July 11, 2016
'A country house hotel turned upside down' - inside The Pig at Combe...
Written by Fiona Duncan for The Telegraph
Pigs, as we know, don’t fly, but this one bucks the trend. 'The Pig on steroids’ was how owner Robin Hutson described The Pig on the Beach, which became the fourth in his growing group of porcine rural-chic hotels, with serious kitchen gardens at their core. 'The Pig in orbit’ is how he might justifiably describe this, his fifth.
I was their first guest and – let’s get to the meat of the matter – adored it. All right, I’m biased. Not only am I an unashamed fan of the Pigs and of how Robin and his partner David Elton have reinvented country house hotels, but I have also loved this particular hotel, in its previous guise, for many years.
Stick a Pig into dreamy but old-fashioned Combe House Hotel, set in 3,500 acres of lush Devon countryside (but easily reached, just off the A30), inject it with Robin’s skill at reimagining space, his wife Judy’s boho-chic design panache, their joint zest for tracking down vintage finds and their obsession with every last detail, and the result is something special. It has taken plenty of people and money to create this thrilling new address, but also something you can’t buy: the energy and drive of a husband and wife working in happy unison.
Combe House has roots that stretch back to William the Conqueror (or to Bishop Odo, William’s half brother to be precise). The Grade I-listed Elizabethan manor slips tantalisingly in and out of sight as you approach it down a mile-long drive, surrounded by woodland, meadows and undulating hills as far as the eye can see. As if it were a film set, Arab horses graze on the slopes around the house. It’s always been a beautiful hotel that breathes romance, but it was never sexy: now it’s that too.
Talk about reimagining space. This is the country house hotel turned upside down. Start by putting a glamorous bar right inside the entrance so that the panelled Great Hall, previously dead space, becomes the heart and hub of the hotel. Then reveal a bricked-up double height window to let light flood in to the new conservatory-style dining room, offering meltingly beautiful views.
Surround with terraces, vintage sun umbrellas, deck chairs on the lawn. Create a relaxing sitting room whose centrepiece is a stunning rococo mantelpiece. Forget naff afternoon teas, but since this is Devon, offer a Victoria sponge packed with strawberries and clotted cream. Create a derelict-chic wood-fired pizza café in a handsome garden folly. Add two of the Pigs’ signature Potting Shed treatment rooms in – the potting sheds. Perhaps most cunning: transform a row of stalls in the stables into a brilliantly conceived feature bedroom.
Talking of Judy’s bedrooms (there are 27), they are some of the most charming, fittingly-traditional-yet-stylish (larders and minibars cleverly hidden inside antique cupboards), comfortable, practical, quirky and soothing of any hotel bedrooms in the land, yet their rates are cheaper than before the Pig moved in.
Robin and Judy’s son, Ollie, and his team have stunningly restored the kitchen gardens and Victorian greenhouses, while David Elton has landscaped and de-formalised the grounds, during which process 2,500 plants were saved and re-positioned. These are hoteliers who roll up their sleeves.
In the kitchen, head chef Dan Gavrilidis is responsible for the Devon version of the Pigs’ '25 Mile’ locally-sourced menu. Early to judge, but the runes are good. Ditto the service under Fiona Moores, the delightful general manager, who had impressed me at her previous hotel in Exeter. The doors will open to guests on July 11 and this Pig will take off, fuelled by integrity and ignited by a sense of fun.
Read the full review: THE PIG-at Combe, Devon