Some might remember the joy of seaside holidays. Others hanker after the kind of experiences portrayed in The Famous Five and other childhood books, and still another group might merely be fascinated by experiencing something that is so undeniably traditional English that, next time they’re in London, it is worth a night away. (Allow three hours’ driving time from Hyde Park Corner or take a train from London Waterloo to Poole, and then taxi it.)
Year-round The Pig – on the beach’s 23 rooms are packed out. It is a magnet for aficionados of all ages. Although you can see the sea from the alluring but deliberately untended main garden, to get to the beach is a mere 10 minutes walk. Once there, on South Beach, there are free-to-borrow (from Joe’s Café, thank you Joe) folding deck chairs, and plastic buckets and spades. Make elaborate sandcastles while mum, in her crocheted straw hat, watches the tide come and go, looks out at the English Channel and thanks her lucky stars that she is not back home in Knightsbridge right now.
The hotel is also a haven for kids. They have the freedom of 11 hectares of farm and mown space around the main building, and they run near-riot, in a nice and friendly way. They play hide and seek inside solid cover of dense foliage, they stare at the pigs in their fenced-off fields.
Adults leave them to it. They, the grown-ups, make use of wood cruise-chairs, scattered as if by chance in pairs around several hectares: some ground-floor rooms have private gardens and you can see those guests having gin and tonics in their own little space (of course cashmere throws are provided if the weather is chilly).
The house was built in 1825 for the Bankes family, whose name lives on in the Bankes Arms pub about 300 metres from the hotel. It ran for some years as Manor House Hotel before The Pig’s people started the conversion, and opened it in its present state in 2014. I have always found it incredibly difficult to get a room: weekends are booked out months ahead, sometimes by people who commute every Friday night, preferring this to their own second home. The secret is to reserve just as soon as you can.
This visit I was in room 12, an intimate room upstairs in the two-floor main house. I looked out over the grounds, to the sea. The original windows open easily. As well as a Nespresso and a well-stocked organic minibar, there were such eccentricities as a copy of Enid Blyton’s Five Go Gluten Free, a Roberts Radio, and lavender goat’s milk soap from Cyril’s Soap Shed in the nearby New Forest.
Aficionados come here because of its reputation, which justly includes superb and genuine service. The air is bracing. And food and drink are magnificent. More and more The Pig, as a brand, is leading the way in sustainable eating. Much of the produce is grown right here, in the Walled Garden that is lovingly tended by a team led by Group Head Kitchen Gardener, Olly Hutson. This is, indeed, something of a family affair, by the way. Olly is the son of the CEO of The Pig, Robin Hutson – whose wife Judy is interior designer, with the knack of, saying, creating maximum seating groupings in what is essentially an intimate bar, and also making what could be called an intimate room perfectly agreeable for two adults. Robin Hutson’s hotel ‘baby’ is conveniently helped by having, as business partner and friend, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, he of INEOS, and the UK’s phenomenally-successful INEOS cycling team and much more.
Obviously only in Summer, an outside bistro offers day-long casual eating. This bistro is needed to cope with the 200-plus hungry non-residents, including serious walkers, who seem to turn up for lunch at any hour. Long 20-seat wood tables, and equally long benches either side, accommodate many, but there are wood tables and chairs scattered all around.
The main restaurant, however, is partly inside and partly in the adjacent conservatory. All restaurant tables are simple wood, some looking like former sleepers from rail tracks. China and cutlery are all one-offs, bought wherever at sales, and, whatever the tabletop, a finishing touch is the flowerpot filled with living herbs, carefully labelled, that adorns each table. And people come here, again and again, for the food. That night, I started with a coupe of Hambledon English sparkling, very agreeable and unsweet, and nibbles were The Pigs’ renowned Piggy Bits, including smoked vodka BBQ pork belly.
The entire menu, a green A4 card, is ’25 miles’ – its reverse shows provenance, and how far items have come. I started with shaved garden courgette with crispy fava beans and polytunnel pepper dressing, went on to a truly magnificent Middle White tomahawk pork chop with garden greens and mustard cream sauce (this went superbly with The Pig Hut’s Michel Chapoutier red, a Grenache/Syrah – glasses are available in three sizes).
It is not only lunches and dinners that are so memorable at this realistic-luxury hotel, by the way. Like all The Pigs, breakfast is essential. DO NOT SKIP IT. There are displays of add-ons for cereals, which include several granolas, all home made: boil your own eggs, relish outstanding croissants of which Pierre Hermé would be proud, with full-cream butter that even Bordier could not better. Oh what food… Come to think of it, do not skip a visit to the hotel. Everyone, any age, any time of year, loves this place.