If it's delicious food, lazy mornings in bed, and a bucolic setting you're after, look no further than The Pig at Combe, a romantic Elizabethan manor house in the English countryside.
HONITON, England – In this green and pleasant land called England, it is a universally acknowledged truth that the months of November and February are a bitch. Not quite the festive period and not quite spring, both months have the capacity to really grind you down, especially when you live in a frenetic and, at times, oppressive city like London. So although it was planned a few months in advance, I knew that November would be the perfect time for a bucolic mini-break in the British countryside. And sure enough, by the time the month came about, we had been suitably battered by the winter drear and were gagging for an escape. Checking into The Pig at Combe was ideal.
Some people find a yoga retreat or a spa detox to be the most effective way to restore themselves. Personally, I need lie-ins, delicious food, and a glass of something full-bodied to soothe the soul. Add in beautiful surroundings and a good dose of fresh air, and I am practically a new woman. A couple of nights in the Elizabethan manor house transformed by The Pig group (their fifth property) in Devon, southwest England, truly hit the spot. They don't call it The Pig for nothing. This is a foodie's heaven, so if you're after a juice cleanse and a plate of leaves then look elsewhere. (Although they do have a wonderful vegetable and herb garden on site, it is not just for salads. For example: Check out their weird and innovative gin concoctions.) There are cut-glass sherry glasses filled with toothpicks on practically every table, promoting the notion that you are likely to be eating or digesting something at all times.
To give you a snapshot of our stay, it is probably best to start with the late lunch we had in one of the hotel's beautifully outfitted lounges ... which turned into afternoon tea ... which turned into cocktail hour. Before we knew it, it was time to clean up for dinner (which involved taking a bath in the freestanding tub in our room with a glass of red). To say we left the hotel satiated, both physically and mentally, would be something of an understatement.
Just eight miles from the coast and surrounded by the rolling green hills of Otter Valley in Devon, pulling up to the manor house along its winding driveway is like being in the opening scene of your very own Jane Austen adaptation.
A modern stately home with all the trappings of an English mansion (heavy drapes, traditional crystal chandeliers, flocked wallpaper), but in muted tones that respect the building's history in a fresh and stylish way — as opposed to letting it feel oppressive or, worse, naff. See the stunningly placed bar in the grand hall with the glassware perfectly posed against the awesome stained glass windows.
This Place Is Perfect For
Couples, families, gal pals – anyone looking for some indulgent R&R. There's a dedicated menu for kids six and up in the main restaurant, plus The Folly for casual pizza-like meals.
But Not So Perfect For
People who aren't really into food. And if you're after nightlife beyond an inventive cocktail besides a roaring fire, you should go elsewhere.
What's on Site
Spa treatments are available to guests and non-guests inside The Potting Shed (two converted sheds in the garden), but make sure to book in advance — I wasn't able to get an appointment.
Food + Drink
So where do we start? The philosophy is local. Whatever can't be grown on site is sourced within a 25-mile radius of the hotel, with maps on the back of the menus pinpointing exactly where your cheese, fish, or cider is from. In the main restaurant, expect the likes of home-smoked organic salmon served with pickled sea vegetables and Devon cider dressing, followed by roasted Combe Estate pheasant breast for mains. If you don't fancy something so full-on, you can head to The Folly in the restored orangery for flat breads and lighter meals. Or try the delightful bar snacks in the lounges. People go nuts for the piggy bits, but the fishy bits were also a hit. We ordered two lots of the mini-fish cakes. Twice.
Number of Rooms
There are seventeen rooms in the main house and ten in the converted stables. Recently opened cottages at the bottom of the driveway include a chauffeur-driven jeep to take guests up and down to the main house.
Good, free WiFi and a superbly stocked mini-bar housed in a miniature Smeg fridge.
I'm really clutching at straws here. I really liked the place, but there were a couple of design flaws, like a weirdly angled television and shower door in our otherwise immaculate room. It was a stunning converted stable though, so I can't help but feel I should let them off.
The food, of course. In every incarnation, it is equally delicious and delightful. The shortbread biscuits, which come in the shape of pigs, made me squeal.
Besides nearby Honiton (famous for its lace production), the hotel is within driving distance of several small English towns (Sidmouth, Lyme Regis, and the fishing villages of Beer and Axminster), which are helpfully detailed in the in-room directory. We visited the latter to check out one of celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage restaurants (it seems we hadn't eaten enough). We also attempted half of the suggested walk around the estate ... before turning back for fear of being late for our lunch reservation.
Good to Know
Make sure to try the espresso martini, which has a subtle twist that makes it the smoothest, most delicious cocktail I've ever had. (As you may have guessed, I'm a lady who has had a few cocktails in her time.)
Plan Your Trip
Exeter airport (EXT) is 20 minutes away. It's three hours by car from London. Trains from central London stop at the local train station, Honiton, three miles away from the inn. Rent a car if you want to explore surrounding areas. If you just want to sit, relax, eat, and drink, you are fine without one.