The first stop on our Honeymoon road trip around the south west was the Pig at Combe, in the Otter Valley in Devon. At the risk of raising your expectations – Matt has not stopped talking about the Pig since we got back. I think it would take very little persuasion for him to sell our house and become a permanent resident. So let’s dive right in shall we?
The Pig At Combe
I’d heard so much buzz around the Pig, a chain of country hotels described as “driven by the gardener, forager and chef from the Kitchen Garden”. The original branch can be found in Brockenhurst in the New Forest, and the newest branch has just opened in the South Downs. I first heard about it from Sally at work. She visited the Pig near Bath on her Honeymoon in summer 2020. Her Instagram posts of the kitchen gardens, the rustic interiors and the tempting food made me mentally save this destination for later use.
Fast forward to 2021, here I am tentatively planning the Honeymoon for our third postponed wedding date. We knew we didn’t want to risk travelling abroad, so we decided to plan a road trip through Devon and Cornwall. What a perfect opportunity to try out the famous Pig! There are a few in this area, including one near Padstow, but we chose the Pig at Combe as our first stop between Hampshire and Falmouth.
Day 1: Arrival at the Pig at Combe
Reader, we did get married – an excellent start to a honeymoon! The day of our arrival at the Pig at Combe, we had visited the Fleet Air Arm Museum in the morning before a hearty pub roast at the Kingsdon Inn. This pub is worth the detour from the A303, especially on a Sunday.
The weather was absolutely glorious. As we passed over the Somerset border into Devon, I started to get really excited for what promised to be a luxury start to our Honeymoon.
The countryside lanes twisted and turned through autumn forests. Then, finally, we emerged in Gittisham. This tiny village is made up of original thatched cottages, a post office and a little church, cut through by an offshoot of the River Otter. A shining golden sign directed us up the long drive to Combe Estate, where the hills gave way to a little Elizabethan manor perched among the fields.
Nestled in the Otter Valley and just 15 minutes from the coast; this is our secluded, mellow, honey-coloured Elizabethan Gem.
25-miles of menu, three walled kitchen gardens, a panelled restaurant, a rustic Folly for quaffing and troughing, a huge bar, characterful bedrooms, rolling Devonshire hills, stunning beach and coastal walks and a couple of Saddlebacks!The Pig At Combe
The Pig was the place to be that Sunday, and the patio of the restaurant was packed with dinner parties enjoying their Sunday roasts. The afternoon sun was warming many couples and families as they enjoyed drinks. The lawn was dotted with deckchairs, pointed out towards the view of the fields and trees spread out over the Otter Valley.
We hauled our suitcases in through the front door, past rows of wellington boots, straight into the bar of the hotel. While we were waiting I poked my head into some of the beautiful sitting rooms. The ornate fireplaces and velvet sofas were offset by pots of fresh herbs, vegetables and even trees sprouting on coffee tables.
We were checked in by smiling staff who helped us carry our luggage up the grand staircase to our room. We opened the door with an old fashioned brass key to reveal a snug, luxurious double bedroom complete with original oak wardrobe, a four poster bed and a freestanding bath tub.
Our rooms mix a touch of luxury with bundles of homely charm. Each room has its own unique features and characteristics, with beds so comfy you’ll never want to leave.The Pig At Combe
Classic FM serenaded us from the radio as we investigated, smelling the bath salts, reading through the cookbook, switching on the gilt framed mirror that was actually a TV in disguise. We felt super fancy.
The Kitchen Gardens
After quickly unpacking, we had some time to spare to explore the kitchen gardens. These reminded me of the walled gardens at Hughenden Manor, which we visited on our weekend escape to the Chilterns last year.
There’s a saying in Devon that ‘if you stick your finger in the ground it will grow’, and the kitchen garden is our beating heart.
The difference here is there are 3 walled gardens – the vegetable garden, the herb garden, and the infusion garden.The Pig At Combe
Just like at Hughenden, which uses its gardens to supply ingredients for the manor cafe, the kitchen gardens here at the Pig produce fresh vegetables and herbs, and even quails eggs, for the restaurant. Of course, they can’t grow everything. But they still boast of a “25 mile menu”, a claim unanimous to all branches of the Pig.
The Potting Shed
Our first activity was an absolute treat – massages at the Potting Shed. I’d booked them a few days before after hearing its praises from Matt’s friend Simi, and we were not disappointed. After exploring the kitchen garden and watching the quails skitting their way around the pen, we headed to the unassuming treatment rooms. Smells of essential oils wafted through the air. After a few minutes wait, our two masseuses arrived, looking in their gillets and walking boots like they’d just come off the farm.
Herb Garden healing… Wander through the herb and infusion gardens and find yourself in our cosy Potting Shed treatment rooms, restored in an original part of the house and the perfect spot for some down time.The Pig At Combe
We both had the bespoke message, which involves talking to your masseuse about your needs and having a massage tailored to you. Mine involved hot stones which I’ve never had before. The sensation was glorious. The smooth black pebbles radiated heat into my muscles and gave each movement more weight as she pushed them up and down my arms and legs and across my back. She certainly dispelled the remaining wedding stress! We were the last appointments of the day which meant there was no rush. She left me wrapped in warm towels, the pebbles cooking on my shoulders. I managed to drag myself away, and floated out into the evening air, barely able to open my eyes I was so relaxed.
The Garden Kitchen
As our dinner reservation approached, we spruced ourselves up and waited in the bar for the waitress to fetch us. As with many hotels, bars and restaurants through lockdown, the Pig at Combe set up its own outdoor dining area to comply with COVID rules. It was so successful that they decided to keep their little covered patio extension. This is where we enjoyed our first meal, cosied between two outdoor heaters, surrounded by leafy green plants.
Our panelled characterful restaurant dishes up British Kitchen Garden food, true to the micro seasons and with a real focus on simple and fresh flavours.
Our commitment to a 25-mile menu not only supports our local suppliers, but means we can be 100% honest on the provenance of our ingredients.The Pig At Combe
For our starter we chose smoked salmon, and marinaded pork belly. Looking back these two dishes were a culinary highlight of our stay. The salmon was naturally salty and buttery soft, paired perfectly with the sharp pickled cucumber. The pork belly was dripping with sweet sauce, and melt-in-the-mouth tender with crisp charred edges.
Next up was our mains, which we didn’t dare differ on in case of food envy. We went for wild boar ragu with homemade pasta and pickled red onion, topped with lashings of parmesan cheese. The sauce was rich and the pasta was delicious. The simplicity of the recipe reminded me of pasta we’ve enjoyed in Tuscany or the Italian Alps.
After dinner we retired to the lounge to read with glasses of port and cotswolds cream. I mean really, with a lounge like this can you blame us? (Out of shot: the log fire flickering in the grate).
Day 2: Country Walks & Sidmouth
The Pig is famous for its breakfasts, and for good reason. With a three night stay booked we were determined to try every type of breakfast on offer – hot, light and buffet. The first day we went for the buffet, an astounding spread of yoghurts, granola, fruit, compote, jams, pastries, cereals. We had toasted sourdough with butter, marmite and marmalade, with homemade fruit smoothies and a cinnamon roll. This was my favourite breakfast, just for the sourdough toast. Delicious.
Fuelled up, we set off for the recommended walk of the grounds and surrounding woods and farms. The Pig had supplied us with the map and detailed descriptions of landmarks and viewpoints. It was a beautiful autumn morning with blue sky and only a slight haze on the distant horizon, and we were treated to stunning views of the fields and hills.
Lunch at the Folly
On our return we headed straight to the Folly, the pretty garden restaurant we could see from our bedroom window. The interior design leaned even further into the rustic garden aesthetic, and the table we sat at was squashed between a dividing wall covered in plants on one side and a stack of pickling vegetables in jars on the other.
The Folly is our hideaway tucked away in the gardens, created with drop-in drinking and dining in mind. We serve up chargrilled goodness and smoky flat breads with a mix of delicious toppings to choose from throughout all year round.The Pig At Combe
We ordered two flatbreads with the plan to share both. The first was chorizo, chilli and pickled celeriac, the second was gorgonzola, leek and walnuts. As you can see flatbread is a fancy name for pizza, and they were baked to perfection with the ideal ratio of topping to crust. Another highlight of our stay.
That afternoon we headed to Sidmouth, a very pretty coastal town with dramatic red cliff faces and long pebbled beaches. This is where I took my parents when they visited me at university (I was a student at Exeter), as it has lots of cute streets with cafes and boutiques. Well suited for strolling around for an afternoon.
We returned as the sun was setting, and ordered a beer and cocktail to enjoy on the deckchairs in the last of the evening light. One of the things we enjoyed the most about staying at the Pig was the level of service you’re given. You can’t sit down for more than a minute without being offered drinks, and we were happy to take advantage of this.
That evening we had our dinner in the restaurant rather than on the terrace, so we could compare the atmosphere. Both were thoroughly enjoyable, but I think I actually ended up prefering the relaxed vibe of the terrace. For our meal I went with a very stripped back option – butternut squash, roasted in seasonal ingredients. It was sweet and tender with crisp, caramelised edges, very warming and wholesome. Matt had hake cooked with chorizo and pickled shallots, and he was very vocal about how great it was the whole way through. We skipped dessert and took glasses of port and Bailey’s back to our room to relax in front of the telly.
Day 3: Exeter
Another day, another breakfast. Matt had the full Pig cooked breakfast with scrambled eggs and white pudding. I went for porridge with fruit compote, seeds and honey.
As an Exeter Uni alumnus, I was excited to show Matt my old stomping grounds. We parked at the Cathedral & Quay car park and headed up South Street to start at Exeter Cathedral. This amazing gothic church (technically called Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter), built in 1400, has the longest vaulted ceiling in the world. Incredibly, it was hardly damaged at all during the Second World War, despite the city being bombarded in the blitz.
Next up on the tour is Gandy Street, a narrow winding route of vintage clothes shops, boutiques and cafes ending in the Phoenix art venue. J.K. Rowling was a student at Exeter University and local legend has it that Diagon Alley was inspired by Gandy Street.
But no vintage clothes shop can compare to the next stop on our tour – The Real McCoy on Fore Street. Established in 1985, this place was an old haunt of mine, hidden away from the road along in an industrially chic gallery. Here you can also acquire second hand books, guitars, typewriters and looseleaf tea. It’s a vibe you guys.
From there you head down West Street, where you’ll come across The House That Moved. This local landmark currently houses a bridal shop, but its famous for getting wider as it gets taller. Keeping it company is the St Mary Steps Church, and Book Cycle, a pretty incredible pay-what-you-can charity bookshop.
Head down Lower Coombe Street and you’ll get to The Quay, home to waterfront restaurants and pubs. Worth checking out is the old Fish Market (also known as the Transit Shed), a Grade II Listed Building dating from 1820. If you walk further down you’ll get to the arches, where you can buy coffee, reclaimed antiques, bicycles and all sorts.
Across the Cricklepit Bridge is the canal, where there are even more cafes and bakeries. We had a quick lunch of soup and bacon baps at Lutzy’s, before making our way back up South Street in search of Board, Exeter’s board game cafe. We spent a happy hour in here drinking tea and playing 7 Wonders Duel, a strategy card game perfect for two players.
That evening back at the Pig was one of our most luxurious. Matt had his second massage of the trip, and I ordered a Bloody Mary and drank it in the bath.
Smelling very fresh, we celebrated our last night in the bar of the Pig before being led into the covered terrace for dinner. We ordered everything we hadn’t tried yet and had a tapas-style meal, ending with a cheese platter in front of the fire.
Day 4: Departure from the Pig at Combe
For our last breakfast we went for the light option, as we would be making our way to Padstow for lunch at St Petroc’s Bistro. Matt ordered toast with scrambled egg and I had mine with baked beans. As you’ll remember, the sourdough toast is definitely worth writing home about. This was a lovely send off after our days of garden kitchen feasting.
The Pig At Combe is up there as one of our favourite places we’ve ever stayed on holiday. We tell friends about it any chance we get, and couldn’t recommend it more. The aesthetics, the relaxed vibe, the delicious food, everything really, will turn any trip into something really special.