Asia Family Traveller
Lucking out in lockdown
Ican't remember ever being more excited about a weekend away. At the end of a tumultuous twelve months which finds me on a much longer-than-anticipated stay in the United Kingdom waiting for Hong Kong to waive its British flight ban, the prospect of a couple of days of relaxation, fine wine and yummy food in an historic manor house in the English countryside has me weeping tears of joy. Never has an overnight bag been packed faster.
I was booked for a stay at one of the UK’s infamous
‘Pig’ hotels, which are dotted around England’s prettiest southern counties. Over the years I’ve heard a lot about the Pigs, but brief trips to England over the last decade have never yielded an opportunity to slope off to try one.
My destination this time, The Pig at Combe, is nestled in the Otter Valley, overlooking more than 3,500 acres of Devon’s finest countryside. Think Four Weddings and a Funeral with a dash of Jane Austen.
The litter of Pig hotels is the brainchild of hoteliers Robin and Judy Hutson, who opened the first Pig in Brockenhurst in England’s leafy New Forest in Hampshire in 2011. The
Pig at Combe, a Grade-I listed Elizabethan property and to which I was headed, joined the fold in 2016.
Comfortably shabby chic in style, the Pigs squeal rustic charm rather than Downton Abbey-esque extravagance. Think artfully mismatched antique fixtures and fittings, with stunning chandeliers sparkling over rugged-up bare board floors and squishy
velvet sofas parked next to roaring open fires.
The Pig at Combe sits outside the charmingly thatched village of Gittisham and the mile-long driveway meanders its way through the stunning East Devon countryside, until the honey-hued property comes into view.
Of course nowhere is immune to Covid these days and that includes 400-yearold country piles. On arrival, I’m met by a blackboard positioned by the large oak front door reminding guests that face masks are to be worn throughout the property. Likewise, hand sanitiser pump bottles have been positioned in strategic spots throughout the hotel.
My room is generously-sized with a beautiful clawfoot bath underneath the large stone mullioned windows. An open fireplace and oversize king bed complete the picture.
Sleek 21st century touches include a Nespresso coffee machine and a 'smart' TV hidden within a gold-framed mirror.
My stay turns out to be exactly how a good old-fashioned weekend house party should be, elegant but unpretentious, comfortable rather than formal - and with plenty of delicious food and well-shaken cocktails.
Dinner takes place in the main restaurant. Forget starched waiters and dressing for dinner, the Pig staff are comfortably decked out in Converse and jeans, with formality and fine dining replaced by friendly and competent service and a tasty menu using the best local and homegrown ingredients. Guests are invited to 'dress comfortably'.
An important feature of the Pigs are their kitchen gardens in which much of the produce for the restaurants is grown. At The Pig at Combe there are no fewer than three walled gardens, supplying the chefs with plenty of seasonal veggies and herbs. The ‘25-mile menu’ ensures produce that can’t be grown on-site is procured from local suppliers within a 25-mile radius as much as possible. Think seafood and fish from the southwest coast, Welsh lop pork chop, Darts Farm lamb rump, Elston Farm venison loin and Combe-reared pork shoulder.
After a beautiful blue-sky first day, I wake the following morning to the wind howling inside the chimney breast and
MY STAY TURNS OUT TO BE EXACTLY HOW A GOOD OLDFASHIONED WEEKEND HOUSE PARTY SHOULD BE, ELEGANT BUT UNPRETENTIOUS, COMFORTABLE RATHER THAN FORMAL
rain lashing those beautiful Elizabethan windows - the perfect excuse to pull-up the goose feather duvet and luxuriate in my huge bed.
I wander down for a late breakfast booking looking forward to a good oldfashioned ‘cooked English’. The wait staff regretfully informs me that Covid had put paid to the usual breakfast buffet, everything must now be served-to-table. No matter, the plate deposited in front of me is groaning with sausage, bacon, tomato, mushroom, eggs and black pudding - the most English of English breakfasts.
By late morning I’m heading off to the potting sheds at the back of the main house which have been cleverly and cosily converted into treatment rooms. Covid rules mean form-filling, a temperature check, mask-wearing throughout my treatment and a reduced massage experience.
However, as my hot stone massage comes to an end I feel more relaxed than I’ve done in a long time.
And so my 24-hour escape from the realities of the pandemic comes to an end. I’m already planning a return trip for when our family is finally reunited. If you’re in the UK right now, a Pig minibreak is a perfect mood-lifter. Otherwise, if you're a Brit, these hotels would make an ideal location for a summer ‘homecoming’ celebration when the world (hopefully) opens up again. I stayed mid-week in a Big Comfy Room with a super king-sized bed, freestanding bath and a walk-in monsoon shower in the ensuite; prices for this room category start at GBP275 per night. The Pig at Combe, Gittisham, Hontion, Devon, EX14 3AD, England.