Sleepover: Combe House
A bed in Devon
Sunday 19 January 2003
Where is it?
In Gittisham, a village of cob and thatched cottages straight off a chocolate-box lid, just outside Honiton in Devon.
What's it like?
A mile-long drive winds through tree-lined meadows, grazed by Arabian horses, to reveal a grand Elizabethan manor framed by ancient beech woods. This is an imposing house, outside and in, as you'll realise on entering the Jacobean Great Hall. Panelled in carved oak and hung with vast oil portraits from past centuries, it is just saved from austerity by fresh floral displays and the roaring log fire at its heart. Off here, former parlours and drawing rooms are now used for cosy lounges, a bar and restaurant.
What's its USP?
Combe House has a justified reputation for excellent food. The fare is top-quality modern British with Masterchef Philip Leach at the helm. Fresh vegetables and herbs are grown in the kitchen garden, while care is taken to use good local sources for meat and fish. Owners Ken and Ruth Hunt have just finished restoring the Georgian kitchen with the help of English Heritage and turned it over to visitors as an unusual venue for private dinner parties, enjoyed by the light of candles and tilley lamps.
The hotel won the Condé Nast Johansen's Most Excellent Service Award last year. It wasn't so polished during our stay and we had to search out staff when help was needed. But good service resumed at dinner.
There are 15 en-suites. We stayed in a huge master bedroom at the front of the house, with stone casement windows offering glorious views over the 3,500-acre estate. Like the rest of the house, this room is furnished with solid antiques and quality fabrics, with comfort assured by an enormous bed and squashy sofas. The bathroom, too, is spacious, with a gigantic showerhead over a double bathtub. Two nights' dinner and b&b cost £368 per couple.
Food and drink?
Expect ballotines of game, baked fish, assiette of lamb, roasted figs with mascarpone and the like. A three-course dinner costs £32.50 per head, or there is a seven-course dégustation menu for foodies at £44.
Romantic couples, wedding parties and business colleagues on corporate and incentive breaks.
Things to do?
The hotel runs themed breaks, revolving largely around dining and crafts. Stroll down to the village and stock up at fine delicatessen, Gourmet Gittisham. The coastal pleasures of Sidmouth and Beer are a short drive away, as is Exeter.
Combe House, Gittisham, Honiton, near Exeter, Devon EX14 3AD (01404 540400; www.thishotel.com).
Kate Simon travelled to Combe House courtesy of National Car Rental (0870 400 4560; www.nationalcar.co.uk), which is offering car hire from £81 for the weekend.
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