Affordable Luxury in The New Forest

September 26, 2012

Stylist's editor Lisa Smosarski enjoys the best of Hampshire on a budget.

"I have always thought 'love at first sight' is a bit of a cliché. Lust, of course. Fascination, definitely. But love? That's for cheesy romcoms and novels that should only ever be read on a sunlounger. And then I went to the Pig. After driving up the curving private road, walking in and inhaling the smell of the burning wood that permeates this restaurant with rooms, it took me all of five seconds to declare that I was in love, moving in, and unlikely ever to return to London.

To describe The Pig as a restaurant with rooms is an understatement. I have stayed in restaurants with rooms that are just that: a restaurant with a few bedrooms. The Pig has 26, and they are spectacular. Ours led off a courtyard where the lunch crowd were sitting in the sun, sipping wine and tucking into flatbreads baked in a wood-fired oven.

As I opened the patio doors to room 14 (the rating of which is 'Comfy Luxe'), I was hit by design perfection. It's the best room I've stayed in since my trip to the swish Lime Wood hotel. Which is no surprise, given that they are sister hotels and just over six miles apart. They have a similar vibe (despite The Pig's budget price tag), the same well-loved décor and a shared passion for food.

Our room was complete with a fireplace, armchairs and a ludicrously big bed that was so comfortable, I make a note of the make of the mattress.  There was also a big dressing area and a generous bathroom with a beautiful roll-top bath. A lot of love has gone into each room, and that attention to detail continues throughout the entire hotel - as I will now stubbornly insist on calling it. It's the very definition of shabby chic, and while the intertwining rooms in the main hotel are certainly not 'posh', they are most definitely stylish, open and inviting, and filled with huge, slouchy sofas and fireplaces, with stacks of board games and books.

Book a room at THE PIG, by clicking here: Check Availability

Little Touches

There are so many wonderful details around the place that it's hard to list them all, but I loved the pig·shaped biscuits that welcome you in your room, the croquet set and boules lying lazily in the hall, inviting rows of Hunter wellies and the giant swing near the front lawn - big enough for about three adults - that invites you to embrace your inner child and get swinging.

But my favourite thing about the hotel was the atmosphere. I have been lucky enough to stay in some wonderful places over the years but I am still flustered by concierges, porters and waiters who constantly ask you if you want something. At The Pig there is none of that. That's not to say the team aren't great at their jobs - they were some of the best - but formality was done away with (the proof was in the team's Converse-clad feet), and they were chatty and attentive without any of that awkwardness.

Then there's the food - lest we forget it's a restaurant first and foremost. And what a treat it is. The Pig is very proud of its locally sourced and foraged menu, its own kitchen garden (which is spectacular) and even prouder that there's a theme. It doesn't take a genius to work out what it is, but it starts with 'P' and ends in 'ig' - they even have a small farm on site but the pigs themselves had gone on a little, erm, holiday when we were there. There are Piggy Bits appetisers - posh pork crackling and brock eggs with Colman's (that's Scotch eggs to you and me, made with their own quails' eggs) - and various 'pork-inspired dishes on the dinner menu. I haven't eaten pork since I turned vegetarian at 15, but my husband assured me it all tasted pretty amazing.

Instead, I tucked into the mixed walled-garden leaves and forager's fritters (without the offered tripe) before trying the local cheeseboard and lemon posset infused with lemon basil. It was all delicious. It's fair to say I was full after all that, but following a good night's sleep in the world's comfiest bed, I also managed to devour a huge breakfast. I want to linger on the breakfast a little longer, because it wasn't just good, it was superb. It was a rustic buffet and there were so many unusual treats laid out for breakfast - an incredible homemade granola, oodles of yogurt, honey, fruit and nuts, mini-pastries, delicious breads and cheeses...plus incredible home-smoked salmon and eggs. The hubby's bacon butty looked so good, it almost turned me.

Secret Spot

It would have been wise to finish there and hop in the car back to the city, but we knew there was one thing we hadn't yet tried - the flatbreads, and we'd been tortured by their aroma since we arrived. We decided to walk off our breakfast, then take a big nap and extend our checkout until 1pm. And although I wouldn't quite say we were hungry, it was definitely the right call. The flatbreads are like mini pizzas and melted in our mouths, and when we left - or should I say rolled out of - the hotel, we felt we'd done our bit to sample everything. OK, so we hadn't tried the afternoon tea. Or the incredible-looking picnic you can take in the beautiful grounds. But we'd tried our best. And of course, there's always next time.

Speaking of which, I was highly tempted not to run this review. The hotel already gets booked up fast and as we are now in love (I'm pretty sure it's not unrequited), I was worried about what would happen if the world found out just how lovely The Pig is. But now it's done, the secret is out. I'm just happy to say I booked again for November before I sent this page to print...