Charm. You can’t buy it, you can’t fake it (we know: we’ve tried). You’ve either got it or you haven’t. The Pig on the Beach would know all about that. They have it in spades.
You know the story of The Pigs, a collection of hotels in impressive historical buildings out in the wilds somewhere that specialise in food to such an extent that they’re known as much – more? – for their 25-mile menus, where everything is sourced locally and is fresher than your average daisy, as they are for the actual hotel side of things. And so popular is The Pig on the Beach down on the Dorset coast that it can take weeks, months maybe, to get a room. Luckily, we were prepared to wait.
The Pig on the Beach is based in a country house, all gables and chimneys and steep slate roofs right on the beach – did the name give it away? – in Studland, that nature reserve in the Poole/Bournemouth/Swanage area. Studland, who anyone into getting into their nude will know, gets a bit clothing-optional when the weather turns. And it’s the perfect area for it.
With views of the cliffs along the coast, a path leading you right to the sea and the odd sheep wandering about in the field out back, just for a pop of white in all that green and blue, it is, like all the Pigs, picture perfect, the sort of spot chocolate boxes were manufactured for.
There’s the main house, a ramshackle-looking yellow thing housing a variety of room types, then there are the thatched dovecotes and even rooms based in pairs of shepherd huts, one hut with bed and wood-burner and lounging, the other a bathroom complete with free-standing bath. More shepherd huts down in that field operate for hotel spa treatments that get booked up almost faster than the hotel itself.
So far, so charming. But it’s what they’ve done with the place. Step in, past rows of brightly-coloured Hunter wellies for you to borrow, and you’re in a country pile complete with wooden paneling, roaring fires, views out to the sea and proper antique furniture and paintings. And the charm is seeping out of the place to such an extent you might get some on you, whether you’re quaffing martinis in the little bar to the right or have taken your port through to one of the members-only snugs to the left. The restaurant, which fills a sea-facing conservatory, we’ll leave until later.
Up the creaky stairs and our room, looking right out to sea, is all wood paneling and oil paintings with a squashy bed, velvet cushions, even a roll-top bathtub right in the window so you can lounge using the Bramley products as you look out at that view. Ours is quite a size but you can go for an honestly labeled Extremely Small for less than £200 or a Snug Twin up in the eaves.
But as lovely as all this is, it really is the food that’s the draw. With a huge kitchen garden coming up with the biggest crop served in the restaurant, based in a conservatory-like addition to the main house that has a bit of a potting shed feel about it, sea-foraging and local producers fill in any gaps. They call it ‘simple food well done’ but it is at least a little fancy and very definitely beautifully put together whether you go for the local meats and fishes or a full-scale vegan menu that they seem to be able to pull out of their pockets without any trouble at all.
Add service that feels local and friendly and fun (as busy as it is, everyone seems to have time for a chat if that’s what they think you want) and you’re looking at the perfect country break a couple of hours from London in one of the most beauteous parts of the country. And a dollop of beach that the LGBTs have called their own right there, left a bit. This little Piggy on the Beach has your name written all over it.