The Pig in the Wall
For some reason, we don’t have famous hoteliers in the same way that we do celebrity chefs. If we did, Robin Hutson would be a household name; like Jamie and Gordon, he’d probably be known just as Robin.
After eight years running the acclaimed Chewton Glen, in 1994 he founded Hotel du Vin, the chain of boutique hotels in provincial cities which seemed to single-handedly rekindle the middle-classes’ interest in weekend breaks. Numerous awards followed, the chain grew quickly and, just 10 years later, it was sold for £66.4m. Next, Hutson became executive chairman of Soho House Group; then came Lime Wood, the starry Hampshire retreat, followed, in July last year, by The Pig in the Forest near Brockenhurst, an informal take on the country house hotel in a beautiful, 26-room Georgian hunting lodge. Last month, he unveiled his latest project – not another genre-redefining new paradigm for the luxury hospitality industry, but a bed and breakfast down by the docks in Southampton.
It isn’t quite the come-down it sounds. The Pig in the Wall has been converted from two listed buildings squeezed into a gap in Southampton’s 14th-century walls, right beside the Westgate, through which Henry V’s army marched on their way to Agincourt in 1415. Inside are 12 bedrooms and an open-plan downstairs area that feels like a cosy, country pub at night – log fire, leather armchairs, stuffed owl, plates of charcuterie and good wine – but in the morning seems more like a potting shed, thanks to the reclaimed railway-sleeper floor and the numerous tiny pots of thyme, mint, mustard greens and so on. The breakfast buffet looks as if it has been art-directed to convey happy farmhouse living. Little signs hang off the painstakingly mismatched crockery announcing, for example, that this is “Lex’s banana bread” or to tell you the provenance of the real honeycomb. The milk comes in cute miniature glass bottles. Some might find it all a bit twee – like stepping into a Boden catalogue, but it’s this level of detail that is behind Hutson’s success.
Bedrooms are decorated with simple good taste and equipped to the standard of luxury hotels that cost twice the price. There are Nespresso machines, “larders” of snacks, vast showers, fluffy dark grey robes and the sine qua non of any hotel opened in 2012, leather-bound Roberts radios.
There’s no space for a restaurant, but guests can take the free, 20-minute shuttle to have dinner in the conservatory restaurant at The Pig in the Forest (though they may feel like poor relations when they have to go back to town).
These two Pigs are just the start of Hutson’s latest project. Due in June next year is The Pig on the Beach, a refurbished 18th-century manor house above Studland Bay, Dorset, one of Britain’s most beautiful beaches. There are rumours of more to come – before long, The Pig brand may be as celebrated as Hotel du Vin, even if the man who created both has to hang on to his surname.
Western Esplanade, Southampton, SO14 2AZ; www.thepighotel.com
Double rooms from £115, breakfast £10 per person
Southampton Central station is half a mile away; trains from London take 74 minutes
Book now Christmas cottages
Avoid any family tension this Christmas by escaping to a country house. Cavendish Hall is a gracious Regency house, 12 miles south of Bury St Edmunds, with large living and dining rooms ideal for festive get-togethers. As with all the properties here, it was available at the time of going to press. Sleeps 12, £4,436 for a week from December 21. www.landmarktrust.org.uk
Few houses in Britain are better placed for a bracing Boxing Day walk. Hause Hall Farm is part way up Hallin Fell, on the quiet southern side of Ullswater, with both high fells and lakeside strolls on the doorstep. It’s remote but not cut-off: a Michelin-starred restaurant is in walking distance. Sleeps 14, £3,626 for a week from December 22. www.ruralretreats.co.uk
Another rural retreat, Vixen Tor, is at the end of a mile-long track, surrounded by 50 acres of ancient woodland. Guests can walk straight from the farmhouse on to Dartmoor, fish in the River Walkham, retreat to the pub (only three miles away), or cosy up beside the woodburners in the lounge and dining room. Sleeps 10, £1,182 for a week from December 21. www.classic.co.uk