THE PIG–at Combe is nestled in the Otter Valley near Honiton, Devon. The Elizabethan jewel is set in 3,500 acres of lush Devonshire countryside, yet easily accessible – being 1.5 miles from Honiton. It is 8 miles from the East Devon coast, 15 mins to Exeter, 1 hour to Bristol and just over 3 hours to London.
Nothing says “you’re going to have a good time” like walking into a cocktail bar. Reception desks are boring – all forms and faffing. Why not start with the fun bit? The Pig at Combe does this with aplomb. Guests open a heavy wooden door into a gorgeous, wood-panelled room (pictured) lit by a candelabra, with shelves of coloured glasses stacked against mullioned windows and an open fire, blazing even on a sunny August afternoon.
If we hadn’t been with our six-year-old, we might well have headed straight for the sofas and not made it to our room for a good few hours.
This newly opened rural retreat is the fifth in the Pig litter, and though not the biggest, it is the grandest: a gorgeous Elizabethan manor on a 3,500-acre estate near Honiton in east Devon. The setting, amid fields of grazing Arab horses, huge cedar trees and lawns stretching away to rolling countryside, is the same as it was when this was the Combe House Hotel, but inside the style and feel are very different. Where Combe House was rather dark, hushed and formal, the interior is now signature Pig – glamorous but relaxed. Original panelling and stucco sit above bare wood and stone floors; there are vintage framed insect collections mix, lampshades made from saris, and stuffed animals, including a rather slimline pig above the main fireplace.
Of the 27 bedrooms, the 10 – including our family room – in the old stables across a cobbled yard have a more rustic vibe. One even has the original horse stalls and cobbled floor. But all the rooms bear the boutique hotel tropes: Roberts radio, factory lights, Smeg fridge, rolltop bath, Belfast sink, shower that feels like a waterfall, and a mini larder of posh popcorn, chocolate, and local ale. In short, it’s on trend and faultlessly tasteful. In a mark of the Pig’s laid-back approach, the coffee machines are in antique cabinets – not cheap vintage but impressive pieces of 17th century furniture.
It’s a short walk through the walled herb garden to the main house but it took us longer than it should as we stopped to try some of the 12 kinds of mint (I recommend the apple, not so sure about the banana) and the peculiar mushroomy-tasting oyster leaf. In one corner of the garden is a quail house – for eggs, not meat – and in another the smokehouse.
As with all the Pigs, the herb and vegetable gardens are more than just a pretty feature – they’re an extension of the kitchen. There’s a section on the menu headed “Literally picked this morning”, and what is not grown in the grounds is mostly sourced within 25 miles.
The restaurant was filled with evening sun, the tables laden with coloured glass and vintage plates. I had to stop myself scoffing too much of the three types of bread that came with olive oil and smoked salt, before my starter of crispy lamb. After a decent-sized fillet of brill with sea vegetables for me, and a large sirloin with small mountain of fries and crispy tobacco onions for my partner, we were too full to tackle pudding, though the smoked sugar chocolate tart looked very tempting.
The restaurant prices aren’t much higher than in a standard gastro pub, but the detail and service are way above. The staff are genuinely friendly and enthusiastic. The sommelier’s wine recommendation was spot on, going into great detail not just about the grape but the barrels it was oaked in, too.
On the way back to our room we peered into the Folly, a former orangery that’s now a bar and casual restaurant popular with locals: giant wicker-and mud-lampshades hang from exposed beams above a wood-burning oven.
Unsurprisingly, breakfast was fantastic – a huge spread of granolas, poached pears, strawberries, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, cheeses, pastries and cooked options – but it should be. As a colleague complained in her review of the Pig Near Bath, charging for breakfast is a bit hard to swallow. Better to push the room rates up a little than ask guests to choose between the £20 cooked option or equally extravagant £8 for coffee and pastries.
That aside, the room rates are reasonable given the setting, style and service. Everything about our stay felt indulgent, and I’d definitely return for a treat or special occasion. As we headed for breakfast just before 9am, we saw one guest sitting outside his room in a bathrobe drinking champagne. Nothing says “good time” louder than that.
• Accommodation was provided by The Pig at Combe (doubles from £145 room-only, 0345 225 9494, pighotel.com
Ask a local
Angela Blackwell, curator, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton
My favourite lunch spot in Honiton is the walled garden of Toast cafe. It does superb fish finger sandwiches and massive meringues.
Hop over the road from Toast to Fountain Antiques (the town is famed for its antique shops). This Tardis-like emporium houses 42 traders selling vintage and antique collectables from traditional Honiton lace to maps and gardening equipment.
Try your hand at mackerel fishing in Beer. Hire a wooden motor boat with mackerel lines and catch your own lunch to barbecue on the beach.Simply add chips and some mugs of tea from one of the three beach cafes. From £18 for half an hour for up to six (summer only) at beerselfdrive-boats.co.uk.
Visit Blackbury Camp, an Iron Age hill fort with ancient oaks, great for strolls and picnics. Or walk or cycle at Seaton Wetlands nature reserve: nearly 4km of level trails and boardwalk through marshland and reed beds.
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