I'd forgotten the feeling of almost being teleported by the car ferry that crosses the mouth of Poole Harbour, linking bustling Sandbanks to sleepy Studland. It's a journey of just 300 yards, but the other side feels like a new world as you roll almost from boat to beach. Keep going for three miles beside purple heather and the sea to reach a new hotel that made me wish I didn't have to sail back.
The Pig on the Beach, a yellow-painted jumble of turrets and Purbeck stone roof tiles, is more above the beach than on it, which is a good thing. The view from its vast terraced lawns are captivating, stretching across to the Isle of Wight and round to the chalk cliffs of Old Harry Rocks. Watch them turn pink in the setting sun as you sip a cocktail at the outdoor bar.
This is the fourth Pig to be deployed by Robin Hutson, who started out as a waiter at Claridge's and went on to found the Hotel du Vin chain and chair the Soho House Group. After he opened the luxury Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest in 2009, Pigs followed in Brockenhurst, Southampton, Bath and now Studland, offering the same sophistication and attention to detail, but in a less formal, more affordable setting.
Manor House, originally a grand family home and later an old-fashioned hotel, has had a massive facelift. An old, white conservatory has been replaced with a tiled wooden one in green to house the low-key restaurant. A new wing boosts the room count to 23, and there are two new thatched "dovecote" suites beside a walled kitchen garden. Converted sheep huts host spa treatments (from £75).
The work of Judy Hutson, interior designer and Robin's wife, is evident as soon as the front door opens to reveal shiny-faced young staff in blue shirts and Converse trainers. It is meticulously yet authentically presented as a chic manor meets shooting lodge (stuffed birds abound). The central sitting room includes distressed wallpaper, jumbled sofas and side tables that look empty without a drink. There's dark wood and tapestry both here and in the even cosier bar and residents' snug.
The Pig bills itself as a restaurant with rooms and, after that drink, dinner was delightful as the Old Harry Rocks slowly disappeared into the night. The "25 Mile Menu" changes daily to include ingredients from the hotel's forager as well as the garden and local suppliers. My citrus cured seabass was far too salty but the fillet of Dorset trout was as good as the following New Forest strawberry and buttermilk blancmange. You could, at a pinch, do three courses for £30; bottles of wine start at £16.50.
So much of the Pig shouldn't work. In the wrong hands, the conservatory dining room, with artfully positioned herb pots and watering cans, could feel like the Blue Peter potting shed. The faux Bakelite fittings and fake rotary phones could feel pretentious and forced. The hackneyed "shabby chic" style is hard to pull off, but The Pig is so beautifully put together that everything does just work.
The closest main station is Bournemouth, with rail links from a wide range of towns and cities. You can reach Studland via the Sandbanks car ferry. Nearby Swanage is a classic and busy seaside town. Don't miss out on the ruined yet still fascinating Corfe Castle. And hang on to your jaws as you head west towards Weymouth via Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.
Closer to The Pig, the glorious golden Studland beaches are a five-minute walk away. Old Harry Rocks are a 20-minute stroll along the South West Coast path, via the gate at the bottom of the Pig's gardens. And don't leave without a look inside the tiny, 12th-century church of St Nicholas. The Bankes Arms next door is fine for a simple Ploughman's with a mouth-watering view.
Free-standing baths in the bedroom have become a Hutson trademark; many of the Pig's rooms, which range from "cheap and cheerful" to "generous" have them. My tub was very much the star of the bathroom, housed as it was in the bay window under a chandelier, with its own view of Old Harry. A vast four-poster bed dominated the main room, which was replete with antiques. All rooms include large monsoon showers, Roberts radio, TV and a "larder" cupboard (Nespresso machine, stocked fridge, plus tons of goodies at decent prices).
The Pig on the Beach, Manor Road, Studland, Dorset, BH19 3AU 01929 450288; thepighotel.com
Doubles start at £119 per night, room only.Reuse content