Set deep in the rolling Cotswolds countryside, in the quiet village of Southrop (not so quiet in 2011, when Kate Moss got married there), Thyme is exactly what you want from a rural escape. A 150-acre estate, it is home to a cookery school, pub, holiday cottages, cocktail bar and restaurant while the 15th century manor house at its heart (and various outlying barns) is now a boutique hotel. The renovation of the latter was a labour of love for its energetic, and charming, owner Caryn Hibbert and it shows. Crunch over a gravel drive and you arrive at an impressive, honey-stone Tithe Barn, home to The Baa (yes, really) with its great cocktail list. Not a bad way to kick off a stay.
Thyme is an epicurean dream. I was told there was a kitchen garden but to call it that is an understatement: a walk through the manicured gardens and down a tree-lined path reveals an extensive herb garden, chickens, quail, pigs and poly tunnels in which chef Daryll Taylor is experimenting with growing all kinds of exotic herbs, fruits and vegetables (he even has grapevines in there). This bounty of ingredients is put to use in the purpose-built cookery school attached to the barn, where Daryll will take you through anything from south-east Asian cuisine, to how to bake the perfect loaf.
For dinner, head over the road to The Swan, a quintessential British country pub under the same ownership and following the same home-grown, homemade ethos. The Swan is a hit with locals and visitors alike; bag a table and you will be able to pick from dishes such as rack of lamb with heritage carrots, lentils, tahini dressing and dill, or John Dory with cauliflower purée, griolles and garden spinach.
Drinks are given as much attention here as the food, with botanicals and herbs from the garden used to liven up many of the cocktails on the menu at The Baa (either directly or via house-made syrups). Go for a refreshing fennel and cucumber martini or, if you’re after a bit of a kick, a Southrop Fever (chilli-infused tequila, mescal, Aperol, lime and rhubarb with orange geranium syrup). There’s a small selection of English wines on the menu, too, if you don’t fancy a cocktail, and a great selection of artisanal spirits.
Each of eight individually decorated suites in Thyme House ooze country chic, with muted tones and luxurious linens. The heritage of the building means no two rooms are the same; some nestle in the eaves, others creak obligingly under exposed beams. If you’re planning a gathering, the house can also be booked as a whole. Or, for smaller groups, there are two cottages: Old Walls is ideal for families and is dog-friendly, or book The Tallet (no dogs or children) and you will have the run of a tardis-like cottage that sleeps eight with a large, modern living/dining area, a fully-equipped kitchen and your own courtyard.
Breakfast is served on long, communal tables in the Tithe Barn. Expect a spread of fresh, local produce, home-reared bacon and dishes such as light-as-air sourdough waffles with rose labneh, fresh berries, honey and almonds.
Dining in the Tithe Barn is reserved for Thyme’s Table dinners. Hosted by Caryn and the Thyme family, including her son Charlie (a chef), these intimate evenings also see visiting chefs appear in this little slice of the country to produce a series of themed dinners. The first one started in May with A Tale of Two Farms, an evening which saw Charlie team up with old school pal James Chase to devise a menu that showcased the best of both family estates. Chase vodka-cured salmon to start was served with tangy pickled cucumber and hot horseradish cream and accompanied by a complex yet approachable smoked vodka martini made using seasonal vermouth. A light pine nut meringue with elderflower cream and rhubarb was a great way to finish the evening, but the main of Thyme Estate pork belly, asparagus, peas, almonds and salsa verdé with Jersey Royals was spring on a plate and the highlight of the meal, particularly paired with sharp, refreshing and dangerously drinkable William’s Elegant Gin Fizz (gin distilled from cider apples, cider and apple cider vinegar). Forthcoming dates include a Food For All Seasons dinner with Oliver Rowe in July, For the Love of the Land with Daryll Taylor and Marj Lang on two dates in July and August and Savour with Peter Gordon, also in August.
You don’t have to be a hotel guest to book in for these dinners but it’s worth staying overnight if you can; bespoke cookery courses are planned to tie in with the Thyme’s Table menus or you can just relax, borrow some wellies and walk off dinner with a stroll through the grounds, around local markets or at nearby Blenheim Palace.
Double rooms from £260 b&b. thyme.co.uk