A cosy local pub, and serenely grazing livestock: Thyme boutique hotel – 17th-century cottages and refined rooms dotted throughout Southrop Manor’s 150-acre estate – encapsulates a William Blake-penned vision that’s lured London’s fashion set (a certain supermodel proved its pull by holding her nuptials nearby). With an on-site farm and fruitful kitchen garden, the hotel’s cookery school is revered among foodies, too.
Get this when you book through us:
A half-bottle of local Nyetimber English sparkling wine in your room
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in: 4pm.
Double rooms from $396.25 (£285), including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates do not include the à la carte breakfast.
Celeb gardener Bunny Guinness’s Olive Garden is a lovely lounging spot too.
At the hotel
Cookery School, spa, farm and kitchen gardens, the Baa for botanical cocktails and afternoon teas, tennis courts, petanque pitch, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV and DVD player, free bottled water, Nespresso coffee machine, kettle and a selection of teas, True Grace bath products. Tallet and Old Walls cottages have a wood-burning stove.
Our favourite rooms
Set under beamed eaves, Nepeta is decorated in an earthy palette; it's dotted with antiques from Tetbury, but in such a way that it feels like you could be settled in amid your own collection. You can play chess in the freestanding bath tub, or stargaze through the shower's skylight as you scrub. If you desire rustic seclusion, check in to Tallet, a pretty stone cottage in Thyme's courtyard with a log burner to warm winter nights and an alfresco dining area for sunny afternoons.
Head to Meadow Spa for a little, or a lot of, pampering. In partnership with Aurelia Probiotic Skincare, Thyme have developed several exclusive therapies that'll leave you feeling rejuvenated and your skin glowing. Try Aurelia’s Natural Face Lift which uses hypnotic deep muscle rolling and pressure point massage to relieve wrinkle-causing tension, stimulate collagen and boost circulation to help tone the skin. For head to toe indulgence, try the holistic body and face ritual. The spa also offers treatments exclusively for men. After your pampering session, refresh with a stop at the spa's Greenhouse Water Bar.
Wellies and a casual ensemble for rambles through the farm. Clear a little space in your suitcase for Thyme’s generous home-made treats, including little bottles of elderflower cordial or jars of jam.
Over-12s only in the hotel; they'll need a separate room too. Younger children can only stay in Old Walls cottage. Kids can join for lunch in the Ox Barn restaurant and the Swan has a children’s menu (staff will warm baby food too).
With few exceptions, everything on your plate is grown or farmed on site. Thyme has a two-acre kitchen garden for herbs and vegetables; eggs come from the resident hens, quail and geese, and rare-breed sheep are reared in the grounds. The hotel recycles and composts waste, heating comes from a wood-pellet-fuelled boiler or a ground-source heat pump (in the Tithe Barn and cookery school). Thyme has received the highest rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and is working towards the eradication of single-use plastics.
For meals in the Swan, we like a table near the French doors – which open onto the courtyard – in the garden room; for afternoon drinks, make a beeline for the sofas.
Town to country.
You’ll have two to choose from: the Ox Barn and the Swan at Southrop. Chef Charlie Hibbert curates the farm-based and plant-inspired menu at the Ox Barn, where signature dishes include lemon sole and herbs, roast Southrop lamb with salsa verde, roast pork with broad beans and fresh madeleines. Take your pick of the à la carte options, or opt for the set menu and wine-pairing. Brunches of fluffy eggs, salt cod cakes and berry-topped pancakes are served at the Ox Barn too. Despite an influx of A-listers, the Swan at Southrop has stayed true to its country-pub roots, championing localism (ingredients’ ancestry is traced on the menu) and dishing up hearty portions. Chef Matthew Wardman rewrites the menu each week – sometimes daily – but you’ll always find mod Brit light bites and pub classics throughout the day, and Norman-influenced fare at mealtimes. Sunday lunch remains sacrosanct: slabs of sirloin and estate-reared lamb are served with traditional trimmings, but be sure to nab a table ahead of time.
The Baa (see what they did there…) has a cocktail list with culinary clout: damsons from the garden are muddled into the cosmopolitan, home-made marmalade is swirled into Moscow mules and garden herbs are sprinkled into whisky sours. Brit spirits and fine wines from home and abroad are served too. By day, pop in for a coffee, tea or herbal infusion, and try the excellent home-made cakes: honey and quince cake (made with home-grown ingredients), blueberry and lavender friands, and clementine and polenta cake. The Swan has real ale on tap, picks from the local micro-breweries and a 100-bin wine list (order by the glass, carafe or bottle – house wine is on tap).
Breakfast is served 8am–10am. The Swan is open 11.30am–11pm; lunch, dinner and snack menus are available. The Ox Barn is open Thursday to Sunday for lunch (noon to 3pm) and Wednesday to Saturday for dinner (6pm to 9.30pm). The Baa runs dry around 11.30pm.
Thyme’s cottages repose amid trim and tidy grounds in classic Cotswolds’ countryside, on Southrop Manor’s estate. Cheltenham’s Regency refinement is a 40-minute drive away, and many of the area’s prettiest villages are within 20 minutes' drive.
Bristol Airport, where flights arrive from major European destinations and North Africa, is a 90-minute drive away on the M4. International hub Heathrow, around 90 miles east, is a 90-minute drive; London Gatwick is around two hours by car. The hotel can arrange transfers from London airports from £150 for a one-way trip.
Swindon station, a 40-minute drive away, is the closest. Direct trains arrive in around an hour from London Paddington, Cardiff, Bristol, and Oxford. One-way transfers are available from £40, and chauffeur-driven Mercedes are available on request.
Thyme can easily be reached via the M40 and A40, or the M4 and A420. If driving from London, it's possible to stop off at Oxford along the way, via the A40. At Burford, turn onto the A361 to Lechdale; Southrop’s four-and-a-half miles down the road. On-site parking is free.
Chopper in to get a bird’s-eye view of the Cotswolds and make quite the entrance. A £150 landing fee is required and helicopter operators need to contact the hotel and RAF Brize Norton in advance.
Worth getting out of bed for
Southrop’s estate has topiary-studded gardens, wildflower-strewn meadows and a farm. Pull on your wellies and start walking, stopping to greet the resident pigs, sheep, geese, pheasants and hens. Then stroll by the River Leach – in early summer, you may see swans with their cygnets. Learn how to forage; cook a globetrotting range of dishes; and perfect your breads, pasta and pastries at Thyme’s superb cookery school. Classes are two-to-six hours in length. Pop to Cirencester (about an hour's drive away) on Friday to catch the weekly market and pick up some local produce to take home. Artist William Morris's country escape Kelmscott Manor is a 20-minute drive away. The house is filled with the artist's personal effects and lavish furnishings from the manor's co-owner, Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. From April to August royals and enthusiasts hoof it to the fixtures at Beaufort and Cirencester Park polo clubs. Wills, Kate and Harry have been known to attend matches, and if you’re a dab hand with a mallet, temporary membership for 15 chukkas is £250 at Beaufort, and one-to-one tuition or two-day intensive courses are offered at Cirencester. Give the hotel two days’ notice and they can fill a picnic basket with sandwiches, cakes and other goodies to take with you. Unesco-listed Blenheim Palace, the 18th-century home of the first Duke of Marlborough and Churchill’s birthplace, is a sprawling colonnaded confection of a residence atop Capability Browns’ grounds. Marvel at the palace’s grandeur, then pop into the butterfly house and solve the hedge maze. Touring the Cotswolds’ teeny villages is a must: their quintessentially British charm is rendered in golden-hued stone, intertwined with flowers, petite shops and country pubs. Bibury is perhaps the area’s most famous for good looks, Bourton-on-the-Water is known as the Little Venice of the Cotswolds, Broadway lies in a vale of the Worcestershire Hills, and Chippings Camden, Norton and Sodbury are home to gilded historic marvels.
A mere waddle away, the Swan’s cosy ambience will draw you back until you’re on first-name terms with the clientele. However, the Cotswolds prides itself on grass-fed meats and buttercream-slathered cakes, and we recommend taking your taste buds on a tour. Northleach is a 25-minute drive away; set in this pretty village is The Wheatsheaf Inn, a fellow Smith stay with serious gastro cred. Dishes such as wood-pigeon saltimbocca and ox cheek, and oyster pie showcase excellent Brit produce in tasty style. A 20-minute drive away, by Burford, on the banks of the River Windrush sits The Swan at Swinbrook; the menu is staunchly local, with 28-day-aged beef from Hereford's University Farm and high-quality meats from supplier Aubrey Allen.
Arrive early to sample the delights of thronged bistro and deli Made by Bob in Cirencester. Their style is decadent simplicity: Wye Valley asparagus risotto, Hailey Farm lamb stew and devilled kidneys on sourdough are our picks from the tempting menu. Visit in the morning for freshly baked pastries and brunching treats. A 15-minute drive from the hotel, the Burford Café dishes up seasonal local ingredients (Todenham Manor ham Upton Smokery mackerel, Hobbs House sourdough and picks from Burford's fisheries) in tasty light lunches, soups and salads. Their afternoon tea is sinfully creamy too. Daylesford Organic Farm, roughly a 40-minute drive away, has a healthful menu of cold-pressed juices, broths and superfood-enriched salads, but – let's be honest – fat brownies, freshly baked scones and in-house cheeses are what you're really here for.
A 30-minute drive from the hotel lies The Kingham Plough, on entering this pub you’ll encounter a vintage piano and a life-size model of a pig by the fireplace. Ooti the pub dog might even pop by to say hello. Pull up a stool and order a pint of the draught local ale accompanied by a famed handmade pork pie. Quizzes take place on Sundays, or entertainment is provided by the aforementioned piano.
The Cotswolds may be a notorious honeytrap for A-listers – or at least for those who find the idea of having Jeremy Clarkson over for dinner attractive – but after 15 minutes of driving in circles trying to find our bed for the night at luxury hotel Thyme at Southrop, I decide the celebrity I’m most expecting to spot is Mr Tumnus. This place feels distinctly like Narnia for grown-ups, except the back of the wardrobe is bloody hard to find.
Indeed, the velvety darkness that has settled over Southrop – pronounced ‘Suth-er-up’ if you want to blend in with the locals (Kate Moss, Gary Barlow and the like…) – is so profound we end up reversing along the length of the main street and pulling a very dodgy seven-point turn by the pub, before we finally hear the welcome crunch of expensive gravel beneath our tyres. Thank God there’s nothing so vulgar as street lighting here… The place is so perfectly still once we switch the engine off, I can’t help worrying that the White Witch might appear to eject us from paradise for a breach of the peace.
In reality, a lovely lady in a floral dress appears to escort us to our tiny, honeyed-stone home-from-home – complete with a log burner, glossy magazines and a jar of homemade biscuits worthy of Tumnus himself. I’m all for going into hibernation (a couple of furry throws complete the hygge experience), but the chauffeur desires something stronger than a Nespresso; so, rather reluctantly, I allow my shoes to be jammed back on for the short trip across the yard to the Baa.
Yes, the Baa – I rolled my eyes too, until I experienced the pleasure of drinking strong spirits while sitting on a life-size fleecy sheep. The drinkery has pools of lamplight and plump sofas; it’s so quietly tasteful that it’s tempting to order a Sex on the Beach just to see if the Farrow & Ball-painted panelling cracks in protest. But, in obedience to the homegrown, authentic country-pub ambience, I request a Myrtle Martini instead.
As a martini snob, I do not approve of anything bearing the name which contains ingredients other than gin and vermouth, and perhaps an olive if I’m feeling peckish. Yet, while I’d like this version to be a little larger (or perhaps a little cheaper), the slightly juniper-like flavour of the myrtle is a revelatory pairing with Cotswolds-distilled gin. The only thing that prevents me from ordering another is a gentle reminder that we have a table waiting for us at the Swan, Thyme’s sister pub down the road. (‘Oh yes,’ we say, ‘the one we nearly demolished en route’).
The Swan’s barely a five-minute walk, albeit in inky darkness. When Thyme’s on-site restaurant opens in early 2018, it’ll be heartily welcomed by those looking to go full hermit for the weekend. For now, the Swan’s enormous open fireplace makes an excellent dining companion, and we’re both charmed by the homegrown nature of the menu – the pickled damsons accompanying the game terrine move me to put a reminder in my phone calendar, so I can make some when they come into season in September. The chocolate fondant and malt ice-cream only one of us orders causes a small tiff relating to the joys of sharing.
When we stumble back to our room, reunited by a close shave with a speeding tractor, we find a nightcap of vodka infused with apple and mint next to a single, delicate glass. ‘Romantic isn’t it,’ I say, ‘sharing?’ Romantic or not, the enormous bed proves so absurdly comfortable we both fall asleep immediately (though I do wake in the night in a panic thinking I’ve squashed the absent dog, only to realise there’s a luxuriantly furry hot-water bottle between us. Cotswolds problems, eh?)
More used to sirens than silence, we almost miss breakfast, and find ourselves sharing the communal table in the vaulted tithe barn with a crowd of fresh-faced yogis on a detox retreat. An envious sigh escapes my glowing neighbour when we order fried eggs and home-cured bacon (I’d advise visiting the farm after breakfast) – her beetroot juice looks good too, I comment, smugly.
Karma’s not slow on the uptake: dense icy fog soon puts pay to our bike-hiring plans, but striding across the fields in fancy borrowed wellies proves a pleasant alternative. Indeed, the countryside around Thyme is ridiculously beautiful, and we earmark some idyllic-looking swimming spots for a repeat visit in warmer weather, before heading for the warmth of the Victoria Inn in neighbouring Eastleach – I can confirm it does a fine line in local ales and cheese-and-chutney sandwiches.
Back in the Baa, our nine-mile hike in sub-zero temperatures merits a wodge of gloriously squidgy almond and polenta cake; over coffee we lazily toy with the idea of booking a late massage in the room before dinner. But somehow it’s already apéritif time again, and – we sleepily agree – if we relax any further we might never make it back to the Swan for that second helping of fondant…