One of the Pig hotel-group’s litter,The Pig at Combe is another smash hit: a masterfully made-over country pile with a statement restaurant, gorgeous grounds and fine Arabian horses for neighbours. The kitchen-gardens grow 12 types of mint, seafood only has to travel eight miles up from the coast and the pristine grounds feature giant cedar trees with swings suspended from which to release your inner eight year old. Rooms in the main house are as well-heeled as you’d expect, but for a more rustic option – including a redesigned original horsebox – opt for one of the stable-yard suites.
11am. Earliest check-in, 3pm, but flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £199.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates do not include breakfast (£11 for Continental; £16 for cooked too). Two-night minimum stay at weekends and bank holidays.
The Pig takes its food and drink offering seriously and even the minibars aren’t safe: instead, they’re mini larders, stocked with all the homemade and local treats they could squeeze in, including some English sparkling wine, Otter Bitter beer from the brewery down the road, Devonshire fudge and Willie’s Cacao.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, bikes to borrow, wellies. In rooms: TV, DVD player, Nespresso machine and Bramley bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Even the aptly named Cheap & Cheerful rooms come with a king-size bed and the same artfully mismatched decor for which the group is famous for, but for something unique, it has to be one of the suites: we love the Horsebox for its original stalls separating the bed from the freestanding bath; and the Hayloft for its giant shower head, vaulted ceiling and wooden beams. For the best views over the valley, book Room 1 in the main house. The best-bathroom prize goes to the Laundry, which has circular copper bath tub big enough for two.
There are two Potting Shed treatment rooms in the kitchen garden, where guests can book Bamford massages, facials and other holistic treatments seven days a week.
You can leave your muddy wellies at home as the hotel has some you can borrow – but don’t forget the flat caps, Barbour jackets and riding crops if you fancy going equestrian, inspired by all the Arabian horses.
There are two ground-floor Comfy Rooms that are suitable for wheelchair users and much of the communal areas are navigable for wheelchairs as well. A two night minimum stay is required at weekends.
All ages welcome; travel cots can be added to rooms and babysitting must be requested at least two days in advance and costs £10 an hour (minimum four hours per booking).
Babies and up.
The Family Suite, which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Children are welcome in the restaurant, where there’s a dedicated menu, baby-changing facilities and highchairs.
Babysitting must be requested at least two days in advance and costs £10 an hour (minimum four hours per booking).
No need to pack
Travel cots, baby bed linen, highchairs, DVDs, puzzles and books can be borrowed on request.
If there’s a group of you, book out the original Georgian kitchen with its working stove, handily now a private dining room. Otherwise, request the table by the double-height windows to get your fill of rolling Devonshire hills.
With their pink shirts, jeans and Converse, the staff are nailing smart casual – do your best to match them.
The rooms do a lot to vie for your attention, but like with most of the other Pigs, it’s the restaurant that’s at the heart, with the same 25-mile-radius philosophy and menus based on whatever could be caught or picked that morning. Luckily, the sea is only eight miles away, so keep an eye out for the Lyme Bay catch of the day, as well as local cheeses and meat from Honiton’s best butchers. The Folly, in the former orangery, serves flatbreads cooked in a wood-fired oven.
The kitchen garden is fair game for the barmen as well as the chefs; expect the cocktails in the Great Hall Bar – which has all the period features, paintings and panelling to live up to its name – to come with all sorts of horticultural flourishes (fennel-seed vodka, lemon and elderflower juice, or one of the 12 varieties of mint being grown on-site). The Pig Hut wines are also worth a try, made in partnership with a French vintner who really knows his stuff.
Breakfast is served between 7am and 10am; lunch is noon to 2.15pm; dinner is between 6.30pm and 9.30pm. Food is served in the bar from noon until 9pm; drinks are available until 11pm.
Half an hour away by car in hilly, sea-washed Lyme Regis is a Hix Oyster & Fish House, serving all the sublime seafood you’d expect but with an especially advantageous setting. Try scallops with Monmouthshire chorizo and samphire, whole dressed crab and mackerel with gremolata, all caught locally. At the Axminster outpost of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage, feast on more fresh seafood, or go for either the carnivorous (BBQ pulled pork, Topsham n'duja, organic Merguez sausages with labneh) or vegetarian options (carrot and English split-pea hummus, bubble and squeak, basil and barley arancini) – neither disappoint.
In Honiton, marvel at the miniature madeleines and other expertly baked goods on offer at Toast on the High Street.
The morning breaks bright and clear and we stroll across the gently sloping lawns, explore the fragrant herb garden (12 varieties of mint!) and carefully tended walled nursery patch next to the kitchens (think: Mr McGregor’s garden meets Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons) before elbowing children off the swing seat to settle down and gaze up into the sun dappled branches of the giant cedar tree overhead. A friendly ‘good morning’ from a passing gardener leads to an impromptu tour of the original Georgian kitchen, all copper pots and range stove, available to hire for pretty special private parties. The staff clearly love to work here and can’t wait to show it off, there’s a puppy-like enthusiasm about the place that is instantly infectious.
The coast, eight miles away, beckons. Because we’re townies, and despite the dire weather forecast, we didn’t even think to bring wellies, but never mind, there are some forty pairs of Hunters under the stairs for anyone to borrow. (Note to the Pig: I searched in vain for the staircase with assorted Manolo Blahniks underneath for wearing to dinner…)
We walk along the rain lashed cobb of Lyme Regis, pretending to be in the French Lieutenant’s Wife (excellent, overblown Meryl Streep romantic weepy, set here). Before sharing fish pie and fresh-off-the-boat lobster and chips at Hix Oyster and Fish, the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cobb and harbour. We take a stroll to walk it all off along the long winding the coastal path.
Back at the hotel before dinner, I dive under Bramley geranium bubbles in the roll top bath – gazing through the diamond-leaded glass at views of tumbling green hills scattered with grazing horses and their foals (from an Arab stud farm next door).
And now for our most important mission: namely, to discover, how much of a pig can one be at the Pig? The menu is a ‘25 mile’ menu – all ingredients come from within 25 miles, and a large proportion from the Pig’s own kitchen garden. The wine list is extensive and more ‘worldwide’ than the Eurovision song contest.
The soda bread is life-changing (enough to convert even this carb-phobic fashionista), with plenty of freshly-churned butter. To start; a dreamy stuffed courgette flower, crisp and creamy, fulfills all my Masterchef fantasies. I order lamb that falls off the bone and Mr Smith orders the infamous tomahawk chop, a joint that indeed resembles a small axe, and was perfectly cooked, with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. Desserts are heavenly and sophisticated: for me, a raspberry mint sorbet with a dark chocolate tart and Mr Smith has a Middle Eastern pistachio mascarpone with strawberry and basil.
We wake to the last morning of our stay, still full from the night before, but feeling it would be rude to ignore the groaning tables set out for the generous buffet breakfast. There is a poach-your-own eggs station with pretty pale blue eggs from the Pig’s own hens, fresh yoghurts, pastries, garden fruits and homemade granola. Mr Smith, meanwhile, bravely endures a sumptuous, and appropriately named, Piggy breakfast, featuring not just sausages and bacon, but black and white pudding. He claims it’s one of the best he’d ever had.
We say farewell with one of the Pig’s recommended walks through the woods around the house – drinking in the greenery and seeing those magnificent horses up close.
I can’t believe our stay was only for two nights, it felt like a much longer break from the real world. The staff are incredibly lovely; genuinely friendly, and nothing is too much trouble. They clearly love working there, which in turn, makes you love being there.
The Pig at Combe is a truly magical place, and we didn’t want to leave. Relaxed and romantic, homely and luxurious – how do they do that?