soaring ceiling and original beams. Headed up by son Charlie, the kitchen serves modern British cuisine that makes the very most of the spoils of 155 acres of land. We had a nice meal but I can’t actually remember what we had. I loved their Southrop village pub the most. The Swan serves pub classics (think juicy burgers and proper chips) and house wine straight out the cask. Perfection!

Back at the hotel, ’Baa’ bar (not even vaguely like the one fellow Northerners might be thinking of) occupies the former lambing sheds with sheep-shaped stools to boot. These quirky things (are they quirky in a chic way, or is this Highland-cow-print territory?) are upholstered in shearling from their doomed farm friends next door. The cocktail menu is short and sweet with syrups and purees made from orchard fruit. We had another round outside next to a fire-pit, surrounded by gaura swaying in the wind, before being invited inside for dinner.

For me, the gardens are the stand-out appeal here. Created with the guidance of six-time Chelsea Flower Show gold medalist Bunny Guinness, the soft, gauzy, lacy planting scheme frames the estate’s honey-stone buildings beautifully. The reduced colour palette of white and purple feels considered and pared back. Then the combination of soft ornamental grasses, gaura, verbena and pleached fruit trees is textured and romantic, while skinny wrought iron pergolas add just enough structure to the ethereal scheme.

The overall aesthetic is rural chic with a focus on nature; Thyme wouldn’t look out of place in the South of France with its whitewashed walls and ancient, knarled beams. Lounges feature huge stone fireplaces and deep squishy sofas that you could sink into and read for hours. Galvanised buckets overflow with homegrown flowers from the cutting garden.

If you want to ‘recreate the look at home’, then there’s an expensive homewares shop that will help you do just that. It’s located in the old piggery; quaint with its old arches and chunky stone walls. Frilly napkins, plate chargers, ceramics, pretty antique glasses can all be purchased here.

What else? Staff are quiet and hands-off, leaving guests to their own devices. For us this was appropriate for the most part, but other times it left us waiting 20 minutes for a drinks menu. Service at dinner was great, but slow at breakfast, so a little inconsistent overall. The service in the spa and around the pool was attentive and excellent.

Meadow Spa is sweet and lovely, tucked behind the farmhouse. The contemporary pool is usually spring water (chlorinated post-covid) and heated using an environmentally-friendly system. Treatments are from natural British brand Aurelia which specialises in probiotic skincare. I didn’t have any treatments so cannot comment, but I have a probiotic face cream and it smells like cheese.

The bottom line

Well located for exploring the best Cotswold villages, but you’ll have to splurge on a good room to get the full experience. Worth it? I’m undecided.

Southrop Manor Estate, Southrop, Gloucestershire, England
From £245