by OCTAVIA MUIR
We sat down with Camilla Hibbert of Thyme hotel and discover more about this environmentally conscious and country chic retreat. With a childhood spent growing up in this Cotswolds haven and now part of the family business herself, Milly explains Thyme’s transformation to one of the hottest UK getaways.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I have grown up here in Southrop and have seen Thyme grow and change, from dilapidated buildings to what it is today. As a family home, a lot of our time was spent with animals – from chickens wondering into the kitchen, orphan lambs that we hand reared and bottle fed (one called Bartholomew thought he was a dog and slept in the beds with the spaniels), and 90% of my time spent on horseback. My career started in London, working in events and marketing, with boutique brands to global corporations. But the draw to head out of the city and work back at home was unquestionable. My passion for Thyme runs deep, stemming from it being my home and watching its evolution. Not only of the buildings and business, but of the land around us, how that has changed over the years and the stories it tells.
Tell us about the village within a village that is Thyme and what sets the location apart
Nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds, Thyme is a collection of restored, historic buildings which emulate a ‘village within a village’. We took time to make Thyme, with the story of the land imbued in every detail. Thyme is more than a place, it is a moment to pause for thought, slow down and engage with nature.
Surrounded by glorious countryside, we have a constant source of inspiration for everything from the seasonal dishes on the menu and botanical prints to the interior design and restoration. Each bedroom is inspired by its botanical namesake, such as English Rose, Angelica or Nettle.
Of course, it is the buildings too that make Thyme so special. Our main barns are historic spaces, huge and impressive, while remaining symbolic of their farming heritage, honest and humble. We have made sympathetic architectural decisions that preserve the history of the spaces and design choices that blend with the natural materials of the buildings, combined with an inspiration of nature and botanicals. It is the individual features and characteristics of the building that I adore the most. For example, in the Piggery, our shop, there are three small doorways, about a metre high, which once were the entrances for the pigs. There are these quirks and nods to the buildings past throughout Thyme which spark stories and smiles.
Just like LOVE BRAND & Co. Thyme is based upon a family story tell us more about how this runs through the heart of everything you do
An extension of our home, we moved here as a family in 2001. Since then, Thyme has evolved greatly, but family is still ingrained within every inch. The restoration began as a collaborative effort between my mother and Thyme’s Founder, Caryn Hibbert, and my grandfather Michael Bertioli, a physicist and engineer, combining their passions in architecture, conservation, and design. While Caryn led the concept and design, Michael’s motivation was the installation of green technology, ensuring these large agricultural buildings were as energy efficient as possible and re-built for the future. Thyme is still family owned and ran today, led by Caryn, my eldest brother Charlie and me, Milly. Charlie is our Head Chef, leading the food and produce. His time is spent in the kitchens of our Ox Barn restaurant, the cookery school and in the gardens – Charlie works meticulously with the garden team to select and grow the fruits, vegetables, and herbs used to create his menus.
I look after the brand and marketing, as well as the retail, with a real focus on the development of Thyme’s daughter brand ‘Bertioli by Thyme’. This includes table linens and silk wear, adorned with botanical illustrations painted by Caryn which depict the flora that inhabit Thyme’s gardens and wild spaces.
A connection to nature and conservation is core to both our brands, why did you decide to dedicate Thyme to this
Thyme has grown organically over the years, since the cookery school opened in 2008. While we didn’t necessarily set out to create what Thyme is today, the ethos has never faltered. The ambition was to breathe new life into these magnificent buildings and reconnect them with the land. A love of plants was instilled by my grandmother, Patricia Bertioli. She used to stop the car on the school run and get us all out looking at primroses on the verge of the road. It was only natural that a passion to protect the natural world is so strong in the whole family.
This love of the outdoors has meant we have spent a lot of time in the gardens and meadows, watching what wildlife call our farm home too. We have been stunned particularly by the bird life, both native and migratory. In particular the story of the reed warbler – small birds that travel from sub-Saharan Africa to raise their young in our water meadows are dependent on the protection of wild spaces on our doorstep. This realisation clearly displayed, conservation starts at home and no matter how big or small, it is so important to protect your patch.
This love of nature has long been at the heart of our family, and we are so delighted to be at a point in our journey to bring it to the heart of the business too.
Having a brand with a greater purpose is so important now, why do you believe that luxury should have a greater responsibility
A huge part of having business is building a platform and an audience of engaged people, and for a ‘high-end’ or ‘luxury’ brand, it is also about creating aspiration. Brands wield so much influence with their consumers, it should be a requirement to utilise your platform and aspiration to raise awareness and effect positive action.
There has been a tangible shift in consumer behaviour, from extravagance to modesty and sustainability. This rise of the conscious consumer has generated not only an interest, but an expectation for a brand to make responsible decisions and employ sustainable business practice – and be able to prove it. Now, there needs to be a shift in brands mindset that sustainability does not mean compromising customer experience.
Sustainability has been a huge part of Thyme’s story from the outset. We sow, grow and harvest as much food as possible on site, while heating comes from a ground-source heat pump and wood-pellet boiler, with a real focus on insulation to make these huge spaces as efficient as possible. We have a rigourous Our focus is on nature, with a connection to the land at every touchpoint.
You have amazing experiences at Thyme from the gardens, floristry classes, cooking classes – what are the must do activities that guests should do if they only had a day
Thyme is about slowing down, taking a moment to notice the small things. Everything that we do is about connecting to nature, and whatever guests choose to partake in we hope they feel that connection.
The buildings are encompassed by courtyards and gardens, with inside spaces spilling to the outside. From dining in the Ox Barn restaurant and meandering down to the kitchen gardens or spending time with our chefs or florists in the school, it is all a celebration of the land. In our Meadow Spa, we work exclusively with Aurelia Probiotic Skincare to create bespoke, botanical treatments. Centred around a garden, the spa is full of green and airy spaces, your welcomed with a picked-that-day herb water.
Of course, you can’t leave without popping into our shop – our own table linens and silk wear, each adorned with patterns of nature sit next to hand-picked, artisanal ceramics, glassware and clothing – each piece with a story worth celebrating.
A celebration of all things British is essential to Thyme – how do you highlight this.
Thyme is rooted in an English country idyll and, situated in the heart of Cotswolds, embodies an English way of life. We work with a network of fabulous local suppliers, from cheesemakers and vineyards to stonemasons and ironmongers. However, our stories really are global. From the antique furniture that decorate our spaces, to the craftspeople that make our products – French ceramicists, Czech glass blowers, Ghanaian and Columbian basket weavers. There is so much history, culture and diversity in the very fabric of Thyme, and that makes it so special.
Have you noticed an increased appreciation for the British staycation from your existing and possible a new audience?
Absolutely. The key shift has been from a night away to a mini-break, which is a lovely thing. There is so much to do and explore both at Thyme and in the immediate area. Situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, we are fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful local businesses. Food suppliers such as Cotswold Distillery and Gibson’s Liqueurs, shopping in Tetbury at Lorfords Antiques, and world-class gardens such as Rousham and Rococo Painswick.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF THYME