England’s Garden has a new porcine resident. The Pig at Bridge Place has taken a storied estate belonging to Kentish gentry – via a raucous rock ‘n’ roll reinvention in the Sixties – and applied a winning formula of country charm, fresh-as-it-gets food and rural relaxation. The main house is positively Peppa’d with cosy nooks to curl up in (and sip some lauded local wine), a string of cosy cabins lies beyond the babbling brook which runs through the grounds, and the trademark kitchen garden has a hidden-away patio perfect for alfresco feasting. All just a short trot from London, too.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £369.00, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates do not include breakfast (£12 for Continental; £16 for cooked). Two-night minimum stay at weekends and bank holidays.
You'd never know from its bucolic setting, but Bridge Place had a period of rock 'n' roll rebellion when it was taken over in the 1960s and reinvented as Kent's hip-shaking hideout of choice. Led Zeppelin, the Kinks and Ben E King were among the notable names who played; you'll spy some original event posters in the bathrooms.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, two treatment rooms, kitchen gardens and outdoor dining, bikes to borrow. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD player, minibar with local favourites, and Bramley bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The bold four-poster bed with intricate floral carvings in the cosy Extremely Small room has some real Henry VIII grandeur to it (although he personally might have struggled to fit), fans of William Morris wallpaper will enjoy Coach House rooms and families are well served by the Pig Lodge rooms. For a bit of romantic drama, though, we're particularly smitten with room 2 (a Hideaway) and it's mezzanine bathroom, ripe for reciting Romeo and Juliet speeches down from the tub.
The nimble fingers in the potting shed are not of the soil-covered variety; it's home to two tranquil spaces with an extensive menu of soothing spa treatments using bespoke Bamford products. The two-hour Pig signature treatment is the ultimate when it comes to unwinding.
Don’t worry about wellies; the hotel has plenty. Do save case space for some local sparkling wine, though – you'll be spoilt for choice.
There are two rooms off the main courtyard that are fully wheelchair accessible. <br />So long as they don’t hassle the actual pigs, you’re very welcome to walk your dog in the grounds but they’re not allowed in the restaurant or rooms.
Some rooms can fit a baby cot (£10 a night) or an extra bed (£20 a night for under-12s), on request only. Menus can be adapted, babysitting is £10 an hour (must be booked two days in advance; minimum four hours per booking).
The Pig's benchmark-setting dedication to homegrown (to the tune of 17 tons of fruit and veg a year) and strictly locally sourced fare is again at the heart of the hotel. Recycling goes beyond the standard – much of the building restoration has used natural and reclaimed materials, and artfully upcycled furniture is dotted throughout. The hotel maintains strong community links, too, providing apprenticeships for young chefs, and working with local schools to spread its sustainable message.
Take a round table in the back corner for the best indoor/outdoor vantage point. If the weather's good, a table next to the garden oven is hard to beat.
Few places embrace ‘come as you are’ quite so enthusiastically but, given this pile's past, adding a dose of rock 'n' roll swagger to your country casual can only be encouraged.
As with all Pig properties, the restaurant is the beating heart of the hotel. Here, in a long conservatory-style space lit by charming vintage lamps, chef Kamil Oseka (affectionately known as Mr Pickle; the entire wall lined with jars of preserves will tell you why) presides over a moreish menu sourced from a strict 25-mile radius (and plenty from the kitchen garden, mere metres away). There are the famed piggy bits for snacking (crackling and apple sauce, honey roasted chipolatas and ham-hock scotch eggs), a raft of just-picked veggie light bites and hearty mains from sea and shore. We pigged out on Folkestone hake, Dover crab and Sevenoaks venison but dishes come and go with the season. Follow your nose beyond the vegetable patches outside and you'll find the 'garden oven' serving flatbreads, salads and grilled meats among the foliage during the warmer months.
High of ceiling, roaring of fire and squashy of sofa, the bar is a temptingly cosy corner for a tipple, lined, in signature Pig fashion, with shelves of mismatched coloured glassware. Cocktails are crafted with a horticultural twist, Kentish brews fill the beer fridge, nightcaps aplenty pack the spirits shelves and, being in the heart of English wine country, plenty of local vintages are served – you’ll leave a convert even if you arrive a sceptic. There's also a courtyard bar for when the sun decides to shine.
Breakfast is served between 7am and 10am (and from 7.30am to 10.30am at weekends); lunch is noon to 2.30pm; dinner is between 6.30pm and 9.30pm. Food is served in the bar from noon until 9pm; drinks are available until midnight.
The Pig at Bridge Place is on a prime plot of land in the verdant village of Bridge, a short drive from historic Canterbury
Lydd airport, near Ashford, is a 45-minute drive away. London City airport is in the right corner of the capital for a convenient escape to Kent.
The nearest station is Bekesbourne, served by South Eastern from London Victoria, but faster, more frequent trains go to neighbouring Canterbury from London St Pancras.
Driving from London should take about an hour and a half and parking is free at the hotel. Canterbury is a 15-minute drive away.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you've over-indulged a little you're likely to be in good company; thankfully there are glorious grounds – either side of the gently trickling tributary of the River Nailborne that carves through the estate – just right for a restorative stroll (or cycle if you're feeling active). If you prefer your perambulations with purpose, Simpsons Wine Estate is two miles away and promises a sip or three of its méthode traditionnelle-crafted blends (we highly recommend the Chalklands sparkling). If that whets your whistle, the surrounding area is known as the Wine Garden of England so you're well placed for a tour; Biddenden and Chapel Down are two of the bigger names but there are plenty to discover. Think punting is the preserve of Oxbridge scholars? Think again. Nearby Canterbury has its own pole-pushed vessels for lazy drifts down the River Stour. On land, its cute cobbled streets are ideal for idle ambling. For more exotic adventures, Howlett's Wild Animal Park is practically a neighbour; a 100-acre home to rhinos, tigers, leopards, gorillas and more. Whitstable, the picturesque beach-hut-lined fishing port, is a half-hour drive north; the hipster shores of Margate are 45 minutes north-east and the up-and-coming Deal is just 30 minutes to the east.
Anyone taking the train to or from Canterbury should allow some time for a pit-stop at the Goods Shed: a station-side food hall and farmer's market heaving with fresh fare and tempting tipples. In nearby Fordwich, you'll find the Fordwich Arms and its Kentish pub-gone-posh menu that The Guardian hailed as 'food that makes you want to move house' (in a good way, we should add). If daytripping to Whitstable, chart a course for the seafood-centric, Michelin-starred Sportsmanand the iconic bijou oyster bar, Wheelers (though you'll need to book well in advance; it only seats 12).
Two-wheel tourers can park up at the Independent Pedaler in nearby Bridge for a pit-stop of fresh and wholesome salads, paninis and baked goods.
I’d booked my stay at the Pig’s newest outpost (just outside the historic city of Canterbury) after six back-to-back weeks of fashion shows and Frieze, so it was safe to say that I was ready to get there.
As with all Pig properties, the original building is beautifully impressive. Surrounded by weeping willows and a glorious drive, it’s perhaps even more gothic and stately than some of its siblings.
We’d opted for a room in the main house rather than one of the cosy cabins beyond, and the decor did not disappoint: Farrow & Ball moss green, dark wood antique furniture, and William Morris fabrics decorating walls and lampshades.
The bathroom was one floor upstairs, looking back down on the bed, and had a chaise lounge next to the perfect-sized tub which felt really luxurious – you could stretch out and watch it fill up with hot water and bubbles while sitting soft. There are all the amenities that one expects at the Pig – but there is certainly a focus on more organic brands than ever before.
After the drive down on the first day we decided to tackle one of the more reasonable two-hour walks near the hotel, before the rain began in earnest. The tangled creepers down country lanes, old churches and a derelict hopyard gave things a Sleepy Hollow vibe but the wilder fields beyond were full of lovely happy-looking sheep grazing.
After hitting a respectable 8,000 steps we headed back to the hotel in time for a long soak in that bath. Suitably relaxed, we decided that stiff drinks were deserved and sampled locally made vodka in our martinis before dinner. The menu in the restaurant – as with all Pigs – prides itself on being local: every ingredient from their kitchen garden or sourced from within a 25-mile radius. We feasted on Dover sole and numerous sides of garden vegetables before Mr Smith tackled a crumble with hot custard. Food comatosed, we fell into bed quickly that night.
The next morning, Mr Smith tackled the infamous Pig buffet complete with its array of homemade jams. I was on a gluten- and sugar-free diet but the kitchen were really helpful with providing alternatives: gluten-free bread, and delicious eggs from their farm.
We were only a short drive from Margate and there were a number of art shows and vintage shops we wanted to visit. The local Tate there has incredible sea views; the contemporary Carl Freedman gallery is really worth a visit too.
Margate’s vintage shopping in really is exceptional – we stocked up on a boot load of finds from crockery and vintage silk slips, to locally made candles and heavily embroidered 1920’s handbags. (For serious shoppers, I’d suggest going midweek when the town is less busy and all the shops are open; many are closed on Mondays for example).
After driving past the UKs largest greenhouse – Thanet Earth – we arrived back at Bridge Place where I’d booked myself in for one of the Pig’s signature massages. Afterwards I floated back to my room with my body warm and healed by a variety of essential oils.
Later that evening we had our second dinner at the restaurant, and decided to share their locally reared ham hock with lashings of chips and gravy, accompanied by more vodka martinis and wines from their extensive menu. (Dessert king Mr Smith also ate a homemade Bakewell tart, which he happily advised was ‘excellent’).
We had to leave quite early the next morning, alas, but the Pig at Bridge Place had made its impression: it’s a beautiful addition to the group with a personality all of its own. It was a good thing that the WiFi was slightly sketchy as it forced us to relax, focus on conversation and our time together, and catch up on reading all those magazines and newspapers we’d brought down to get through.
And what’s wonderful about the location is the plethora of places to day-trip to – from historic towns to up-and-coming seaside scenes, there really is something for everyone. Having said that, I’d have been perfectly happy not to leave the bath in our room.