Review: The Pig at Combe
Not been to The Pig at Combe yet? You should, you must, you WILL - I'm going to make it my personal mission to get you there. Here's what happened when this little piggy went to mark it.
Pig Hotels have carved a niche in being classy without being stuffy, luxurious and yet laid-back, a masterclass in period property porn. They’re also partial to a piggy pun which of course I’d never boar you with…
The Pig at Combe (pronounced coom) is a Grade 1 listed Elizabethan Manor, set in three and a half thousand acres of Devon’s Otter Valley with green fields and plump hillocks stretching to the horizon. It’s surrounded by caramel-coloured cows and pheasants running for cover – all very peaceful and bucolic.
It’s one of six Pig Hotels (soon to be 8, with one in Sussex and, yippee!, Cornwall’s Harlyn Bay opening in 2020). It’s well-placed for Exeter, Honiton, Taunton and Cullompton. Oh, and there’s a big H-landing pad right in front of the entrance for those days when you need to take the ‘copter.
It’s owned by Robin and Judy Hutson, founders of the Hotel du Vin chain, who select each venue and go the whole hog when it comes to feel and style. Everything here has been personally chosen by Judy, from the Bakelite light switches to the angle of the plates on the dresser, all designed to make you feel at home despite the building’s obvious grandeur.
It was one of those glorious sun-baked September afternoons when Mr Muddy and I arrived, and the terrace was was filled with people sunning themselves on a wooden steamer chair or nursing a cool drink under a giant Sunbeam Jackie parasol.
After a quick detour to the Folly for a snifter, we headed glass-in-hand to the kitchen gardens behind the hotel to check out the plants we hoped to be scoffing later. Some hotels pay lip service to grow-your-own, but not The Pig. This is a working plot that informs what head chef Dan Gavriliildis will be cooking, with polytunnels, a fruit cage, two original greenhouses, a humid mushroom house where you can see shitake and oyster ‘shrooms growing through the window and a Smokehouse where the chefs smoke salmon, herbs, chillis and even the table salt.
Tucked away in the corner of the gardens is The Potting Shed, with two treatment rooms where you can book in for a bespoke facial or massage, with oils and infusions made from plants picked fresh from the Herb Garden.
Opulent yet relaxed and rustic at the same time. It’s classy without feeling aloof – like Joanna Lumley. You never have to worry about what you’re wearing or if the kids are playing up. The staff are friendly with a genuine smile behind the eyes, and when you’re given the tour on arrival, it feels bespoke even through you know they’ve done it a billion times before.
You walk straight from the log-filled porch and into the bar, with its huge fireplace and comfy sofas, and that stunning bar, shelved with colourful tumblers and flutes to look like stained glass.
Sitting next door in the library, I felt like I’d been shrunk down like Alice in Wonderland and popped into a Victorian doll’s house. It’s so exquisitely kitted out with period mirrors, oil paintings, chandeliers and velvet: perfectly composed and enlivened with botanical flourishes – from the vase of fresh hydrangea in your room, to the scented pots of herbs and aromatics in The Pig’s bespoke Chase Gin cocktails.
It’s stuffed with quirky period details – and stuffed birds – and pig-punnery on doors and menus. Don’t have too many gins or those names on the loo may confuse. And look! You can dial the 1920s from a vintage Art Deco phone by your bed. Well, reception at any rate.
SCOFF & QUAFF
If you’re planning to trough and quaff before 7pm, there is the option of a salad, light bite or flatbread (aka pizza) in the Folly, ooh and there’s a tempting new Folly Foodie Club launching this autumn where you can watch a demo from a guest chef followed by supper. Alternatively, Combe is the only Pig to offer a unique three-course Plot to Plate lunch in the restaurant brimming with ingredients picked from the greenhouse that morning.
I couldn’t help loitering at that fascinating bar (to look actually), but you’re welcome to plonk yourself down by the fire and someone will come and take your order, which could be a gin from an old and rare batch dating back to the early Bond movies. Then it’s through to the lichen-walled restaurant which could belong to a Victorian botanist, thanks to specimen trays of butterflies on the walls, potted toms and a giant banana plant slap-bang in the middle of the double-height windows.
Here, the menu rolls around with the seasons and wanting to max out on all that tasty zero-mile produce, we both went veggie for starters. He had the sliced carrots on a bed of puree topped with flakey filo pastry and caraway. Mine was heritage tomatoes, including curious green and stripy types, smothered with delicious oils, broccoli and tiny capers.
Everything was served on patterned old-worlde mismatching plates and cutlery, all very Miss Marple, with ornate cut-glass tumblers adding to the sparkle from the candles and chandeliers.
My hake looks small but it’s just the size of the plate – all buttery and seasoned with golden marigold petals, and an unusual succulent herb I’d spotted the garden called Monk’s Beard – a bit like samphire – for a slightly bitter crunch.
It seemed only right to eat pork at The Pig and Mr M’s pork chop looked humongous (no sniggering at the back) – a spicy taste of autumn thanks to the halved orchard apples.
Dessert for me was syrupy plums, artfully arranged like a six-petalled flower, scattered with cornflowers and seeds.
Across the table and soon to be on my spoon too, the smoothest cheesecake I’ve ever tasted with juicy chunks of melon grown in The Pig’s greenhouse.
I very often skip breakfast after a big meal night before but because of the greater than usual opportunity to be hotel-healthy I gave myself the green-light to gorge on the smorgasbord of delights the next morning. You barely need the cooked brekkie menu, there is so much on offer, from Devon honey, to a fun boil-your-own egg option complete with egg-timer, and my fave – cakey gluten-free banana breads and nutty energy bites. Even my vegan tween would be pleased with all those milk alternatives on offer.
Whether you’re travelling with the fam or just the two of you, there are loads of options for bed and boar’d. Inside there are 17 uniquely decorated rooms, including ones with four-posters and spacious suites, plus 10 in the Stable Yard (pictured above) and three cottages a mile down the driveway.
We stayed in Room 15 overlooking Otter Valley, a Big Comfy Luxe with a super-kingsize half poster bed, a roll-top bath in the bay window and a large L-shaped ensuite with a giant walk-in monsoon shower filled with Bramley smellies.
Spotted the TV yet? No we didn’t either until we pointed the remote at the mirror. Amazeballs! Not all the rooms have one, except apparently there was no good place in this room except above the fireplace. I’m using that as my excuse to get one – once I’ve saved the £3k.
Feast your eyes on the mini-bar hidden in a carved wooden armoire: teas of every denomination, a Kitchen Aid coffee-maker, Taste of the West goodies, fresh milk and a half bottle of Bolly to keep you going between cocktails.
Very. I spotted at least two tinies enjoying an early tea-time in high chairs. There are board games in the bureau and teeny Hunter wellies to borrow. Kids can make like a bar-tender and whip themselves up a mocktail with the head barman, and here’s the best bit: Mudlets can take an accompanied early-morning ride in The Pig’s Land Rover to the farm at the end of the driveway see the pigs and chickens while you read a paper with a coffee. So civilised.
I know I’ve blathered on about the gardens but…they’re nicer than most of the ones you pay for, like a pic from Country Living magazine made real. And if you go in autumn, taste one of those grapes in the greenhouse. They actually taste like grape flavouring. I was so amazed by them, I left my bag there which a kind gardener helped me find when I realised the next morning.
OUT & ABOUT
It might not feel like it, but Exeter is only half an hour away and if you fancy a day trip to the beach, the quaint working fishing village of Beer with its white cliffs and shingle beach is only 20 minutes away by car. If you’ve got littlies in tow, Wildwood Escot is only 10 minutes, good for falconry displays, cute otters and red squirrels, as well as a scary drop slide and zipwire. And a Maze where you can lose/leave/entertain them (delete as appropriate).
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Period property porn. Lunch or morning coffee in the Folly with the gals; a restful family break; romantic weekender; a big birthday, anniversary and is it too soon to mention Xmas? (the Georgian Kitchen seats up to 14/the Folly up to 40). Extended families could have a get-together in the 2-room self-catering Cottages (pictured above) located one mile down the driveway from £420 per night.
Not for: Traditionalists for whom posh means linen tablecloths, staff in uniforms and balk at the label ‘Sows’ on the ladies. People who miss the sights and sound of the city. Minimalists and modernists. Dogs – not allowed inside the hotel, though they’re welcome in the grounds.
The damage: Rooms start at a reasonable £150 per night. Our Big Comfy Luxe room cost £280 for a midweek night in autumn, plus £12 pp for breakfast (£8 for Piglets).
THE PIG-at Combe, Gittisham, Honiton, Devon EX14 3AD. Tel: 01404 540400
WANNA WIN A NIGHT AWAY FOR 2 AT THE PIG AT COMBE?
Fancy getting piggy with it? Snaffle yourself a midweek night away for 2 worth £350 at THE PIG-at Combe, where you can trough and quaff with a three-course dinner, breakfast and a private tour of the kitchen gardens just for you. Click here to be in it to win it!