All Images Credit Thyme

Perfecting The Art of Slowing Down: Thyme Retreat in the Cotswolds

May. 1st, 2023

There is something thrilling about big cities. The frantic pace, the action, and all there is to see and do.  They are definitely exciting places to live. But they can also drain the very life out of us and exhaust us to the point of collapse.  When life needs recharging, there’s no better place to do it than in the countryside. This is the antithesis of city life, where bucolic scenery replaces concrete and skyscrapers and where in place of subways, gridlocked streets, and blaring horns, there are bird calls, farmlands, and country lanes lined with stone fences. Around the English countryside are such places for Londoners and other international city dwellers looking for a place to relax, restore, and recharge. One of its most sublime is in the Cotswolds at the Thyme country estate.   

Thyme is more than a hotel or a country manor, it is a 17th-century village of honey-colored cobblestone cottages that have been reborn as one of England’s most sublime retreats.   There you’ll find a haven of peace and solitude on the 150-acre estate, where the priority is just to chill out, eat well, sleep well, and relax. In place of board meetings and power lunches, the goal of the day is perhaps a cooking class, a rejuvenating spa treatment, or simply a walk in the unspoiled countryside.  

The pastoral estate offers a carefully curated country lifestyle in a rural setting surrounded by woodlands and preserved wetlands, pastures with grazing  Black Welsh Mountain sheep, and an expansive fertile kitchen garden producing the fruits and vegetables you’ll dine on during the stay. On the property, there are 32 accommodations located in manor houses that offer old-world charm with the updated mod cons required by today’s travelers. The retreat features tennis courts, a swimming pool a top-notch spa as well one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the region set in a converted ox barn.  

This haven for city dwellers is a labor of love for Thyme’s founder, Caryn Hibbert. She is a Londoner and former obstetrician, who created a country estate for her family in 2002.  The concept evolved from renovating a country manor house to creating a cookery school with a few rooms.  As developers began to look at the surrounding area the family decided to acquire the adjacent lands and cottages themselves to expand the project and to maintain the serenity of their rural respite.

Caryn Hibbert’s attention to detail and pursuit of perfection is apparent throughout the estate. You’ll see it in the room’s fresh-cut flowers and you’ll notice the subtleties such as the fragrances of river mint and lavender. Her eye for interior design and graceful taste is immediately apparent as evidenced by the grand artwork, bold prints in the décor, and tasteful design elements. You’ll also take note of the use of the highest quality construction materials as well as repurposed stones and wood, and the rustic exposed rafters. There is a noticeable focus on hospitality in the service of the staff, the exquisite cuisine, and the tangible feeling of peace and comfort that you’ll experience during the stay.    

There’s something special about a stay in a family-owned retreat such as this.  It is a bit more personal where you feel as if you are a guest in their home vs. just another visitor at a hotel. And for the Hibberts, there could not be more of a family commitment where her daughter Milly is the general manager and the highly accomplished head chef is her son Charlie.

As a former obstetrician turned hotelier, Hibbert at her core a healer. It is obvious to all that have stayed there that the goal of Thyme is to heal, restore and revitalize through the healing powers of healthy food, fresh country air and a good night’s rest, and immersion into the healing powers of nature.

The estate is a 150-acre haven of solitude.  There are large open fields, pastures with grazing livestock, and a huge garden filled with flowers, fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs.  Hibbert’s focus on conservation and the preservation of nature is evidenced in the large sections of the estate that are now protected natural reserves of water meadows and pristine old wood forests. 

As guests arrive at the estate’s reception, they walk through a grove filled with flowers, olive trees, and water fountains. It is at that point one realizes that beauty, nature, and purpose are intertwined there. Throughout the property are such places, gorgeous gardens, and water fountains connected by gravel paths with sitting areas to stop and pause, unhurried. On these strolls, one can sit and exhale as they admire their surroundings while taking in the fragrance of jasmine, honeysuckle, or perhaps rosemary or lavender.  

Each of the buildings has a story to tell and offers a piece of history as well as a current-day purpose.  The former rectory is now an exhibition hall and gathering hall for artists, poets, and authors can share their works.  The former piggery is now a shop where Hibbert’s other passion as an artist is on display in the home products such as linens and dining room wares are on offer.   The most notable transformation is the Ox Barn, a massive building that is now a refined structure with soaring three-story high ceilings with exposed rafters dramatically lit. The venue features a show kitchen, a lounge area with a fireplace, and tables and booths spread throughout the space.

Tibbles in the Baa Bar

The ambiance of the estate is countryside-chic with sophisticated details and the occasional quirky bits. It is most of all pretty, yet relaxed and unfussy.    

Speaking of quirky bits, the former lamb shed has been repurposed into a lavish bar, lounge, and library appropriately named Baa. This is a bold yet inviting space filled with rich textures, colors, plush armchairs, and brilliant artworks with views onto the olive and fruit treed courtyard. Its most unforgettable feature is the odd chairs fashioned after the Black Welsh mountain sheep found around the estate with furry sheep fleece covers atop wooden sheep mannequins. They are as delightful as they are whimsical. The inviting saloon is made for passing time leafing through the coffee table tombs from Assouline. Guests gather there often to sip on G&Ts or their innovative take on traditional cocktails crafted with herbs and fruits from their gardens.  

Rest, Rejuvenation, and Relaxation 

Thyme is first and foremost a refuge so the accommodations are designed so that comfort and tranquility are assured. The décor and design are elegant, cozy, and without pretense.   There are 32 bedrooms, located throughout the property in estate homes and cottages with each one varying in size, décor, and furnishings with a full complement of amenities expected in a five-star retreat.  Expect eclectic works of art, fine antiques, beautiful floral print linen and curtains, fresh cut flowers, and thoughtful touches such as Nespresso coffee machines with a flask of fresh milk or the hot water bottles waiting under the covers of your bed on your return at night. Rooms are furnished with uber-comfortable beds, high-back armchairs, and window box seats overlooking the private lawn below. Bathrooms are exquisite as well with heated floors, Bertioli bathroom amenities, and many offering deep soaking tubs.  

Delectable Dining in The Ox Barn

The Ox Barn at Thyme has become legendary in culinary circles and is worth the journey to get there in and of itself.  It begins with the location, a massive open-air barn converted into a fine dining establishment. The rafters soar three stories high with exposed beams spotted with industrial mood lights to set the tone.

In one area of the expanse is a cozy sitting area, complete with a fireplace and avant-garde portrait by Chris Levine of the late Queen Elizabeth II, Her Majesty with eyes closed as she rested between sessions. Far on the other section is the open-air kitchen with views of the chefs and staff as they busy about preparing the day’s culinary delights. The Ox Barn at Thyme is led by Chief Director Charlie Hibbert, Caryn’s son, who has an impressive pedigree beginning with the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland before a stint at London’s legendary Quo Vadis restaurant.

The estate’s ‘field to fork’ philosophy and the freshness of the ingredients is a key element that gives each meal a sense of place.  As you’re walking the grounds of the property, you are likely to see the staff from the restaurant in the estate’s two-acre kitchen gardens and organic farm foraging about for herbs or picking fruits and vegetables that will adorn your plate later that evening. Other ingredients and meats are sourced nearby. The English dinner menu is a short one that changes daily based on what is available from the gardens and providers that day.  Expect signature dishes such as grilled Southrop lamb with braised beans and spinach, salt duck kohlrabi served with fennel and pickles, or smoked trout with caviar.     

The Meadow Spa at Thyme

There are a host of reasons for a stay at the Thyme retreat, one of which is their exceptional wellness experience. The Meadows Spa rightfully refers to itself as a ‘haven of restorative calm’ and certainly hits the mark. The spa offers a range of wellness rituals to care for a number of health needs from facials to a ritualistic full-body massage and scalp treatment.

The meadows spa has also developed several therapies to rejuvenate skin with Aurelia Probiotic Skincare such as Aurelia’s Natural Face Lift which relieves tension through a soothing deep muscle rolling and pressure point massage.   Other treatments include their holistic body and face massage that provides comfort and relief for the entire body. After your treatment, you’ll want to rehydrate at the spa's Greenhouse Water Bar and relax in one of the cozy quiet spaces.

Exploring the English Countryside

This is, after all, the English countryside so there’s so much to do and see in and around the property. Guests will love glorious walks in nature, no matter the time of year with their wellies and raincoats for the spring showers or as the leaves begin to change colors in the fall. Around the property, there is a lovely black slate heated spring water swimming pool ideal for laps for exercise or to cool off after a long hike. There’s a tennis court as well. Away from the retreat, there are lovely English roads to explore with a country drive and quaint towns, pubs, and shops to explore throughout the Cotswolds.

Make Time for Thyme

Retreating to the country allows us to exhale the stress and manic pace of city life and inhale in its place the fresh air, languid pace, and calming essence of rural living. Thyme has perfected this endeavor with a cocoon of comforts from the setting in nature and the restorative ambiance of retreat.  From the scrumptious and farm-fresh cuisine, the rejuvenating spa services, and the accommodations for a rejuvenating night's rest. Thyme in the Cotswolds offers a place for all of her guests to master the art of slowing down.

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)