I arrive at The Pig, in England’s New Forest. ‘Mr France’ leads me through the Green House, the restaurant, and the adjacent bar, and through two deliberately shabby-chic lounges. No silk or damask here, but comfy, throw yourself on huge seating, enjoy the big, blazing log fires.
One room, The Library, as well as real books has wallpaper of fake books: go through, from here, to the outside courtyard, with masses of sleeper-wood tables and lavender bushes and real olive trees, and a working pizza oven and a Roman-type outside fireplace that burns about half a tree at once.
An extension adjacent to the main house occupies one side of the courtyard. This houses some of the 26 rooms, including No 14, on the main floor. I entered through a semi-private terrace with table and 2 chairs, and on through French windows with louvre shutters as well as curtains. The main room, about 15 x 15 ft, is cool in summer, cosy in winter, pale yellow-grey walls and cabinets, and matching turned newel posts at the corners of the delightfully firm but yielding bed (with luxury-level super-linens, nothing cheap about this place). The floors are unpolished oak, and I had a polished oak table-desk with two UK sockets. The large Panasonic flat screen stood atop The Larder (minibar), with Guy de Chassey Champagne and savoury tomato and caramelised onion cookies, and a Nespresso machine and kettle for the Dorset teas.
The bedroom led to a dressing room, with a century-old dark-wood bureau, and a wardrobe with white wood hangers, and an Elsafe. Continuing back, I came to the tiled bathroom, looking into a back garden: it had a freestanding tub and an enormous glass-walled rainforest shower. Two lengths of terry and wattle robes were dark-sage ‘garden’ colour, as were wrapped slippers. Toiletries were Sprout Out rustic-look, organic by Gilchrist & Soames.
The ring-binder guide to services had heavy wood covers: open it up and first page looks like a noticeboard with post-its, giving breakfast, lunch and dinner hours, (free) WiFi instructions, and dial for operator, outside line. Do Not Disturb was a heavy wooden plaque with a pig’s face, Yes (come in, make up) and, on the reverse, its rear, No (stay out).
Pig Keeping, by Richard Lutwyche, was one of the National Trust books in my room – interestingly they are all printed in Finland. I learned the pitfalls of trying to keep a pig as a pet. Among other handicaps, you need special permission to take your pig for a walk and you can then only use designated pathways. I decided, instead, to take my bike for a spin. The cycling round here is GORGEOUS. Stick to the ‘main’ road and the traffic is ultra wary, because of the aforementioned wild ponies. Veer off, either side, any time, and you find marvellous forest tracks and little lanes. At one point I went down a rough track and over an even rougher bridge across a brook. I just managed not to topple over and in.
There is lots to do, here. Any gardener would go nuts: the whole garden area is meticulously planted and tended by Mike Kleyn and his team, and a printed guide shows you what is what. You can also go foraging for wild food in the surrounding area, with onsite Forager Garry Eveleigh.
The Greenhouse restaurant has living plants, and recycled furniture. Some of what Garry has found that very day will be on the menu. We started our evening with drinks in the bar, where the counter is a raised wooden altar, and a pair of matching cabinets behind (both holding bottles) flank a window with glass shelves holding some of The Pig’s extraordinary collection of ‘antique’ glasses. No one glass matches another, but all are fully usable. My glass of Champagne came in a 19th century decorated flute, my friend Sue’s in a different one. We nibbled on saddleback scratchings (pork crackling) with homemade applesauce, and then we went into The Greenhouse for dinner.
Sleeper tables bore pots of living herbs, and ceramic-topped bottles with herb-infused olive oils. There were more motley old, but unchipped, drinking glasses and cutlery. The single-sheet brown-paper daily-changing menu is headed ’15 Mile’, meaning 95% of produce comes within a 15-mile radius. Headings are Piggy bits (canapés), Starters & small plates – or bigger, Forest & Solent (New Forest meats and seafood), Literally picked this morning, Garden sides, Puddings.
Most items are 2 sizes, so, from Literally picked… you can start with a small Grilled garden courgette salad with whole walnuts, go on to a big size of Cavolo Nero and Blue Cheese polenta, with sides of The Pig’s Walled Garden salad, and Flower pot of chips, namely triple-cooked chunky fries in a paper-lined pot. Dessert might be a lemon verbena brûlée and a garden mint mousse. The back of the menu has details of main suppliers, and distance from the hotel. We drank Ladybird 2009, an organic Merlot blend from a Stellenbosch winery owned by a Germany biologist and physician, Dr Petra Laibach-Kuehner. This is a 21st century luxury restaurant.
In the morning, the sun streams into this lovely room, and you can more easily see the vines and potplants growing in there (some are set in old chimneys, now used as planters – photo). The table where we dined last night is now the buffet, with items carefully described, hand-written in chalk on small slate boards. There are big bowls of whole fruits, berries, cereals and muesli, and Dorset yoghurt. Simple jugs hold just-squeezed juice.
You can boil your own eggs, with timers provided, and breads include already-sliced or slice-your-own wholewheat-health bloomers. Tables have butter rounds, and pressure jars of home-made preserves, and old-fashioned bottles holding fresh milk. Coffee comes steaming, in big mugs (all this for a mere £10 by the way – add another fiver if you want hot, à la carte). The Spanish student serving us told us about her Chemistry studies at nearby Southampton University, and about her dream to work for NASA. The Pig is enchanting, from beginning to end.