James Lawrence examines the revival of the UK’s hotel segment.
Let’s collectively banish the tired cliché of British hotels as poorly run, crappy guest houses and country hotels where whispering is obligatory and the level of starch is palatable. The last fifteen years have seen a remarkable resurgence in the quality and quantity of British hotels. Pioneers like millionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe and Robin Hutson have given the industry a much needed boost with their natural talent for delivering exactly what today’s discerning consumer wants – understated and relaxed luxury.
Of course, it’s easy to understand why visitors to the UK might think that hotels outside of London are bound to be dire – old habits die hard. Forty years ago, it was the case that if you were an antisocial psychopath, hated kids and couldn’t cook, then you opened a hotel. Fawlty Towers for visitors to Britain in the 1970s wasn’t a spoof comedy show, on the contrary it was a realistic and useful depiction of what they could expect. Thankfully, things have come a long way since the dark days of Mrs. Jones’ guesthouse in Rhyl.
The Pig near Bath is a classic case in point. Thirty years ago, hotelier Robin Hutson opened the first Pig hotel in Hampshire, a renovated country house hotel where the emphasis was on food, glorious food. Complete with an extensive vegetable and herb garden, cosy accommodation and gracious, engaging staff, The Pig won pundits far and wide for successfully re-inventing what an English country hotel stay meant. Since then, Hutson has opened more Pig venues across the country, The Pig near Bath being the third addition. The question is, how did it compare to its older sibling?
Well suffice it to say, the hotel is a fitting testament to the Pig’s ethos of relaxed luxury: superb food, surroundings and accommodation without a hint of pretension. Set in 20 acres of countryside in the Somerset region of England, The Pig makes full use of its renovated Georgian house setting, lending the hotel a greater sense of opulence than its sister in Hampshire. The rooms, for starters, are spot on. Tastefully decorated, comfortable and spacious, they put box rooms in London to shame, especially considering the reasonable prices on offer. A double can be yours for under £160.00.
The hotel’s public rooms are also worthy of a mention. A cosy library is well stocked with both children’s classics and more grown-up literature; there is also a lovely courtyard terrace perfect for sipping pre-dinner Champagne (which we did) and a stylish, inviting lounge bar. Moreover, those who are in desperate need of relaxation can enjoy various pampering massages in the Pig’s Potting Shed treatment room; the sound of birds tweeting only adds to the sense of complete tranquility.
Indeed, if one word summarises my experience at the Pig, then it is peaceful. I was awakened by the sound of birds humming, nothing more. Breakfast takes places in an idyllic garden patio in the summer, the Mendip hills provide opportunities for strolling and the general feeling of tranquillity is wonderful. Visitors looking for excitement; bars, nightclubs and noise look elsewhere. You’re nearest options are in Bristol and Bath.
But look, the real reason you came here is to eat, and by avarice you will eat well. The Pig makes full use of its extensive garden produce, head chef Kamil Oseka’s cooking is all heart and soul, proudly exploiting local produce and ingredients to spectacular effect; the dishes are as informal as their surroundings but every bit as delicious as you’d expect. So prepare for delights such as roasted loin of monkfish, pappardelle with rabbit ragu and the obligatory loin of pork with fennel. The Rib-eye steak was one of the best I’ve sampled in any country hotel – perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked and nicely proportioned. Those who hate nitty, bitty portions are going to love the Pig. Wine lovers are also well catered for, with an extensive wine list presided over by their knowledgable French (but of course) sommelier. Actually though, he prefers new world flavours and wines, which for a French wine professional is quite an admission.
So, any downsides? Yes indeed; leaving this piece of country heaven is a nigh-on impossible proposition. You have been warned.
The Pig Near Bath
Hunstrete House, Pensford,
0845 077 9494
Doubles from £139.
NB: The Pig is easily accessible from both Bristol and Bath train stations. I travelled with First Great Western, who offer regular trains from London Paddington to Bristol/Bath. If you book online, singles are available for under £30 each way. For more information, see: www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk