southrop, lechlade, uk
Part of a wellness compound that feels like a secret garden this bothy is reimagined as a Cotswoldian hammam, where warmed natural resin makes for remarkably soothing surfaces and flowing water precludes the need for the standard spa soundtrack.
To some, cottagecore is a relic of 2020 that periodically resurfaces in the fashion press. (See: last month’s headlines from New York to Dubai about Selena Gomez in her blue Dôen dress). To others, the esthetic has been a mirror of daily life for the past thousand years. Thyme, as you might guess at first sight of this revitalized medieval estate, is an ode to the latter.
The backdrop, obligingly, is the largest area of outstanding natural beauty in England. And that’s not us editorializing. AONBs (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are official government-protected expanses—in this case, the nearly 800 square miles that make up the hilly, sheepy Cotswolds, an hour or two northwest of London. The travel time varies by not only the village you’re visiting, but also the motorists and occasional tractor driver you’re following down the region’s famously narrow, winding lanes, where you’ll spend at least half an hour even if you take a train to the nearest station (Swindon). Some of these ancient roads are in fact so befuddling to 21st-century tech that you’ll receive Google Maps coordinates upon booking at Thyme.
Then again, when the property was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, inbound tourism wasn’t so much a thing. But in the two decades since Londoners Caryn and Jerry Hibbert bought and began restoring the manor house and its surrounding barns, cottages, gardens and fields, travelers have taken note—first, when an on-site cookery school opened in 2007, then, with each subsequent addition: hotel, bar, pub, restaurant and spa. The Botanical Bothy, a treatment space that opened last year, is the latest offering to win raves.
Part of a wellness compound that feels like a secret garden—all hedges, topiaries and fountains—this bothy (an old local term for a basic gardening shelter) is reimagined as Cotswoldian hammam, where warmed natural resin makes for remarkably soothing surfaces and flowing water precludes the need for the standard spa soundtrack. There’s precisely one treatment on offer within this standalone space: the Botanical Bothy Signature ritual, which opens with guided breathing (Caryn’s first career in obstetrics contributed mightily to this portion) and continues with pressure-point foot work, lymphatic body brushing, hair washing and scalp massage. You’re then led to the private veranda, where you’ll soak in an herbal bath, sit by the fire and take in the dreamy natural surroundings. Though you’ll be hard-pressed to focus on words (or much else) at this stage, you may notice an inscription along the base of the fountain: “The good man is the friend of all living things.”
Though the line is Gandhi’s, it fits right in here. Since the Hibberts acquired the property, Caryn has been working to make it a sustainable sanctuary for humans and animals alike. With the help of her father, the physicist and engineer Michael Bertioli (whose surname you’ll recognize from the botanical beauty line at the spa), she’s deployed everything from energy-efficient radiant heating in the 17th-century barn to chlorine-free filtration in the spring-fed pool. Indeed, keeping the local waterways in the best possible shape is a high priority: Thyme’s water meadows—a government-monitored Site of Special Scientific Interest—are home to all manner of wildlife, not least (though impossibly tiny at half an ounce apiece), the warblers that arrive annually from Africa. And over the years, Thyme has worked with the British Trust for Ornithology in addition to Plantlife, Tusk and 1% for the Planet.
The property has also been awarded the highest possible rating by the Sustainable Restaurant Association for food that comes largely from the kitchen’s own backyard (picture organic herb gardens, orchards and happy country hens, for starters)—and returns there as fertilizer once plate waste has been converted via anaerobic digestion. Of course, plate waste is largely theoretical in light of the staff’s famed talent. “Beautifully pared-back, flavor-packed dishes follow a nature-to-plate philosophy,” says the Michelin Guide of the Ox Barn, where the chef is particularly invested in the restaurant’s success. His name is Charlie Hibbert—and he’s part of the third generation to work at Thyme. (His sister Camilla is the GM.) So, yes, the family-run vibes are strong here, as befits a paragon of cottagecore.
Equally fitting, the lodging categories range from Teensy Cosy Bedrooms to entire cottages, with one—delightfully named Old Walls—that looks out onto the sheep-filled grazing greens. Mind you, it’s the indoor variety of sheep that may be the ultimate cottagecore status symbol here: You can buy locally handmade-to-order Sheep Seats directly from the hotel that made them famous. thyme.co.uk