Asia Family Traveller

Hotel review

Lucking out in lockdown

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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.

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 ??  ?? The Pig at Combe in southwest England
The Pig at Combe in southwest England
 ??  ?? Old bees nests have been repurposed as ceiling lights at The Folly
Old bees nests have been repurposed as ceiling lights at The Folly
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 ??  ?? Clockwise from top left - The Pig in the South Downs opens this summer; a Potting Shed treatment room at The Pig at Combe; main dining room at The Pig at Combe; time to relax outside
The Folly
Clockwise from top left - The Pig in the South Downs opens this summer; a Potting Shed treatment room at The Pig at Combe; main dining room at The Pig at Combe; time to relax outside The Folly
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