A Family Affair: Thyme Hotel – Review

By Fiona Duncan

3 weeks ago

A garden oasis twenty years in the making


Searching for somewhere to stay in the Cotswolds? Fiona Duncan pays a visit to Thyme hotel in Lechlade.

Read the C&TH Responsible Tourism Guide

Review: Thyme Hotel, The Cotswolds

Very few hotels in Britain are family run these days, especially luxury ones. A notable exception is Thyme, in the Cotswolds, where Caryn Hibbert and her children have created a scented garden oasis with 31 rooms, a spa and a restaurant. Twenty years in the making, now they are ‘colouring in’ their creation, and their closeness and hands-on commitment has brought something magical to their village within a village. Spend time at Thyme and for all its luxury and style, you’ll find a family pulling together.

It all started in 2002 when Caryn, in those days a doctor working in obs and gynae, and her husband Jerry, a commercials director (‘Tony the Tiger – that was me’) bought Southrop Manor and its 100-acre farm as their family home. Soon after, with the help of her father Michael Bertioli, a successful scientist and inventor, Caryn acquired a group of adjacent barns, including the magnificent Tithe Barn and Ox Barn, that were under threat of redevelopment, restoring them over several years and crucially keeping their cathedral-like internal proportions intact. 

Hotel room with pink and white floral wallpaper, s pink headboard on the bed, and white bed linen.

But Caryn didn’t stop with the barns. After establishing a Cookery School in one of the outbuildings, she went on to buy, over the years, several attractive surrounding village houses and cottages for guest accommodation and asked Bunny Guinness to design gardens, including lawns and swathes of wild flowers in long grass, to unite them. A long private drive was created to lead round the back of Southrop into this oasis of Cotswold charm and sophistication. Her benign mini empire also includes The Swan, with all the attributes of a popular Cotswold pub: beams, inglenooks, flagstone floors, of course, but also moody lighting, upholstered armchairs, walls striped in Edward Bulmer pea green and cream paint and a sophisticated menu (don’t miss the salt cod croquettes).

Talk about colouring in. It’s six years since I last stayed at Thyme, and it feels as if it has come into full bloom. Everywhere you look, inside and out, there are flowers and plants, including an extensive boutique selling flower patterned clothes and housewares. Four members of staff alone pick the flowers each morning for the beautiful, natural arrangements liberally scattered around the hotel. 

Caryn and Jerry’s delightful son Charlie is still head chef in the dazzling Ox Barn restaurant where, after the awful Covid years, he now has a ‘brilliant team’ and his food – much of it, including lamb and beef, home-grown – proves it; and their equally delightful daughter Camilla (Milly) is now the hotel’s general manager.

Charlie moved from Quo Vadis in Soho and Milly from a career in events to return to sleepy Southrop and help their mother. They have no regrets, I suspect because they are, with Caryn, still evolving their project, which is not without its huge and constant challenges. ‘I love it most of the time, but not all the time,’ says Caryn candidly. Milly is on a steep learning curve and has industry mentors to guide her; I suspect she will be a great success at her new role for she brings vested interest, integrity, vision and kindness to it.

Before she took on the role of running the hotel, Milly helped her mother with a major bout of colouring in. They founded Bertioli, their mother-and-daughter brand selling ‘simple, beautiful products for everyday living,’ including scented Water Meadow beauty products used in the hotel’s bedrooms and spa and developed to evoke the important, wildlife-rich water meadows that form part of the estate. And now they have launched The Cutting Garden – fabrics, wallpapers, homeware and accessories decorated with Caryn’s paintings of flowers freshly picked from the bountiful cutting gardens she has established. 

Floral cushion with two white candles in front.

Caryn always loved painting flowers, but just for fun. One day, Charlie asked her to illustrate his new menu. Guests loved the result and ‘it just grew from there’. Four bedrooms have recently been redecorated with Cutting Garden fabrics, wallpapers and lampshades, with more to come. Rue the day that florals went out of fashion? Immerse yourself in bowers of flowers – sidalcea, gladioli, phlox, elderflower in one of these deeply comfortable bedrooms.

Among the Water Meadow products, one, developed by Milly, stands out as a game-changer for hotels, like Thyme, that are determined to reduce waste and increase sustainability (‘we prefer a holistic rather than carbon-counting approach,’ says Caryn). Their 3-in-1 Shampoo Bar negates the need for plastic containers; is 100 percent plant based and vegan; packed with botanicals; and – I can attest – creates a rich lather that acts as a silky shampoo, conditioner and skin cleanser.

You’ll eat very well at Thyme, and you will love both the outdoor heated spring water pool bordered by its relaxing Orchid House (whose sedum roof is covered with native orchids) for botanical drinks and light bites, and the Meadow Spa. Treat yourself to the Signature Ritual (Breath, Scent, Nature) in the Botanical Bothy (£225), gently guided by expert therapist Raquel and in 90 wafting minutes you will feel both utterly relaxed and completely rejuvenated.

Vegetable garden at Thyme hotel, photographed at dusk.

Whatever you do during your Thyme time, be sure to go outside. The Hibbert’s creation feels more like a garden with a mellow Cotswold stone hotel planted in it, rather than a hotel that also has a garden. Using Jerry’s cleverly drawn map, the family have devised a self-guided walk that takes you through the gardens, across a meadow, into the huge and voluptuous cutting and vegetable gardens and polytunnels – all used by the hotel’s chefs and florists and presided over with passion by Darryl Taylor, who was previously culinary director but prefers gardens to kitchen – and on across the bird-rich water meadows fed by the River Leach. Sit for a while in this ethereally beautiful place and watch for kingfishers, willow warblers, barn owls and chiffchaffs, to name but four of many species seen here.

A close-knit family have conjured Thyme hotel and together they run it. With the exception of Jerry, that is, whose droll humour adds a leavening touch. ‘I retired years ago,’ he tells me, ‘and I’m staying retired. Who’d run a hotel? Not me. I like eating in the restaurant, though.’

BOOK IT

Doubles from £430 per night, including breakfast. 01367 850174. thyme.co.uk