An idyllic escape to the Cotswolds
Words by Miranda York | Photography by Ross Turner
Food and travel go hand in hand. And if you're anything like us, where to dine is as important as where to stay. So, in our new series of travel reviews, we discover the best places in Britain to eat, drink and sleep. For our first escape, let us whisk you away from your desk to an idyllic setting in the Cotswolds...
Like many Londoners, my urban surroundings make me yearn for nature. My tiny flat is filled with sturdy succulents, beautiful blooms, and most importantly for a food editor, pots of home-grown herbs, but when these flecks of greenery no longer sate the feral flower girl in me, a trip to the countryside is in order.
Never have such yearnings been quelled as at Thyme in Southrop. Everyone knows the Cotswolds sing with English charm and stunning landscapes, but Thyme is more than a fashionable escape from city life, there is a genuine warmth and authenticity that’s often lacking at the luxury end of the hotel scale.
"Crunch along the driveway, past the honey-coloured stone buildings, and you’ll quickly discover formal gardens and courtyards surrounded by vast meadows and English hedgerows"
Crunch along the driveway, past the honey-coloured stone buildings, and you’ll quickly discover formal gardens and courtyards surrounded by vast meadows and English hedgerows. The kitchen gardens sit next to the water meadows of the River Leach, the rich soil perfect for growing fruits and vegetables. Sheep roam the fields, and pigs and chickens snuffle and strut among the vegetable patch and greenhouses.
It’s possible to simply enjoy the view, cocktail in hand, and remind yourself how glorious the English countryside can really be. But if full emersion in nature is what you crave, there are long walks, bike rides, tours of the kitchen gardens and cookery classes with both in-house and guest chefs.
"Walking through the grounds, we foraged for herbs and botanicals, ducked past a swarm of bees, and picked rhubarb for cordials and cocktails"
Walking through the grounds, we foraged for herbs and botanicals, ducked past a swarm of bees (the hotel makes its own honey), and picked rhubarb for cordials and cocktails. The class, led by James Chase (of Chase Distillery fame) was a satisfying mix of informative tutorials and hands-on fun. We made rhubarb cordial infused with angelica, then played with bitters, spirits and cocktail shakers to create refreshing drinks to be enjoyed in the sun-soaked courtyard.
In the evening, we sat down at long, communal tables for one of the special dinners hosted in the Medieval Tithe Barn (ours a collaboration between chef Charlie Hibbert and James Chase, but check the calendar for who’s cooking next). The meal began with a spirited twist: vodka-cured salmon, pickled cucumber and horseradish cream matched with a smoked vodka martini, before continuing with Southrop Manor pork belly, asparagus, almonds and Pink Fir apples accompanied by William’s Elegant gin fizz. An enchanting pudding – pine nut meringue, elderflower cream and rhubarb – was followed with a Cotswold cheese board with shots of sloe gin or marmalade vodka served neat. It’s certainly worth booking one of these dinners if you’re planning a stay. Though we also hear the hotel owns a country pub along the road if diaries don’t match up.
We stayed at The Tallet, a deceptively large cottage with four bedrooms, an open-plan living room and kitchen – plus a secluded courtyard for sunny days and a wood-burning stove for cooler nights. There are also chic suites in the farmhouse styled by award-winning set designer Roger Hall, and a cottage in the village for those seeking more seclusion.
The reason for Thyme’s allure is undoubtedly due to owner Caryn Hibbert and her family. She lives on the estate with her husband and can be found walking the dogs through the grounds and mingling with guests at dinnertime. Her son is often in the kitchen, and friends gather for feasts. It’s a family business, one where everyone takes pride in what they’re doing, and a place you’ll undoubtedly feel at home.
Thyme, Southrop, Gloucestershire, GL7 3NX (01367 850174; thyme.co.uk). B&B doubles from £270 midweek, from £385 at weekends. Cookery classes start at £75.