Attention to detail is key at The Pig at Combe, from the exquisite local menu to the luxurious lodgings, says Alexandra Henton
I’M PRETTY sure the Elizabethans would have experienced the same bonhomie on welcome when The Pig at Combe was first built, in 1580, as we did on arrival. Walking through the front door into the 16th-century hall, there is no stuffy reception desk but a buzzy bar area, roaring fire, acres of seating and wood panelling. It’s the sort of welcome you’d expect at a country house, not necessarily a country house hotel. And it exudes a members’ club vibe without the need for a stratospheric membership fee.
The Pig at Combe: a welcome escape
The Pig is part of a group of eight hotels that share the same DNA without being slavish followers of a prescriptive style. The iteration at Combe, which sits in the Otter Valley in south Devon, is a champion of local food and produce, with a gardener and forager steering the menu of head chef Dan Gavriilidis and chef director James Golding, according to what they grow and find daily. Three walled kitchen gardens grow everything from herbs, plants and flowers specifically for the bar to acres of berries and vegetables, and there are original greenhouses, an orchard and a smokehouse too. Walk through the herb garden and you will find yourself at the old potting shed, now host to two treatment rooms where you can happily unwind in peace for an hour with some seriously relaxing treatments.
The garden and its delicious bounty all come to fruition in the 25-mile menu (at least 80% of the fresh ingredients will be sourced locally), a way of championing the local Devonshire suppliers and their food, the produce of the kitchen garden and delivering dishes of a top-notch standard. A starting plate consisted of the best pork crackling I have ever eaten, served with apple sauce, and then we plumped for local cheese and fish (the fish comes from Matthew Stevens in Cornwall from those who use traditional fishing methods). The reverse of the menu is formidable in detail about where and who the food comes from. It is what those of us keen foodies always yearn to know but so often are left disappointed on asking the question, and it gives The Pig at Combe a real authenticity in what it does. Puddings were good; each came with a suggested pudding wine pairing (which we agreed to with alacrity) before coffee and Piggy Bits (petit fours) in front of the roaring fire.
Attention to detail is superb. We stayed in one of 10 rooms in the converted stableyard (there are 17 rooms in the main house too) where the rustic luxury was dialled up to 11. An enormous bed, a bathroom with roll-top bath and rainfall shower on one side, a separate room with a loo on the other, both with exposed stonework and thickly hewn wood giving it the ‘luxury barn’ feel. A turn-down service was a treat, and a note on the writing desk accompanies a packet of par-cel seeds (celery grown for the leaves, not the stalks) that you are encouraged to take home to propagate a little bit of The Pig elsewhere, some of the five million seeds it gives out every year.
The hotel is not only for residents. The Folly is a great space for a spot of light lunch; dogs are allowed, and muddy boots too. For those looking for private dining, the Georgian Kitchen in the house provides a suitable backdrop.
While dogs are not allowed in the rooms, labrador Bramble was happy enough ensconced in the car for the night, and provided the perfect excuse for a frosty morning walk along the drive, which cuts through the beautiful Otter Valley and the Combe Farm estate (the game from which appears on the menu and was being harvested by a lucky team that morning). In this hidden corner of south Devon, in an Elizabethan manor house, The Pig is a much welcome and indulgent escape.
To book a night at The Pig at Combe click here
Bring a rod
If your visit to The Pig at Combe coincides with trout season, then do pack a rod and make sure you’ve paid for your rod licence. For no additional cost (although it does need to be booked in advance) there are four beats on a three-mile stretch of the River Otter available to guests. It is well worth checking out this limestone trout stream, just two miles from the hotel.